Are ethics relative
Ethical relativism and the moral judgment of the actions of people in other cultures
The following theses are characteristic of (metaethical) cultural relativism:
1. Moral principles are culturally relative, i. H. they are only valid within a certain culture.
2. There are no universally valid ones, i. H. moral principles valid for all people.
3. The moral principles of the different cultures are equally valid or equally justified. There is no way to evaluate and compare the moral principles of different cultures.
4. It is pointless to apply the moral principles of one's own culture to foreign cultures.
The opposite position to relativism is absolutism, according to which all four relativistic theses are wrong. Absolutists therefore propose the following theses:
1 '/ 2'. There are moral principles that are culture-independent, i.e. they are valid for people of all cultures.
3 '. The moral principles of the different cultures are not equally valid or equally justified. They can be evaluated and compared.
4 '. One can apply the moral principles of one's own culture to foreign cultures.
In the relativistic and absolutistic theses there is only moralityprinciples the speech: As a relativist one cannot judge the moral principles of other cultures morally. But what about the moral judgment of the Actions from people in other cultures? Is it possible as a relativist to judge the actions of people in other cultures morally?
Since (from a relativistic point of view) moral principles only apply within a certain culture and it is pointless to apply the moral principles of one's own culture to foreign cultures, one cannot morally judge the actions of people in other cultures by checking whether these actions correspond to ours Moral principles are morally right or wrong. So if z. For example, in a culture where female genital mutilation is common, parents have their daughter circumcised, we cannot morally condemn this act because our culture does not allow female genital mutilation. If we did this, we would apply our moral principles to the other culture. Does it follow from this that we cannot make any moral judgments about the actions of the parents? Or does it follow from this that we must consider their action to be morally correct? Should we consider it morally wrong for parents to refuse to have their daughter circumcised?
Since we cannot morally judge the actions of people in other cultures based on our moral principles, we can only judge them - if at all - based on the moral principles of their own culture. If If we as relativists can judge the actions of the parents morally, we should judge that it is morally right to have the daughter circumcised and morally wrong not to have her circumcised.
That this is the way in which relativists must morally judge the actions of people in other cultures seems to be obvious. B. by John Cook in his book Morality and Cultural Differences asserts. He writes there:
[Relativism] teaches us to measure the morality of a person's actions by their conformity to local mores. What the mores themselves happen to be in a given case is, of course, irrelevant, for the relativist's contention is that we cannot make any moral assessment of mores themselves: They are all on a par with one another. (John W. Cook, Morality and Cultural Differences, Oxford 1999, p. 35)
Accordingly, we cannot judge the moral principles of another culture morally, but we can judge the individual actions of people: If the actions are compatible with the moral principles of the culture, are they morally right, if they are incompatible with them, they are morally wrong. Cook illustrates this with the following example: A few years ago the newspaper reported about Franca Viola, a 20-year-old Sicilian woman who broke a millennia-old tradition by refusing to marry the man who kidnapped and raped her. Since the Middle Ages, kidnapping and rape have been the safe route to the altar for rejected Sicilian men. Women who refused to marry were dishonored and no longer married by anyone. Franca Viola not only refused to marry her rapist, she even reported him for rape. She and her family were then threatened for breaking the old Sicilian tradition.
If we, as relativists, can morally judge the actions of people in other cultures in the way Cook claimed, we must hold the rapist's behavior morally right and the woman's behavior morally wrong. That is, if it is possible for relativists to make moral judgments about the actions of people in other cultures, the moral judgments of the relativists must match the moral judgments of those people.
In this context one must of course make sure that one Moral judgments not with corresponding descriptive judgments mistaken:
The Moral judgment
"It is morally right for parents to have their daughter circumcised"
so must not be confused with that descriptive judgment
"According to the moral principles of their culture, it is morally right for parents to have their daughter circumcised."
The descriptive judgment does not contain any moral evaluation. As ethical absolutists we could make the descriptive judgment and add that we still consider the act morally wrong. So we could judge:
"According to the moral principles of their culture, it is morally right for the parents to have their daughter circumcised. Nevertheless, the act is morally wrong."
This possibility is not open to relativists. Relativists can't deviating moral judgments cases in which actions that are permitted in a particular culture are declared morally wrong. Therefore:
- Either: relativists can no moral judgments about the actions of people in other cultures.
- Or: relativists can make moral judgments about the actions of people in other cultures, but these moral judgments can only affirmative moral judgments Be: Whatever actions these people consider morally permissible, relativists must also consider morally permissible.
The last possibility is that advocated by Cook in the passage quoted above. It seems to be an obvious consequence of relativism. Nevertheless, one can ask whether it is compatible with relativism at all. If it is compatible with relativism, the following two statements must be compatible with each other:
- It is pointless to apply the moral principles of one's own culture to foreign cultures.
- It is possible to make positive moral judgments about the actions of people in other cultures.
However, there is some evidence that the two claims are incompatible:
1. If we pass the affirmative moral judgment:
(M)"It is morally right for parents to have their daughter circumcised"
we make a moral judgment that we apply to another culture. According to relativism, moral principles (and consequently also individual moral judgments) only apply within a certain culture and it is pointless to apply them to other cultures. So (M) is also a senseless moral judgment and we as relativists cannot make positive moral judgments about the actions of people in other cultures.
2. That it is morally right for parents of a certain culture to have their daughter circumcised follows from the moral principles accepted in that culture. These moral principles apply - according to the relativistic assumption - only within this culture. Therefore z. For example, I, as someone outside of culture, do not use these principles to derive a moral judgment about the actions of the parents. The principles of this culture are not my Principles and therefore cannot be the basis of my moral judgments. One can only make moral judgments on the basis of moral principles that one accepts as one's own. Someone from another culture can only descriptively state that it is morally right in that culture for the parents to have their daughter circumcised, but cannot make the moral judgment that the parents are right when they do so. The moral principles of the foreign culture are not my moral principles and I cannot take the foreign moral principles that I do not represent as the basis of my moral judgments.
