Ethical Relativism

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Ethical Relativism: the Hands-off Theory

Ethical relativism is a simple concept. It is defined as the idea that ethical values are relative to the culture in which they are found. As exemplified in Hinman’s Ethics, a businessman in different parts of the world may use a bribe in order to reach an agreement with an associate, whereas in America, bribes are frowned upon and often illegal. The ethical value, bribing, is used differently between an American and a foreign businessman. But is there a moral “line” that an issue can cross? Is there a definite moral code to certain actions? It is important to ask ourselves how much of morality is relative and if there are fundamental values across the board. Generally, murder is an action that is seen as immoral throughout the world. Murder, however, seems to be the act that we judge other immoral acts by. If murder is a clean cut example of the worst act one can commit, morally, then what about the gray area between? This is what ethical relativism attempts to discover. Where do our actions fall on the scale of ethics? Is one act worse than another, and if so, is it consistent across the world or through different cultures, time periods, or law systems? According to ethical relativism, nothing is absolute (which ties into the contrary theory that I will touch on, ethical absolutism), meaning that there is no universal truth in the realm of ethics. Nothing stands as a definite good or definite evil. Even murder, which is seen as immoral more often than not, is valued differently through the world. A murder in the rough part of the inner-city might not be viewed as an evil act as much as a serial killer in the suburbs. There are countless variables that go into the moral-value process. What was the motive? In the case of the inner city, let’s say that it was drug-related. The victim died by bleeding out from a gunshot wound that he took while also firing back with his own gun. The murderer took the drugs and drove off...
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