The theory can be further dissected to reveal two types of ethical relativism: ethical subjectivism and cultural relativism. “Ethical subjectivism claims that moral standards are true relative only to the beliefs of each individual person (Chafer-Landau, 293).” According to this claim, an act would be morally acceptable simply because an individual approves of that act or the values he stands for allow for it. An act would be wrong only when the individual disapproves of it or his values do not allow for it. As a result of this, each individual’s moral standards are equally plausible. Conversely, cultural relativism claims that the correct moral standards are relative to each of the various cultures or societies. According to cultural relativism, an act is morally acceptable because it is allowed by the traditions/ideals of the society and immoral because it is forbidden by those same ideals (Chafer-Landau, 293).
Ethical subjectivism and cultural relativism differ in that ethical subjectivism claims moral standards apply only to the individual given that the individual endorses that standard, whereas cultural relativism claims that moral standards apply only to a culture given that the culture endorses that standard. Though ethical subjectivism asserts that moral claims are true relative to each individual and cultural relativism asserts that moral claims are true relative to each culture, both ethical subjectivism and cultural relativism assert that the correct moral standards are relative, not objective truths.
Ethical relativism is met with a number of objections. Two of these concern moral equivalence and moral progress. Moral equivalence means that each individual or society’s moral views have equal claim to the truth. According to ethical relativism, moral truth depends on each individual or society, making each individual or society right. Thus, this theory leads to moral equivalence because each individual or society must be right if their moral claims are true, since the only rule for their claims to be true is that they sincerely believe them. From this view, the relativist would have to conclude that Hitler’s beliefs are just as plausible as the beliefs of Mother Theresa because they both sincerely held certain beliefs, thus