1. Cultural Relativism
• Relativism: one response to the search for an objective moral principle or standard
o There is no objective moral standard
o Morality is relative to cultures, persons, etc.
o There is no universal moral truth
o What’s true for me may not always be true for you
• The right action for you is not always the right action for me. (does not imply ethical
• What you believe is right is not always what I believe is right.
• The fact that we sometimes disagree about what is right does not show that there is no
correct standard. One or both could be wrong
• The standard you are justified in accepting as correct is not always the standard I am
justified in accepting … still doesn’t imply ethical relativism
o Someone can be justified in accepting something as correct even if it is not
o We can both be justified in our beliefs yet one of us could still be wrong
• Ethical relativism: the correct/true ethical standard for you is not always the correct/true
ethical standard for me
o Different ethical standards are correct for different people
o Implies an ethical standard is true/correct relative to some situations and
incorrect relative to others
Some sub types: CULTURAL RELATIVISM, class relativism, historical
Reasons to believe ethical relativism is true:
• 1. The fact that different people have different beliefs. It doesn’t follow that both beliefs
• 2. Claim that there’s no way to prove an ethical theory or belief
o whether we can prove it doesn’t speak to whether it is true. We use empirical
evidence to justify ethical claims. E.g. slavery was justified by appeal to
empirical claims about inferiority
o We use arguments and reasoning to motivate ethical theories
• 3. Belief that ethical relativism promotes tolerance
o In fact, the two views are inconsistent
o To say everyone has a right to an opinion is NOT to say that every opinion is
o The claim that everyone has a right to an opinion is itself a value, not thought to
Reasons to think that ethical relativism is FALSE:
• 1. Seems contrary to our ordinary conception of morality
o when we say murder is wrong, we don’t usually mean that this applies only to some
people, or only to those that believe it is true
• 2. Accepting relativism removes the ability to debate these issues
o no point in arguing if the truth is relative to persons
• 3. Can’t evaluate the practices of other cultures or our own culture as it changes over time
o before it was abolished, Apartheid was morally correct for South Africa… and before it
was abolished, slavery was morally correct for us. • 4. Can’t make sense of moral progress or moral reformers
o e.g. Dr. King, Nelson Mandela
• 5. Seems to remove our justification for punishment
o If murder is not in fact wrong for everyone, are we justified in punishing murderers who
don’t view their actions as wrong? It is true for them that murder is okay so how/why
should we punish them?
Conclusion: we should continue our search for a universal moral standardthere is no reason to think
that there is none. BUT we should be careful not to assume that what seems right to us is really right.
Take a stance.
• Personally, I think that the reasons against ethical/cultural relativism are stronger than the
reasons supporting it. I feel that debating cultural issues, evaluating these issues over time,
moral progress, and justification for punishment are HUGE aspects of our society. We’d be lost
without these things that are implemented every day, and I agree that cultural relativism seems
to remove this. The arguments in favor of cultural relativism seem very vague. I feel as if there
has to be another explanation for the idea of tolerance and that people are entitled to their
beliefs, even if it is true that both ideas are true. We have to keep searching for a deeper
foundation/explanation. We have laws for a reason and a little bit of cultural relativism in our
society is acceptable for tolerance, etc. Has to be a line drawn. I do not think it is a viable
• Lessons: Even if you say that its not a viable theory, we can still say that we’ve learned
something important. People and cultures have different opinions and perspectives and its
important to have an open mind when thinking about what’s morally right. Just because
something seems right to you or people in your “circle” doesn’t mean its right/obvious. Take an
objective point of view and take peoples beliefs serious but still say that you have to evaluate
things with reason to make a decision.
Question 2: Euthyphro Question
• Plato’s Euthyphro was an early socratic dialogue on the nature of morality. It’s a dialogue
between Socrates and Euthyphro where Euthyphro claims to be an expert on morality. Socrates
asks for clarification on what is morally good. Euthyphro’s answer is that what is morally good
is what is loved by all of the gods.
