Are Moral Values Absolute or Relative:
A look at Moral Isolationism and Ethical Relativism
Are moral values absolute or are all values relative to the time and place in which they occurred because of differentiating cultural norms? This question will be examined thoroughly in the following pages as I try to more fully understand the ideas and principals backing Moral Isolationism and Ethical Relativism. Mary Midgley will be quoted a lot when I am talking about Moral Isolationism and the idea of not judging cultures outside of your own. Paul Taylor will be the Philosopher I take a closer look at when discussing Ethical Relativism. I will first Cover Midgley`s area of expertise followed by Taylors Ethical Relativism opinions. Mary Midgley: Moral Isolationism
When discussing moral isolationism a name that is sure to pop up is Mary Midgley. Midgley was a professor at the University of Newcastle and has written many books, some of which deal with moral isolationism. Midgley believes that moral isolationism “makes no sense at all.” After reading Midgleys piece on moral isolationism in the book, I concluded that, I too, see many flaws in the idea of moral isolationism and cannot quite support all the concepts behind it.
Many people think that taking a moral isolationist stance on other cultures and people is respectful because they are not making crude judgments. Midgley says that “nobody can respect what is entirely unintelligible to them.” I find this statement a little contradicting because if you are ENTIRELY unintelligible about something doesn’t this mean that you are completely ignorant of the subject and therefore know nothing of the topic or that this culture or person even exists. So yes of course you cannot respect something that is entirely unintelligible to you.
One of many questions that Midgley brings up is, if we cannot judge other cultures are we really in a situation to be judging our own culture? After all if we knew nothing of other cultures and didn’t have opinions about these other cultures, how are we going to judge our own culture? I believe we must form opinions about other cultures and judge them so that we can do the same with our culture and actually compare our culture with others. To me, this is the only way in which we can come up with an accurate description and judgment about our own personal cultures. Midgley says that outsiders should form opinions on other cultures and that these outsiders even have an “advantage” in forming an opinion of a specific culture. I think this is somewhat true because I can see how an outsider who does not know much of the culture can form a decent opinion on that culture because they see it from a different perspective, an outsider prospective. This insight can help the culture and can maybe even change their views on what is morally right or wrong. For example, let’s say an outsider is hurt on a vacation to a third world country and must go to the hospital. While at this third world hospital the outsider notices how some of the practice’s at the hospital are out-of-date and obsolete. The outsider may even think these practices are ethically incorrect, while the doctors at the hospital believe they are the best way to help a patient. Well the outsider may tell the doctor of new technologies and practices that have advanced medicine and medical procedures. This doctor than could very easily decide that what they are doing is a little bit wrong and therefore take the outsiders opinion in a positive way and use that outsider’s perspective to help his own culture.
Another excellent question Midgley brings up is if moral isolationism applies to judgments and opinions does it also apply to praises and compliments of a culture. I think many people are fine with other people praising or complimenting there culture but are not ok with people judging or forming negative opinions about the culture. When really in both situations the persons giving the compliment...
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