Moral Relativism Term Paper

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Moral Relativism is a point-of-view, which holds that the truth or justification of moral judgments, is not absolute but determined by society or its culture (Gowan 2004). It flourished in ancient times when moral diversity was the prevailing and accepted thought. It grew from moral skepticism, which holds that there is no moral knowledge (Gowan).

The argument is whether moral relativism is correct or not. One side maintains that it is as true and valid as Einstein's law of motion, which assumes a specific but individual framework in which it operates (Harman 1996). The other side recognizes that various societies have differing beliefs and practices at different times and ages (Pojnam and Thomson eds 2007). But it contends that moral relativism does not follow from this diversity (Pojnam and Thomson eds).

The "Yes" Side

Throughout history, different people at different times and places have held divergent, sometimes opposing, moral views, even within the same society (Harman 1996). The ancient Greeks once strongly believed, for instance, that their god Zeus produced thunder. That science changed that strong belief. Today's Greek people will ascribe thunder to natural causes and conditions. This shows that what a particular society or individual strongly believes in or observes can and does change when new and convincing evidence demands that change. Another example is the origin and nature of black holes, which have not yet been scientifically explained. The dictates of morality appear to proceed from convention or understanding among people of a particular era and place. The fact is that people within that particular era and place themselves form different shades of understanding even about a specific matter. There appears to be no strict, basic or generalized moral demands or requirements for differences in understanding or view about something. Because people's beliefs are relative, it follows that their behavioral norms, described as ethics, are also relative. Thus it is correct to say that morality and ethics, which are determined or perceived individually and subjectively, are also individual and subjective rather than absolute (Harman).

Summarizing, this side advances three arguments. The first is that moral rightness and wrongness are not absolute or pre-existing (Harman 1996). They evolve from individual and cultural understanding and assumptions of things. There are, thus, no universal absolute moral standards held by and applicable to all societies and at all times. The second is that the determination of the rightness or wrongness of a given behavior or act depends on, is relative to, and determined by the society to which the involved individuals belong. People belonging to previous or later societies cannot judge for them. The third is the conclusion, which proceeds from these arguments. It states that, therefore, no universal absolute or objective moral standards exist. Only moral relativism does and is, therefore, correct and moral absolutism is incorrect. (Harman).

To emphasize and elucidate, moral relativism states that morality is changeable, subjective and thus relative to times that change and which cannot be retrieved (Pojman and Thomson 2007). It also disputes that anything one subjectively thinks or feels is therefore intrinsically right or wrong, good or bad. Only thinking makes it so. And the rule changes according to the person whom it is applied (Pojman and Thomson).


Moral relativism is attractive for a number of ways. It has psychological appeal. Moral absolutism produces feelings of guilt, inner displeasure and unhappiness (Kreeft 2003). But moral relativism allows the pleasure of self-esteem and happiness. Something, which produces pleasure, must be good and that is moral relativism. And something, which induces guilt feelings and reduces psychological comfort must be bad and incorrect and that is moral absolutism. Another attraction is its cultural and historical guarantee. Anthropologists and sociologists attest that different cultures and societies have different moral values. Some cultures justify killing while others condemn it. Moral relativism also enhances freedom while moral absolutism limits or threatens it. Freedom is seen as the condition of existence. Democratic courts also acknowledge the basic human right to liberty or freedom. Moral relativism is tolerant while moral absolutism is intolerant. Tolerance has become an almost universal viewpoint. And moral relativism derives from situationalism. It is a viewpoint, which holds that real situations are so diverse and complex that no universal moral norms can apply to all situations. Killing seems good if war is demanded by peace. Theft and lying are also justified according to the situation… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Term Paper:

APA Format

Moral Relativism.  (2007, September 28).  Retrieved December 12, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Moral Relativism."  28 September 2007.  Web.  12 December 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Moral Relativism."  September 28, 2007.  Accessed December 12, 2019.