Absolute and relative morality

Key Points

Absolutist ethical theories

Moral relativism

Theories that can be either

Exam Practice


There are various types of questions you may get asked:

June 2014:

  1. Explain what is meant by relative morality. [25]
  2. To what extent are relativist ethics the best approach to genetic engineering? [10]

January 2013:

  1. Explain the concept of absolute morality. [25]
  2. 'Considering consequences is more important than following rules.' Discuss.[10]

In January 2011, this question came up:

  1. Explain how a moral relativist might approach the issues raised by abortion. [25]
  2. ‘A relativist approach to the issues raised by abortion leads to wrong moral choices.’ Discuss. [10]

The following question was from June 2010:

  1. Explain the differences between absolute and relative morality. [25]
  2. ‘Relativist theories give no convincing reason why people should be good.’ Discuss. [10]

The following are actual exam questions written by OCR:

(a) Explain what is meant by a relativist morality. [33]

(b) ‘Relativist systems give no convincing reasons why people should bother to be good.’ Discuss. [17]

(taken from the OCR website) - I would advise students to see this as a question about Situation Ethics and answer accordingly.

(a) Explain why some people believe that there are no moral absolutes. [33]

(b) ‘Issues of genetic engineering need absolute rules; there can be no individual circumstances which allow exceptions to be made.’ Discuss. [17]

(taken from the OCR website - mark scheme included there)

The following is an A2 question from June 2007:

'Absolutist ethics prevent progress in genetic engineering.' Discuss. [45]

The first time you answer an exam question, have your notes in front of you and take your time. Later, do it without notes there. Finally, try writing timed essays - each one (a and b) should take half an hour.

We now have an interactive diagram showing how to answer an ethics exam question, The 'structure' of the paragraph will be different for 'ethical theory' questions, but the basic principles are the same. Try filling it in yourself and print out the completed diagram.


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