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Lawrence M. Hinman, Ph.D. Director, The Values Institute University of San Diego 4/28/2015©Lawrence M. Hinman 1 Ethical.

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Presentation on theme: "Lawrence M. Hinman, Ph.D. Director, The Values Institute University of San Diego 4/28/2015©Lawrence M. Hinman 1 Ethical."— Presentation transcript:

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2 Lawrence M. Hinman, Ph.D. Director, The Values Institute University of San Diego 4/28/2015©Lawrence M. Hinman 1 Ethical Relativism, Absolutism, and Pluralism

3 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 2 Introduction This presentation arises out of two distinct sources: n In ethics, I have been interested in sketching out a middle ground between absolutism and relativism. n In teaching, I have been interested in exploring ways in which we visualize knowledge.

4 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 3 Between Relativism and Absolutism n As a teacher, I found that neither relativism nor absolutism was satisfactory. n I found myself looking for something in between these two extremes

5 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 4 Ethical Relativism Ethical relativism has several important insights: n The need for tolerance and understanding n The fact of moral diversity n We should not pass judgment on practices in other cultures when we don’t understand them n Sometimes reasonable people may differ on what’s morally acceptable

6 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 5 Two Types of Relativism n Descriptive ethical relativism –Claims as a matter of fact that different cultures have different moral values n Normative ethical relativism –Claims that each culture is right unto itself

7 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 6 Three Questions about the Meaning of Relativism Morality is relative. Relative to what? Individuals Cultures Nations Groups How much of morality is relative? All Most Some What part of morality is relative? Behavior Peripheral values Fundamental values

8 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 7 Relative to what? n Descriptive ethical relativists say that moral values are relative, but to what: –Culture –Nation –Group –Individual—subjectivism n How do we individuate cultures?

9 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 8 What is relative? n Behavior –Different behaviors may exemplify the same value –The same behavior may exemplify different values in different culture n Peripheral values –Obviously some culturally-specific values n Core values –Are there central values found in all cultures?

10 Attractions of Ethical Relativism n Need for tolerance and understanding where abolutism can be intolerant n Fact of moral diversity: different strokes for different folks n Lack of plausible alternative: what does everyone accept? n Relativity of all understanding especially human behavior. n Don’t cast the first stone: do we have the right to judge others? 9

11 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 10 Ethical Relativism: Limitations n Presupposes an epistemological solipsism n Is unhelpful in dealing with overlaps of cultures--precisely where we need help. –Commerce and trade –Media –World Wide Web n Is self-defensive: if we can’t judge others, neither can they judge us

12 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 11 Ethical Relativism: Solipsism n Sometimes we say that we can’t judge other cultures because we can’t fully understand them. n Do we need full understanding to judge something? n Do we even have full understanding of ourselves? n Would this eliminate anthropology as a discipline? n Does it deny a main goal of multiculturalism?

13 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 12 Ethical Relativism: Overlapping Cultures, 1 n Ethical relativism suggests that we let each culture live as it sees fit n This is only feasible when cultures don’t have to interact with one another.

14 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 13 Ethical Relativism: Overlapping Cultures, 2 n The challenge of the coming century is precisely overlapping cultures: –Multinational corporations –International media-- BBC, MTV, CNN –International sports-- Olympics –World Wide Web

15 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 14 Ethical Relativism: Overlapping Cultures, 3 n The actual situation in today’s world is much closer to the diagram at the right.

16 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 15 Ethical Relativism: A Self-Defensive Position n Ethical relativism maintains that we cannot make moral judgments about other cultures n The corollary of this is that we are protected in principle against the judgments made by other cultures n Shares this characteristic with absolutism

17 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 16 Ethical Absolutism n Absolutism comes in many versions--including the divine right of kings n Absolutism is less about what we believe and more about how we believe it n Common elements: –There is a single Truth –Their position embodies that truth

18 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 17 Ethical Absolutism n Ethical absolutism gets some things right –We need to make judgments (at least sometimes) –Certain things are intolerable n But it gets some things wrong, including: –Our truth is the truth –We can’t learn from others

19 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 18 Ethical Pluralism n Combines insights of both relativism and absolutism: –The central challenge: how to live together with differing and conflicting values –Fallibilism: recognizes that we might be mistaken –Sees disagreement as a possible strength: checks and balances government analogy

20 Ethical Pluralism n Principle of Understanding: understand practices within the culture as a whole. Understanding need not imply approival. n Principle of Tolerance: leave different cultures room to pursue their own moral vision. n Principle of Standing Up Against Evil: speak out against offenses – different from relativism. n Principle of Fallibility: we can be wrong in our beliefs – different from moral absolutism. 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 19

21 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 20 Ethical Pluralism, 2 Ethical pluralism offers three categories to describe actions: n Prohibited: those actions which are not seen as permissible at all –Absolutism sees the importance of this n Tolerated: those actions and values in which legitimate differences are possible –Relativism sees the importance of this n Ideal: a moral vision of what the ideal society would be like

22 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 21 Ethical Pluralism, 3 n For each action or policy, we can place it in one of three regions: –Ideal--Center –Permitted--Middle Respected Tolerated –Prohibited--Outside

23 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 22 Five Questions n What is the present state? n What is the ideal state? n What is the minimally acceptable state? n How do we get from the present to the minimally acceptable state? n How do we get from the minimum to the ideal state?

24 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 23 Developing a Moral Stance Here’s a way of visualizing these issues:

25 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 24 What is the present state? n 1)Overall, the actual state of race and ethnicity in American society is: –a) Excellent –B Very good –c) Good –d) Poor –e) Terrible n 2)List three important facts that support your evaluation in #1 –a) –b) –c)

26 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 25 What is the present state?--#2 n #3. What are the three most important issues facing us in regard to race and ethnicity today? –a) –b) –c)

27 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 26 What is the minimally acceptable state? n What are the minimum conditions necessary for a just society in regard to race and ethnicity? List at least three characteristics or conditions. –#1 –#2 –#3

28 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 27 What is the ideal state? n What are the ideal conditions necessary for a just society in regard to race and ethnicity? List at least three characteristics or conditions. –#1 –#2 –#3

29 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 28 How should we get from the present to the minimally acceptable state? n How should we get from the actual state to the minimally acceptable state? List specific ways of getting from the actual state of society to the minimal conditions listed earlier. –Examples: laws, taxes, regulations, protests, civil disobedience

30 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 29 How should we get from the present to the ideal state? n How should we get from the actual state to the ideal state? List specific ways of getting from the actual state of society to the ideal conditions listed above. –Examples: Public relations campaigns, education, tax incentives, laws

31 4/28/2015 ©Lawrence M. Hinman 30 Appendix. Developing Moral Common Ground Goals n Understanding –ourselves –others –the issue n Common Ground –agreement where appropriate –living with some disagreements –changing the situation


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