Explain the Differences Between Absolute and Relative Morality

Topics: Ethics, Morality, Moral absolutism Pages: 6 (2078 words) Published: October 2, 2014
n the differences between absolute and relative morality

Relativism and absolutism are two ethical theories that strongly differ in beliefs and opinions. A relativist person would believe that there are no absolute universal truths, truth is relative to the subject and can differ from person to person and society to society. Relativism considers the outcome of choices; a relativist will generally make decisions based on the likely outcome. On the other hand, an absolutist thinker believes that people should live their lives by a moral code; they believe that there are absolute universal truths that apply to all societies. Moral absolutism is the view that moral principles are objective, not subjective or relative to the culture or society. That there are moral principles that are universally true and do not depend on culture time or place. Key absolutist philosophers and scholars are; Thomas Aquinas, Pope Benedict, Plato and Immanuel Kant. Whilst some key relativist philosophers and scholars are, John Stuart Mill, Aristotle, Jeremy Bentham, Protagoras and Joseph Fletcher. The arguments proposed by these idealists are both contradictory of each other and supportive, they combine to give a detailed picture of the basic theories behind moral absolutism and relativism.

Normative ethical theories are mainly divided into two groups, teleological and deontological. A teleological theory maintains that moral judgments are based entirely on the effects produced by an action, what is right and wrong, good and bad depends on the end outcome of an action. The teleological theory relates directly to relativist morality as both make moral judgments depending on the situation and outcome. However, these groups can divide further. Inside relativist morality there is situation ethics, cultural relativism and subjectivism all of which slightly differ on opinions and beliefs. Situation ethics says, like the teleological theory that what is right and wrong is relative to the situation. For example, if you were to ask someone if abortion is right a person who believes in situation ethics would state that it is only right or wrong depending on the circumstance. The main theory behind situation ethics is, choices should be made considering what is best for the people affected. As stated in the bible, situation ethics is all about doing the “most loving thing” it applies the theory of agape (St Paul) to situations. A strong supporter of situation ethics was Joseph Fletcher, he argued that “each individual situation is too different and absolute rules are too demanding and restrictive.” He therefore came up with the theory of situation ethics, “the bible shows what good moral decisions look like in particular situations, but it is not possible to know what god’s will is in every situation; therefore love or agape is the only moral rule.” Situation ethics is very similar to cultural relativism, as cultural relativism is a theory that says things are right and wrong relative to the culture. Cultural relativism is based on two claims, diversity thesis and dependency thesis. The diversity thesis means that what is considered morally right and wrong varies from society to society, so there are no universal moral principles that are accepted in all societies. The dependency thesis, on the other hand, says that whether or not the way an individuals acts is right or wrong depends on and is relative to the society they live in.

Both cultural relativism and situation ethics are flawed, and arguably weak arguments as both can be easily undermined. A weakness to situation ethics is that what gives one person the right to decide if a decision is wrong on right, if anybody is allowed to make decisions purely on whether they have a good outcome for the person then there will be no law or control. A good decision for one person may be a bad decision for another, it is individualistic because humans see things from their own perspective. There is a...
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