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Introduction to Ethics

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1 Introduction to Ethics
Ethical Relativism Introduction to Ethics

2 The Universal Declaration on Human Rights
Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

3 The American Anthropological Association
The individual realizes his personality through his culture; hence respect for individual differences entails respect for cultural differences. Respect for differences between cultures is validated by scientific fact that no technique of qualitatively evaluating cultures has been discovered. [Therefore] How can the proposed Declaration [of Universal Human Rights] be applicable to all human beings and not be a statement of rights conceived only in terms of values prevelant in countries in western Europe and America? (p. 14, Discovering Right & Wrong)

4 Ethnocentrism The prejudicial view that interprets all of reality through the eyes of one’s own cultural beliefs and values.

5 Moral Objectivism The view that there are universal and objective moral principles valid for all people and social environments. Ethical Nihilism The doctrine that no valid moral principles exist, that morality is a complete fiction.

6 “Morality is in the eye of the beholder.”
“Who are you to judge?”

7 Ethical Relativism Subjectivism
All moral principles are justified by virtue of their acceptance by an individual agent. Conventionalism All moral principles are justified by virtue of their cultural acceptance.

8 Problems with Subjectivism:
Adolf Hitler and John Wayne Gacy could be considered as moral as Gandhi or William Wilberforce. It would be difficult to object to anyone’s actions, including those which are an affront to you. Morality is reduced to a matter of preference or taste.

9 Problems with Conventionalism:
The definition and boundaries of a culture. Cultures change because of the influence of individuals within a culture What binds or obligates society to conventional ethical relativism?

10 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.

11 Diversity and Dependency Theses
Diversity (descriptive): What is considered morally right and wrong varies from society to society, so there are no universal moral standards held by all societies. Dependency: All moral principles derive their validity from cultural acceptance.

12 “Trying to see things from an independent, noncultural point of view would be like taking out our eyes to examine their contours and qualities. We are simply culturally determined beings.” DRW, p. 20

13 TOLERANCE “I don’t like the idea of clitoridectomy any better than any other woman I know. But I like even less the western ‘voices of reason’ [imposing their judgments].” Nancy Scheper-Hughes

14 Melville Herskovits If morality is relative to its culture, then there is no independent basis for criticizing the morality of any other culture but one’s own. If there is no independent way of criticizing any other culture, then we ought to be tolerant of the moralities of other cultures. Morality is relative to its culture Therefore, we ought to be tolerant of the moralities of other cultures.

15 Tolerance presupposes objective morality.
Ethical relativism is a close-minded position Relativism is judgmental, exclusivist, and partisan Tolerance is either barbaric or self-refuting.

16 “One cannot consistently assert that all morality is relative and then treat the principle of tolerance as an absolute principle.” (DRW, p. 21)

17 What about moral reformers?
Gandhi Martin Luther King William Wilberforce Pojman’s conclusion: “And unless we recognize the priority of a universal moral law, we have no firm basis for justifying our acts of civil disobedience against ‘unjust laws.’” (DRW, p. 22)

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