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Ethical Relativism

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Ethical Relativism Essay:

Universal Moral Principles Exist in the Intention

Ethical relativism is the philosophy that morality is relative to the norms of ones culture or community. In other words, whether an action is right or wrong depends on the moral norms of society or the people within it. Ethical relativism is good because it allows people to adapt their actions when for example the greater good is at stake, but just because people think something is right does not make it so. In the Yale Daily News article "Shift to Relativism Spells the End for Truth" Peter Johnson points out that "A culture that has capitulated to the insidious ease of relativism has no desire to put ideas to the test."

In math there are single answers and single conclusions, but in ethics the answer is a lot less clear because the numbers add up differently depending on the circumstances. Moral principals unlike numbers often conflict and that in itself makes ethical standards difficult to set for every situation. For example stealing is wrong but so is not feeding your family. That may seem like an argument for relativism, but I contend that it only points out a lack of any absolute conclusion for whether a person's actions are right or wrong.

The same action in one set of circumstances may be considered right in one situation, but wrong in another. Murder is a good example of an action that is subjectively right or wrong depending on where you are, what you are, who you are, or when the issue is considered. Society regularly rewards the heroics of a "soldier" at war defending our country, but punishes a "soldier" in a street gang that defends his neighborhood against an enemy gang. Is either situation fundamentally right or wrong? Are the circumstances that much different? Can any moral standard be applied universally to all people at all times? In this case murder cannot, but defense of home and family can.

Universal moral principles exist in the intention behind an action and each culture, society, and community determines there own right and wrong based on a balance between the pursuit of the greater good and the rights of the individual. I don't believe it's ever right to kill, torture, or enslave, but wrong actions can be justified when for example, they save lives, relieve pain, or liberate.



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