Moral Relativism

As a frequently exercised view on the moral landscape, many people share a feeling of “tolerance” towards the various moral standards that exist in our world due to varying cultural norms, social conditioning, or ancient laws. Indifference, ignorance, or sheer disdain of moral objectivity due to its seemingly major drawbacks (i.e. the claim that there is only one moral truth or set of truths) would be better explanations of this phenomenon. Thanks to these postmodern philosophers, many people just shrug and say, “That’s fine, if that’s what you believe”, which is not a very healthy approach to finding any meaningful answers to the questions, “How must I act? What is the (common) good?” I realize that morality is not a truth to be prized above others, but it is an integral part of the human make-up which moral relativism seriously undermines.

Firstly, moral relativism does not allow us to question why we adhere to a given moral standard and why, say the cannibal, does not. The loose theory does not presuppose that there are valid rationales behind particular moral notions of good or evil, for example the right to life and security of person. Secondly, how can we have moral progress if we do not have this “critique” mechanism? Movements like universal suffrage, abolition of slavery or the emancipation of women would not have happened if people had remained neutral or unintrusive in the ethical order of others. As well, the claim that all morals are subjective because cultures and psychological situations vary is in itself an objective claim and to dispute this is to rend apart the entirety of moral relativism. A final flaw in moral relativism dictates  an assumption that moral standards are culturally isolated, rather than influenced by cross-cultural relations and the diversity of moral behaviours that flow between cultures through global interaction. Various ways of understanding right and wrong inevitably find their way into the foundations of many religions and spiritual beliefs of other cultures.

I do not mean to undermine tolerance or favour one set of moral standards above another, but where do we draw the line? In such cases, moral objectivity has its uses and should not be discarded if we consider that most moral standards have both a popular and practical appeal, especially within a species that prizes ideals and consistently works towards the rapid improvement of its fellows and their respective lifestyles.

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