Since I can neither apply my own moral principles, which are represented in my culture, to the foreign culture, nor can I take the foreign moral principles as the basis of my moral judgments, I cannot make a moral judgment about the actions of people in other cultures. So I cannot make positive moral judgments about the actions of people in other cultures.
3. We make the moral judgment (M) because the action of the parents is permitted in this foreign culture. Correspondingly, with regard to another foreign culture, we would also have to judge that persons who carry out an action permitted in this culture are acting morally right. The same goes for any foreign culture. If we make the judgment (M) on a foreign culture, we must (since we have not made any special assumptions about this culture) make an analogous judgment on each foreign culture. Therefore, we can only make the moral judgment (M) if we also accept the following moral judgment:
(MU) "Every person should act according to the moral principles valid in their culture."
(MU) is now, however, a universally valid moral judgment that applies to all people. Since one of the theses of relativism is that there are no universally valid moral principles, a person who (MU) together with relativism represents contradicting itself. (MU) thus seems to be incompatible with relativism. If we (M) only under the assumption of (MU) and (MU) is incompatible with relativism, (M) must also be incompatible with relativism. We cannot therefore make positive moral judgments about the actions of people in other cultures.
These three arguments speak against the assumption that, as relativists, we can judge the actions of people in other cultures not according to our moral principles, but according to their own moral principles. The decisive argument against this assumption is the latter. If it turns out to be wrong, the first two arguments are also invalid.
The last argument is part of a standard argument that is repeated in numerous representations of relativism. For example, Robert Arrington writes:
Frequently a relativist concludes that people ought to obey the rules of their society or group without realizing that this is in fact an absolutist thesis. This position, therefore, is incoherent. (Robert L. Arrington (1989): Rationalism, Realism, and Relativism. Perspectives in Contemporary Moral Epistemology, Ithaca. P. 201)
The accusation is that some relativists claim that every person should act according to the moral principles valid in their culture, without realizing that this claim is valid for all people, i.e. an absolutist claim that is incompatible with relativism. If they do not want to contradict themselves, relativists should therefore Not claim that every person should act according to the moral principles valid in their culture. In other words, relativists should not (MU) claim.
In the following I want to show that this standard argument is wrong and that relativists (M.U) even claim have to.
I start with the following assumption about moral principles: moral principles of a culture apply to the members of that culture. If a moral principle is valid in a culture, this moral principle serves the members of the culture as a criterion for deciding which actions one should (not) carry out and as a criterion for the moral judgment of actions.
Now the following argument can be constructed:
A moral principle dictates what to do (or not to do).
(One should do what one should do.)
=> If a moral principle is valid, then one should act according to the principle.
=> If a moral principle is valid in a culture, then the members of this culture should act according to the principle.
The moral principles of every culture are equally valid. (Cultural relativism)
=> It applies to every person that they should act according to the moral principles valid in their culture.
Formulated using an example, the argument is:
Culture B says: "You shouldn't have an abortion".
The moral principles of the different cultures are equally valid. (Cultural relativism)
=> The following applies: "Members of culture B should not have an abortion".
=> Everyone (regardless of which culture) can make the moral judgment: "Members of culture B should not have an abortion".
=> Everyone (regardless of which culture) can or must make the moral judgment: "Every person should act according to the moral principles of their culture".
Relativists must therefore (MU) claim. Since they (MU) must assert, they can or must also make positive moral judgments about the actions of people in other cultures.
What is the argument that (MU) follows from relativism, with the above argument for the inconsistency of (MU) and relativism?
1. The premises "A moral principle prescribes what one should do (or not do)" and "One should do what one should do" are purely formal statements about morality that apply to every morality (regardless of the content Moral principles it exists). These statements belong to the concept of morality and apply regardless of the respective content of morality.
2. The arguments of the cultural relativists refer only to the content of morality, that is, to certain moral principles that can differ from culture to culture. The relativistic arguments cannot be applied to the formal statements about morality.
If the argument for the derivability of (MU) was not convinced by relativism, one may ask why relativists Not should claim that every person should act according to the moral principles of their culture. If, according to relativism, it is true of any culture that its moral principles are valid, what is the reason for denying that people should adhere to moral principles that are valid for them?
Although (MU) as an absolutist principle seems to contradict relativism, absolutists in particular do not advocate this principle. If moral principles are accepted in a culture that absolutists believe to be wrong, they will (possibly) believe that members of that culture should not adhere to them. Paradoxically, then, relativists use the absolutist principle (M.U), while absolutists will usually oppose it.
One could argue that relativists (M.U) have to interpret in two ways (whereby I use the first interpretation because of the above two reasons for the compatibility of (MU) with relativism to be more plausible):
1. Relativism and (MU) are compatible with each other; Relativists must advocate an absolutist principle. The relativistic arguments against universally valid moral principles are not based on (M.U) applicable.
2. Consider the argument as reductio to refute relativism: Because of the argument, relativists are bound to the assumption of an absolutist principle. However, these are incompatible with relativism. So relativism is not a consistent theory.
The argument for the derivability of (MU) from relativism shows the falsity of the common view of the relationship between relativism and (MU). This view says that some relativists did indeed draw conclusions from their theory (M.U), but this conclusion is a naive fallacy: Da (MU) is an absolutist principle and its addition would make relativism inconsistent if relativists were to forego this principle. However, according to the above argument, relativists cannot do without the absolutist principle. (MU) is not based on a fallacy, but is an essential part of relativism - to its advantage or disadvantage.
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