PHILOS 2YY3 Lecture Notes - Moral Relativism, Cultural Relativism, Meta-Ethics
September 6, 2012
*Essay: 40% - first draft due on November 4th, self-evaluation, due on 5th, peer evaluation due Nov.
12th, final due on November 23rd.
Branches of Ethics
- Metaethics: nature and status of moral judgements
- Normative Ethics: justifying moral principles/values/frameworks for evaluating moral
- Applied/practical ethics: reasoned answers to concrete questions.
September 11, 2012
- Moral relativism: morals are relative to cultural conventions (conventionalism) or
individual (subjectivism) choice.
- Moral objectivism: universal validity of some morals (both strong (absolutist) and moderate
- “Morality is in the eye of the beholder”
- Problem: little or no interpersonal criticism is logically possible and morality is about
- Social nature of morality
o Seems to imply tolerance, but by doing so assumes to make tolerance into a
universal moral, contradicting itself.
o Criticisms of outside or other culture are virtually impossible
o No moral reason/obligation to adhere to law that a particular group does not
recognize as valid
o Culture and society remain extremely difficult to define, which can be easily adapted
to each arguers advantage.
Moral Relativist Argument
- Diversity thesis:
o A descriptive claim about the variety of diversity in the world.
o An acknowledgement that moral rightness and wrongness varies from society to
- Dependency Thesis:
o Rightness and wrongness of behaviour depends on society to which you belong
o Also, an acceptance that this is how it should be.
*Conclusion: there are no absolute or objective moral standards that are valid for all persons at all
- Response to Diversity Thesis:
o Similarities found between moral codes, despite their differences.
o Fact of cultural relativism does not establish its truth, just because there are
different codes, does not imply their validity.
- Response to Dependency Thesis:
o Objectivist application of morals can depend on beliefs, history, environment (weak
dependency). There is some dependency , but it is more about the application of
these morals; the application of morals is dependent upon beliefs, history and
environment, not the morals themselves.
Pojman’s Modest Objectivism
- Must explain cultural diversity (but doesn’t entail cultural relativism)
- Universal morals based on our common nature (rejects dependency thesis)
o Core of morality same for every culture but may be applied differently
- Moral principles are prima facie principles (should be generally adhered to, but may be
overridden by other morals)
o There may be some absolute morals..
o Secondary morals may be relative (like monogamy).