• What is the Euthyphro question?
o Does God command X because it is morally good? Or is X morally good because God
• The Divine Command Theory goes with the second option, X is morally Good because God
o Gods commands are the source of morality
• Problem: If X is morally good because God wills it, then moral truths are fixed by whatever
God happens to prefer (subjective). God could command anything and it would therefore be
good. God commands slavery and it is good, God commands torturing babies and it’s therefore
good. God renders as moral whatever he chooses. It makes moral values arbitrary and purely
subjective. “Good” is made a vacuous term ▯mindless, lack of thought or intelligence. What is
morally good= whatever god commands. What god commands=what god commands • If it is possible to question the goodness of God’s commands, then God’s commands CANNOT
be grounds for what is morally good
The heavens open up and God commands that we steal neighbors shit, lie when it helps up, sleep with
neighbors wife, kill eachother. Wouldn’t we say that this is OBVIOUSLY not god? Aren’t these
immoral commandments? We can perceive the moral goodness or evil of something without regards to
our knowledge of God’s commandments ▯ God’s commands cannot be the grounds for the morally good.
• Euthyprho Question
o Other option other than the divine command theory… Let’s look at the first option, God
commands X because it is morally good.
o Then, moral standard exists independently of God. There are still OBJECTIVE moral
o It is still true that whatever God commands is good. God’s commands may be a source
of our knowledge of what is morally right or wrong, but they are not the ultimate source
of morality ▯ this is the status of god’s commands on this alternative.
The Euthyphro Dilemma: An objection to theistic ethics, a refutation of God as the source of morality,
If God exists, God does not function as the foundation of ethics. God may tell us what is good, but does
not determine or establish what is good.
Conclusion: we cannot use religion to justify a moral standard. The only way to evaluate conflicting
claims about what God wills is by assessing which are in accordance with what is moral. We use ethical
claims to justify religious claims, rather than the other way around. So, our task is to discover the
independent moral standard.. question is, is there such a thing?
• Alternative to divine command theory: there is an independent moral standard. Command IS
good. God sees this moral standard and he tells you about it.. still always will be the case that
whatever god says is correct, IS correct. Is it being good depends on him having said it, or is it
good because it actually IS good and god sees this so he commands it?
Question 3: Utilitarianism
• What is a utilitarian? (Mill) The right action is that by which the greatest happiness for the
greatest number of people arises. The principle of utility is the fundamental moral principle.
Utility is defined as pleasure or happiness. Happiness is pleasure and the absence of pain,
whereas unhappiness is pain and the privation of pleasure. The principle of utility is the
principle of greatest happiness ▯ The right action is that which produces the greatest balance of
happiness for the greatest number of people
• The problem of justice for utilitarianism is that sometimes, justice involves violating peoples
rights for the greater good. Justice has something to do with fairness/rights and there seems to
be a tension between justice and utilitarianism.
• Example: The Trolley Problem. There is trolley that has no breaks that is barreling down a track.
You are a bystander and see that the train is heading down the track towards 5 workers and it
will hit and kill them. There is a lever that can deter the trolley and send it towards one worker
instead, saving the 5 but killing one. What should you do? Save the greater number of people by
changing the course of what was supposed to happen? Or should you let nature take its course?
For the Utilitarian, you should pull the lever and save the five. Some would say that this is unfair because you changed the course of nature, inflicting upon the rights of the one innocent
worker that was supposed to live.
• Another Example: The Footbridge Case: Same as the trolley problem but there is a footbridge
over the trolley. There is a big guy with you on the footbridge that you can push over and he is
so big that he could stop the train that is barreling towards the 5 people working on the tracks. If
you do nothing, the train will kill the 5 people. Taking an action that results in the death of one
person, thereby avoiding the death of 5, or not doing anything and allow the 5 to die. Utilitarian
would say to shove the guy; although it depends how you draw out the consequences ▯ seems
like murder, could you stomach it, could you get arrested for murder etc.
• Other examples: Emergency room case, scapegoat case, cold equations, the one’s who walk
• Mill response: Utilitarian entails that sometimes we should treat people unfairly, violate people’s
rights, and we can’t let emotions get in the way of what has to happen… Mill bites the bullet.
Sometimes if we follow mill’s response we do something unjust/unfair causing harm to one
innocent person in order to promote happiness for others… he responds to this by saying that its
not always easy to make everyone happy, sometimes you have to violate people’s rights for the
greater good. Mill says this idea of justice is very vague… justice is the situation in which the
most happiness for the most amount of people is achieved. Saying its not fair to someone is just
your emotions getting in the way. Are they just emotions clouding our judgment, or should your
emotions help guide you in these situations… answer is probably both… it depends on the
situation. Hard to clarify when to use emotions or not.. no correct answer. Footbridge case
demonstrates emotions ▯ being able to stomach pushing someone in front of a train in order to
“achieve the greatest happiness” because you saved 5 people doesn’t save right… its murder.
