Ethical Relativism Essay Sample

Ethical Relativism Essay

Relativism acknowledges that different points of view are valid in equal measures as individuals differ in their approach to truth. In ethics, relativism stipulates that moral beliefs tend to be relative. Thus, dependent on the individual or society. This theory indicates that there is no universal right or wrong, therefore, morality is subjective rather than objective as illustrated by the ethical objectivism. In light of this, this essay analyzes the two forms of ethical relativism- personal relativism and cultural relativism. Further, it looks at the arguments for and shortcomings of relativism.

Morality is relative as different people uphold diverse beliefs on the same. For instance, eating pork is permissible in some societies while others like Islam detest such an act. In essence, morals change with time as per the evolving social norms of particular communities. The subjective relativism or personal ethical relativism attribute morality to individuals’ perception. In this case, a person has sovereignty over own thoughts, actions, and behavior. He/she dictates what is right or wrong. Cultural or conventional ethical relativism is another form of relativism that view morality being dependent on what society dictates to be wrong or right. According to this version, a person acts based on the values and norms of his community. In cultural relativism, a person’s will is subordinate the cultural majority‘s will. Nonetheless, a society’s definition of morality may still differ from another. In both subjective and conventional view, there is no standard and objective form of morality.

Arguments for ethical relativism

Tolerance of differences: this is a pluralist position to morality which promotes diversity of opinions. Different cultures or people exhibit diverse moral beliefs that require tolerance as we might not subscribe to them. One’s view should not be superior to another’s point.
Relativism bears a diversity of moral views. The differences in views create a complex and unique world with constant change and borrowing of ideas. The commonality in opinions would generate redundant societies. From diversity, innovation and creativity exist. Therefore, subjective moral beliefs occur and not objective moral truths. David Hume (1711-76) postulates that moral beliefs arise from emotions or sentiments and not reason.

Situational differences also place different people and communities at divergent levels. Hence, implausible to have common moral principles for all persons. Moreover, ethical values arise from real-life interactions as per the circumstances.


Critics of ethical relativism state that moral practices across societies may differ but the fundamental moral principles that underlie such practices should not. For instance, dress codes and local customs differ but aspects such as killing, political repression or torture remain governed by the universal moral standards thus wrong.

To some extent, ethical relativism promotes social conformity. For instance, if a society believes that child marriage is morally permissible, a member of such a group must accept such practices as right. It hinders social change and improvement within a society. Diverting from such acts would be termed immoral.

Disagreements may constitute objectivity on a view thus not merely the presence of subjectivity. Ethical relativism poses a self-contradictory approach as two mutually exclusive opinions would be both right. In addition, ethical relativism tends to promote outrageous practices like killings, rape or child abuse if they are perceived ‘right’ by standards of the concerned society. Hence, depriving the society the ability to initiate moral objections to counter such social vices.

In conclusion, ethical relativism is promoting diversity of moral concepts. However, its relative approach poses several disadvantages calling for the need to uphold objectivity to some moral principles.

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