Ethical relativism is the theory that there are no universally valid moral principles, but that all moral principles are valid relative to culture or individual choice. It is to be distinguished from moral skepticism, there are no valid moral principles at all (or at least we cannot know whether there are any), and from all forms of moral objectivism or absolutism. The following statement by the relativist philosopher John Ladd is a good characterization of the theory.
Ethical relativism is the doctrine that the moral rightness and wrongness of actions varies from society to society and that there are no absolute universal moral standards binding on all men at all times. Accordingly, it holds that whether or not it is right for an individual to act in a certain way depends on or is relative to the society to which he belongs. (John Ladd, Ethital Relativism)
(Pojman, Louis. “Who is to Judge?”)
The above paragraph means that each culture holds its own beliefs on what is moral and what is immoral, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable- what is right and what is wrong. It is not the position for someone from one culture to judge the actions of someone from another culture, simply because they were raised differently, with different moral standards and norms.
I agree with the above statement, that it is not the right for people from one culture to judge those from another culture. It’s almost like when someone is tried in a court, the jury must be made up by council of their peers (ideally, anyway). People from the western world are raised differently than people in the eastern world. Can someone be judged by the actions if they were not aware of the severity of what they were doing? Norms and acceptable actions are different in different parts of the world. In the Middle East for example, in certain areas, it is wrong for women to walk outside without their proper coverings. While here, in America, it is pretty much acceptable for women to go outside in anything short of being naked. If someone from the middle east judged the American women, her actions would absolutely be found as inappropriate- when here, it would be found as the norm, a little eccentric at most, but not punishable by law or judgment from a higher power. I think is important to be accepting of other people’s cultures and traditions as long as they do not cause harm or suffering to other people, nations, or cultures. I think accepting cultures would lead to ultimate peace- however, this is far from what is going on in the world.
I think that the only time when one culture has the right to judge the actions of another culture is when human rights issues are involved- as with the Nazi Germany takeover, the Holocaust, genocide in Africa, etc. When it becomes an issue of the human race destroying itself or people harming others unjustly, then I believe it is our right to judge and our duty to intervene.
The argument of subjectivism states that someone is as moral as they feel they are; something is moral if they feel good after doing it and immoral if they feel wrong or badly after doing it. I think that the idea of subjectivism is absolutely asinine- it was suggested that if this theory was true, Adolf Hitler could be held to the same moral standard as Ghandi. Adolf Hitler might have felt good after discriminating against the Jewish at first, and then containing them in ghettos, and then exiling them to labor camps and death camps- but he was also insane, so there goes that argument. Morality can not be judged based on what we think is moral for us to do individually, but rather what morals we were raised to abide by as a culture and a society.
I believe that the idea of conventional relativism is legitimate. I believe that we can only be held to judgment of our morals by the morals of our culture and our society. There are exceptions, of course, as previously mentioned, in instances that teeter on the line of going against and threatening the human rights. In cases where cause harm to the human race, I believe it is just to find them as wrong and immoral, regardless of what culture they come from.
I do not believe that anyone has the right to judge anyone based on their culture- what is the norm in their culture may not be the norm in ours. It is only right to judge and intervene when it becomes a human race issue rather than a cultural issue. If people are being killed, lives are being threatened, and individuals are suffering- then it is our right to act upon what we believe to be right. I believe that there is a little bit of good in ever culture, but it is hard to see when some cultural norms are so different from others, and we are constantly on the defense, especially this day in age.
I chose the following song because it remind me of a very controversial time during my childhood- the September 11, 2001. This song came out just around that time. I was going to elementary school in New York at the time, I was in the fourth grade. There was a lot of talk about “we should just go to Afghanistan and kill all of them”- which I thought was absolutely horrible. I felt like these people were raised in a culture where they were taught to hate America and everything it stood for, and really, could they have been blamed for being raised that way? And also, there were people in Afghanistan and in the Middle East that were good and tolerant of other people’s cultures. Anywho, I chose this song because it demanded tolerance for other people’s cultures and demanded a recognition for the good in people.