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G. Moral Absolutes in Relativism

Foot came to this mixed view from the direction of objectivism (inthe form of a virtue theory), and it might be contended by someobjectivists that she has conceded too much. Since there are objectivecriteria, what appear as rationally irresolvable disagreements might beresolvable through greater understanding of human nature. Or theobjective criteria might establish that in some limited cases it is anobjective moral truth that conflicting moral practices are both morallypermissible. In view of such considerations, objectivists might argue,it is not necessary to have recourse to the otherwise problematicnotion of relative moral truth.

Absolutism claims that morality relies on universal principles (natural law, conscience).

With respect to truth-value, this means that a moral judgment suchas ‘Polygamy is morally wrong’ may be true relative to onesociety, but false relative to another. It is not true, or false,simply speaking. Likewise, with respect to justification, this judgmentmay be justified in one society, but not another. Taken in one way,this last point is uncontroversial: The people in one society may havedifferent evidence available to them than the people in the othersociety. But proponents of MMR usually have something strongerand more provocative in mind: That the standards of justification inthe two societies may differ from one another and that there is norational basis for resolving these differences. This is why thejustification of moral judgments is relative rather than absolute.

(3) There are no absolute moral truths.

Moral relativism asserts that morality is not based on any absolute standard.

Proponents of MMR are unimpressed by these responses. Theymay say that the Davidsonian account cannot assure sufficient commonground to resolve conflicts between moral frameworks (or to ensure thatthere is really only one framework), and that MacIntyre's approach islikely to work at best only in some cases. And they usually considerdebates about the Kantian and Aristotelian arguments to be as difficultto resolve rationally as the conflicts between moral frameworks therelativists originally invoked. They may add that the fact that moralobjectivists disagree among themselves about which objectivist theoryis correct is further indication of the difficulty of resolvingfundamental moral conflicts.

Subjective relativists suggest that the only way for us to live together in peace in a pluralistic society like ours is for us to treat everyone else’s opinions and lifestyles as being as equally valid as our own. They suggest that moral absolutism leads to intolerance and injustice. If we all stopped thinking that our opinions and ways were superior to those of other people, we would have a more peaceful, more egalitarian society.

(i) there are no absolute or universally true moral principles; and

Fundamentalist believe that there are absolute moral codes that apply to all societies.

Second, moral absolutes are to be understood as restricting certain kinds of intentional acts: intentional killing, for example. This leads, third, to the following important point: as so understood, moral absolutes are to be framed only by identifying a kind of act that, if it were chosen, would be such always as to involve the agent’s intending damage or destruction to a basic human good. Put another way, the acts picked out by moral absolutes do not themselves include a reference to their moral status; but they are such that they—acts of this kind—may be identified as always and everywhere wrong because of their negative relationship to human goods.

Relativism has been, in its various guises, both one of the mostpopular and most reviled philosophical doctrines of ourtime. Defenders see it as a harbinger of tolerance and the onlyethical and epistemic stance worthy of the open-minded andtolerant. Detractors dismiss it for its alleged incoherence anduncritical intellectual permissiveness. Debates about relativismpermeate the whole spectrum of philosophical sub-disciplines. Fromethics to epistemology, science to religion, political theory toontology, theories of meaning and even logic, philosophy has felt theneed to respond to this heady and seemingly subversiveidea. Discussions of relativism often also invoke considerationsrelevant to the very nature and methodology of philosophy and to thedivision between the so-called “analytic and continental”camps in philosophy. And yet, despite a long history of debate goingback to Plato and an increasingly large body of writing, it is stilldifficult to come to an agreed definition of what, at its core,relativism is, and what philosophical import it has. This entryattempts to provide a broad account of the many ways in which“relativism” has been defined, explained, defended andcriticized.

One of the most cherished beliefs of conservatives is that morals are absolute.
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Ethical Relativism has been developed on the basis that there is no common set of values that can apply to everyone, as there are an infinite number of cultures that exist and clash with each other....

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So, even here, absolute universal morality is shown to be true.

Some claim that changing situations make for changing morality—in different situations different acts are called for that might not be right in other situations.

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So situations are part of the moral decision, for they set the context for choosing the specific moral act (the application of universal principles).

The main argument relativists appeal to is that of tolerance.

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It is possible to be a relativist either about all truths whatsoever or only about truths in certain domains—e.g., truths in ethics or religion. Though some people claim to be relativists about all truths across the board, it is more common today for people to be relativists about ethics and to be absolutists about truths in other areas, like science and mathematics. Because ethical relativism is the most common variety of relativism, it will be the focus of our discussion in this essay.

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There are two basic kinds of ethical relativism: subjective ethical relativism and conventional (or cultural) ethical relativism. The two kinds of relativism are defined as follows:

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The very fact that we should tolerate people (even when we disagree) is based on the absolute moral rule that we should always treat people fairly—but that is absolutism again!

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