Chapter 8: ETHICS
People develop their
thinking concerning morality over time.
They do so as a result of interactions with individuals and social
institutions. In different
societies each with their own cultures there are different ideas
concerning how humans are to behave.
Different societies and cultures have different rules, different
mores, laws and moral ideas.
In the twentieth century
people became quite aware of these differences.
The impact of this information when coupled with the theories of
the Existentialists and Pragmatists became quite significant in the realm
of Ethics. The
Existentialists with their theory of radical freedom and human choice and
responsibility placed morality within the sphere of human decision-making.
There were no essences before existence of beings and there would
be no rules before the existence of the beings who would make the rules
for themselves. The
Pragmatists also departed from belief in absolutes and generalizations and
any universal criteria for judgment.
For the pragmatists reality itself was not a given but a human
construct and reflective of the society’s criteria for judgment
concerning truth. So, it came
to pass as a part of Post Modernism that there would be a school or
tradition of thought that would hold that all thinking about Ethics was
also subject to human decision making within a social framework.
This school would hold that there are no universal or absolute
principles in Ethics to which all humans are to be subject.
Through the twentieth
century many humans have come to accept a good deal of the relativistic
perspective. Relativism has
entered into the thinking of many people, even people who would hold for
some absolutist ideas. Yes ,
there are people who hold inconsistent and contradictory ideas concerning
morality and ethics. How does
this come to be?
First let us clarify
describes the simple fact that there are different
cultures and each has different ways of behaving, thinking and
feeling as its members learn such from the previous generation.
There is an enormous amount of evidence to confirm this claim.
It is well known by just about every human on the planet that
people do things differently around the globe.
People dress differently, eat differently, speak different
languages, sing different songs, have different music and dances and have
many different customs.
This is a scientific theory
well supported by the evidence gathered by cultural anthropologists.
Descriptive ethical relativism describes the fact that in different cultures one of the variants is the sense of morality: the mores, customs and ethical principles may all vary from one culture to another. There is a great deal of information available to confirm this as well. What is thought to be moral by many in one country may be thought to be immoral by many in another country and even made illegal in another country.
Or the reverse pattern
Can you think of other
Normative ethical relativism is a theory, which claims that there are no universally valid moral principles. Normative ethical relativism theory says that the moral rightness and wrongness of actions varies from society to society and that there are no absolute universal moral standards binding on all men at all times. The theory claims that all thinking about the basic principles of morality (Ethics) is always relative. Each culture establishes the basic values and principles that serve as the foundation for morality. The theory claims that this is the case now, has always been the case and will always be the case.
This is a philosophical theory that is NOT well supported by the evidence gathered by cultural anthropologists, nor could science support a theory about the past and future! It is a theory that has evidence against it. (see next lectures)
In the next lecture we will examine this theory and its implications and criticisms closely for now consider the table below which shows the contrast between absolutism and relativism.
Have you ever thought or
heard and not challenged the idea that we should not make moral judgments
of other people? Have you
ever thought that each person must make up his or her own mind about what
his or her moral rules will be? Have
you ever accepted the idea that "Unless you walk a mile in the other
man's moccasins, you can not make a judgment concerning him"?
Have you ever thought that
while some act might not be morally correct for you it might be correct
for another person or conversely have you thought that while some act
might be morally correct for you it might not be morally correct for
another person? Have you
thought that each person must make up his or her own morality?
Well, if you answered,
"Yes" to any of the above you have relativistic ideas operating
in your thought system. Now
you might ask yourself whether or not you really accept those ideas?
Do you believe that you must
go out and kill several people in order to make the judgment that a serial
killer is doing something wrong? Do
you really believe that you need to kidnap, rape, kill and eat several
young men in order to reach the conclusion that Jeffrey Damer did
something wrong, morally wrong and horrible?
Do you think that killing
newborn babies because they are females is wrong, even for the Chinese?
Don't you think that once the Chinese and Indians and Africans have
a higher quality of life and are better educated that they will and should
stop doing those things that harm, kill or degrade women?
If you do you have absolutist ideas working in you as well.
How can you hold opposing ideas at the
More on relativism in the next section.
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