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Explain what is meant by 'moral relativism'

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a) Explain what is meant by 'moral relativism' Before we can discuss this question in more depth, we must simply give a definition for moral relativism. Moral relativism is a theory, especially in ethics, that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them. From this definition I can go on to further discuss moral relativism and briefly explain what is meant by the opposed view of relativism as well as other terms related to moral relativism. Moral relativism is the belief that morality does not relate to any absolute principles of right and wrong, but that 'good' and 'bad' are dependant on culture and circumstance. The opposite of moral relativism is absolutism. Absolutism declares that there are universal standards of right and wrong, whether or not they are agreed with by people, and independent of individual circumstances. According to an absolutist such as Immanuel Kant, if moral rules are right then they should apply to everyone, without making any exceptions for different people or special circumstances as the laws should be 'universalisable'. ...read more.


We therefore cannot try to enforce ways in which societies live, for example, if one civilization believes that elderly relatives should spend their last few years being cared for in a nursing home, whilst another culture may disagree and say it is the families duty to care for their elderly relatives, then they could both be right in their own ways, according to their own social codes. Some moral relativists believe there is no valid way of proving whether one belief is right or one belief is wrong as everyone has different moral beliefs, however they do know that even if we cannot know certain types of behaviour are wrong, all the same it is justifiable to make laws for the protection of humanity, and to penalize those people who chose to go against this 'social contract'. The definition of 'good' is then said to be no more than 'what which is socially acceptable'. However, something could be right in one circumstance, but wrong in the other. For example, lying might be considered right if it was done in order to get a good result, like misleading an enemy in order to save lives. ...read more.


By letting Charlotte suffer for longer, this could be seen as the doctors hurting her. However, the situation ethics theory is no accepted by everyone. It has been rejected by some Christian Churches, most notably the Roman Catholic Church. To conclude, a general summary of what has been said about moral relativism is that there are some things which are usually right or wrong, but nothing which is absolutely so, because there is always the possibility of circumstances which call for exceptions to be made. In addition, judgements about other people's morality can be justified but never absolutely. However we must also remember that in ethical terms, to maintain that some things are right and other things are wrong, and that these things are fixed for all time and all people, is called absolutism and is the opposite to moral relativism. Reviewing situation ethics, we know that the two extremes of antinomianism cannot work, so therefore the overriding moral principle of decision-making is love (agape) and nothing else. A key aspect of situation ethics is thus to use the best loving method to help someone in their particular situation. ...read more.

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