Wednesday September 16
Relativism is not just the claim that peoples beliefs about morality differ. Values that people
accept or believe in are different. There are clear disagreements about what is right or wrong.
Ex. Permitting/condemning abortion.
-there are no universal moral principles, instead values or moral truths are all only “relative” to
an individual or culture
-claim is not that people disagree, morality itself differs as well, what is right or wrong can be
different between cultures and people.
Ex. What is right in Canada, is different from what is right in Afghanistan
Rachel’s pages 18-19, Cultural Differences Argument
1.Different societies have different moral codes, fact of moral disagreement, observation that
2-5-goes beyond the mere claim that there are differences, right and wrong are relative to a
6-conclusion about what we ought to do, we ought to be tolerant
2 types of relativism:
Cultural Relativism-what is right and wrong in a culture depends on what that culture thinks is
right and wrong
Personal Relativism-applies the same idea to individual people, often applied to beliefs about
abortion, homosexuality etc.
Ex. If you think gay sex is right, then its right for you, if you think it’s wrong, then it’s wrong for
-both make right and wrong depending on what some person thinks
Difference between the two: cultural relativism doesn’t give individuals the freedom to determine
what is wrong and right in their lives, whereas personal relativism does.
Relativism is a challenge to morality for two reasons:
1)we usually think we can judge other cultures morally We can say that they are doing
something wrong even though they believe they are doing something right.
With cultural relativism, if it’s true, it would never be possible for us to say truly that another
culture acting by its own values was doing something wrong, but we often do think that. Ex. Nazi
genocide 2)we usually believe it’s important to think about moral problems and possibly change our minds
about them. Personal relativism says there is no point, whatever you think is right will be right
for you if you do it. Cultural relativism thinks the same, can’t think that there has been progress
ex. Treatment of women
Personal Relativism says that there is no point in changing your moral beliefs. If at one time
doing x is right, if 5 years later doing not x is right, then won’t do x. As long as moral beliefs that
I have are acted on, I am not acting wrongly.
Cultural Relativism-if our cultural belief 100 years ago, was that homosexuality was immoral,
then at that time it is immoral. Now we don’t prohibit it, and in this time, it is moral as well. No
progress has been made
Rachels' page 22- point 3) women, if cultural relativism is correct, giving women more rights
cannot be viewed as making progress from previous times. Can’t judge the morals of today
within the framework of another time.
Relativism-sometimes embraced on the political left
Ex. Wouldn’t be able to say that the Nazi policy on concentration camps etc. was wrong
The claim that because relativism is true we much be tolerant is contradictory. Tolerance of
other cultures would be valid only within a culture that has this view ex. In Canada. In cultures
where they believe that non-tolerance is what they should aim for, they would not be tolerant of
Couldn’t say that there are no moral principles, other than the principle to be tolerant of others