Absolute and relative morality

Key Points

Absolutist ethical theories

Moral relativism

Theories that can be either


Criticisms of absolutist ethics

Criticisms of relativist ethics

You may have studied Cultural Relativism. Cultural relativism is a very weak ethical position. It doesn't really allow ethics to happen, because it claims that the right thing to do is to follow the rules of your society. It also doesn't acknowledge that any society has a variety of rules that may contradict - which do you follow?

Someone like MacIntyre recognises that values change from one society to the next, and we have to understand the context of an issue to understand the ethical decisions people make. However, this is not the same as saying that MacIntyre is a cultural relativist. He isn't saying that something is good simply because it is valued by a society.

Fletcher is another moral relativist who is a long way from being a cultural relativist. It is important not to merely criticise cultural relativism and presume that you have dealt a heavy blow to Virtue Ethics and Situation Ethics.

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