Conventional Ethical Relativism

Length: 5 Pages 1224 Words

The Theory of Conventional Ethical Relativism as described by Louis P.Pojman in his book “Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong” holds that there are no objective moral absolutes. Instead Conventional Ethical Relativism recognizes the cultural and social nature of morality. Morality is relative to the norms of a particular culture. Therefore, an action is considered morally right or wrong depending on the moral norms of the society in which its is practiced. Consequently, the theory holds that moral principles are justified by the virtue of their social acceptance. A specific action may be judged morally wrong in one society while at the same time judged morally right by another society. Therefore, for an individual to act morally right or wrong depends “on or is relative to the society to which he belongs” (Pojman/Ladd, Page 24). For example polygamy may be considered morally wrong by Christian societies while at the same considered morally right by some Muslim societies. From the preceding analysis it follows that morality as defined by Conventional Ethical Relativism is the product of a particular society and therefore the outcome of its distinct history. As societies and cultures change over time, moral norms change acco Continue...


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For example, criticizing the power of the government is considered morally wrong in some Asian cultures. Conventional ethical relativism does not allow for criticism of moral principles of the past. Reformers and advocators of social and cultural change are thus considered immoral. In contrast to Conventional Ethical Relativism, moral objectivism claims that there are some universal moral principles that all societies and individuals ought to accept. According to the theory, it is impossible for people or societies from outside, to judge individual moral norms. The descriptive, anthropological thesis accounts for the variations in moral beliefs, practices and codes across cultures. Conventional ethical moralists hold that individuals and cultures should be tolerant towards other differing individuals and cultures. In contrast to the diversity thesis the dependency thesis holds that actions are morally right or wrong depending on the society in which they occur. Consequently, subjectivism allows for no judgment about the matter of actions in contrast to moral objectivism for example. Hence, although both accept the principle of showing respect to the deserving, they apply it differently. For example the events of the Holocaust, which are considered morally wrong by moral objectivism, are not criticize able by subjectivism, since the Holocaust was considered morally justifiable by the Nazis. In contrast to Conventional Ethical Relativism however, moral norms and principles do not depend on social acceptance. Consequently, valid moral principles are the product of a culture and different cultures will have different valid principles. Consequently, if tolerance is not a moral principle for a particular society, then its members are not obligated to be tolerant towards the moral principles of other societies, different from their own. One could argue that according to this definition of moderate moral objectivism, it is similar to the weak version of the dependency theses, since this version deals with the application of different moral principles in concordance with different cultural circumstances.

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