Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint; for instance, that of a culture or a historical period, and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others. It has often been associated with other claims about morality: notably, the thesis that different cultures often exhibit radically different moral values; the denial that there are universal moral values shared by every human society; and the insistence that we should refrain from passing moral judgments on beliefs and practices characteristic of cultures other than our own. Historical Background
Even though moral relativism did not become a prominent topic in philosophy or elsewhere until the twentieth century, it has ancient origins. In the classical Greek world, both the historian Herodotus and the sophist Protagoras appeared to endorse some form of relativism the latter attracted the attention of Plato in the Theaetetus. It should also be noted that the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (read as Chuang-Tzu) put forward a non-objectivist view that is sometimes interpreted as a kind of relativism.
Among the ancient Greek philosophers, most people consider the ideas of Plato but I will explain about the ideas of historian Herodotus, because I found his arguments to be interesting and what we call thinking out of the box. The historian Herodotus tells the story of how the Persian king Darius asked some Greeks at his court if there was any price for which they would be willing to eat their dead father’s bodies the way the Callatiae did. The Greeks said nothing could induce them to do this. Darius then asked some Callatiae who were present if they would ever consider burning their fathers’ bodies, as was the custom among Greeks. The Callatiae were horrified at the suggestion. Herodotus sees this story as vindicating the poet Pindar’s dictum that “custom is lord of all”; people’s beliefs and practices are shaped by custom, and they typically assume that their own ways are the best. Herodotus’ anecdote is not an isolated moment of reflection on cultural diversity and the conventional basis for morality. In the early days, moral relativism was a concern of philosophy only but in modern times it began to shift into the concern of anthropology, and there was a need for somewhat a link or common ground between these two. An important early bridge from anthropology to philosophy was established by Edward Westermarck, a social scientist who wrote anthropological and philosophical works defending forms of empirical as well as meta-ethical moral relativism. He also ranks as one of the first to formulate a detailed theory of moral relativism. In the modern era the main push for such a position came from cultural anthropology. Anthropologists were fascinated with the diversity of cultures, and they produced detailed empirical studies of them. Early on anthropologists accepted the assumption of European or Western superiority. But this was challenged by the ideas of Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, Melville J. Herskovits, and Margaret Mead all of which clearly expressed important forms of moral relativism in the twentieth century. The various views of Moral Relativism
Defining moral relativism is difficult because different fields and also writers use the term in slightly different ways; in particular, supporters and antagonists of relativism often diverge considerably in their characterization of it. Therefore, it is important to first distinguish between some of the positions that have been identified or closely associated with moral relativism before setting out a definition that captures the main idea its adherents seek to put forward. a.
Descriptive Moral Relativism
Descriptive moral relativism is a theory about cultural diversity. It holds that, as a matter of fact, moral beliefs and practices vary between cultures and sometimes between groups within a single society. For...
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