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Ethical Relativism And Its Flaws

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Ethical relativism is a concept in which most simple minded individuals adhere to. As a broad definition, ethical relativism is a theory where morals are determined by each person rather than a general census. This can be divided up into two parts; ethical subjectivism and cultural relativism. Ethical subjectivism is described as moral judgments based on an individual's personal values and feelings. To go beyond the individual, cultural relativism is a theory where beliefs are juxtaposed with his or her society. Ethical relativism may be justified occasionally; however it contains several dangerous flaws and is in need of a stronger backbone. William H. Shaw's essay, "Relativism in Ethics", examines this theory and provides comprehensive examples on why relativism is a weak method in gaining morals.

Shaw opens the essay by giving an obvious and unconvincing example. He compares abortion in two different societies; it is absolutely wrong in Catholic Spain, but widely accepted in Japan. Most readers would agree that this occurs and abortion is a topic that the world will most likely never come to agreeing terms with. Therefore, relativism is actually significant in each culture. Cultural relativism is complicated in that a whole group of people within an area believe in what they've always been told. Shaw gives an excellent example about slavery in the south.. Decades ago, it unfortunately existed and it was acceptable in that time period. However, now it is clearly immoral. A relativist would think that it is acceptable because it was part of the culture. It is not steady to keep changing morals through time. Who distinguishes right from wrong in that whole society in the first place? Shaw discusses this using abortion as an example. If 51% of the society thinks that abortion is permissible, that certainly is not enough to say that the whole culture agrees on it. It can change to 49% the next year, leaving the moral decisions to be too inconsistent. It is also unknown what the term, "society", is referring to. Is it a condensed area, an entire race, a religion, a neighborhood? Society is too general of a word to be used to so commonly and vaguely.

As the essay progresses, the argument gets more persuasive. He talks about ethical subjectivism and how choices are based on people's feelings. Shaw mentions that thinking in this manner is unstable because people's minds change as well as perspectives. For instance, matters get complicated when someone believes that he is doing a good deed and later realizes that it was immoral. The inconsistencies are apparent and unnecessary. He also states that it is pointless to debate with a relativist. I



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