I do not find this to be successful. In all of the examples for this problem, it seems as if the answer is
never clear. There are no certain implications as to how to address these problems. Emotions are a
HUGE aspect of our decision making and I don’t think its fair to say that they always cloud our
judgment, and if they don’t always cloud our decision making, how do we know when it is okay to use
our emotions or not okay when we make choices.
Question 4: Explain why Kant thinks that actions not done out of moral duty have no moral worth,
discuss his reasoning.
• According to Kant, what is morally good without qualification is the good will. It is more worth
having than anything else
• What make’s someone’s will morally good? A good will is controlled by reason because each of
our faculties has a unique function or purpose and the purpose of practical reason is to control
• Someone exhibits a good will when their will is controlled by practical reason ▯ when they act
o Acting from duty: Doing the right thing when motivated by respect for what duty
requires and doing the right thing because it is your duty.
o Acting in accordance with duty is doing the right thing because of some other motive
• The good will is NOT good because of what it affects or the consequences it produces. The
goodness of the will depends ONLY on the manner of willing, doing its duty for duty’s
The First Proposition of Morality:
• “For an action to have genuine moral worth it must be done from duty”
• You do not get credit for doing the right thing
• You only get credit if you do it for the right reason
Why does acting from duty have moral value? • When the Will is constrained by Reason, we act in conformity with the moral law
• A MORAL LAW prescribes what ought to be done
• What ought to be done is to promote the highest good
• The highest good is a GOOD WILL (a will that acts out of respect for the moral law)
• So, the moral law will prescribe the way that we act out of respect for the moral law
What is the moral law dictated by reason?
• The Supreme Principle of Morality: Kant’s Categorical Imperative
• “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a
o Follow the rule that you wish the world always to follow
o Act for such reasons that could serve as acceptable reasons for everyone
o Act such that the rule you’re following could become a universal law
• Why is the moral law called the categorical imperative?
o It’s a command you must follow. Period. Opposed to a hypothetical imperative which is
a command you must follow IF you’ve willed some end
o Moral duties are categorical imperatives
o The moral law is a LAW
o It is mandatory for all people at all times
o Universal validity what makes it a law
o The moral law is an unconditional command that REASONS issues, and that the WILL
• Principle of Humanity: “Act in such a way as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or
in that of anyone else, always as an end and never merely as a means” ▯more intuitive
restatement of the Moral Law.
• Basically, actions not done out of moral duty have no moral worth because you don’t have good
intentions. Doing something because it’s right is thinking about the consequences of the
decision. This lacks the idea of a good will and good intentions, which is the foundation for
good morals. Practical reason gives us moral law which is to always act in such a way that you
can universalize the way youre acting ▯ act from duty.
• Kant not right to kill one person bc of categorical imperative… first remember you won’t get
caught i.e. people wont be scared to go to this hospital bc they don’t want to be killed.. not a
• SO… act from duty* ▯ always act back as if it would become a universal rule… the universal
rule should not be that killing someone is okay. These are categorical rules.. you cannot kill
people and wish that this would be a universal rule that everyone should follow.
• Mill: you may argue either way but as long as you show Mill’s viewpoints... Mill would say to
balance the happiness. Utilitarian Principle ▯principle of utility. Assume killing the dominos
guy that this would result in more happiness bc no one finds out about this, this is what Mill would say to do. Have to weigh out the consequences and decide where the greatest amount of
happiness lies… this will be your choice.
• Kant would criticize mill by saying consequences aren’t what’s important its your motive that’s
important. Thinks consequences shouldn’t be guiding act because the highest good is the good
will. Problem with consequences is that you’re unsure about them and you don’t totally control
them. If you assume that consequences would be better overall, the utilitarian would say that
this is the best thing to do. But there are other scenarios “what if” making it hard to determine
what the consequences are and they are not totally in your control.
• Your intention IS in your control, so it is not about consequences, its about intentions. Road to
hell is paved with good intentions ▯This is what Kant would say to Mill
• Mill’s response to this: Yeah good intentions are great but if