Louis P. Pojman – Ethical Relativism

Louis Pojman takes on the non relativist point of view in this article. His thesis claims that moral principle’s derive their validity from dependence on society or individual choice, so morality is not relevant to culture. While reading this I kept comparing his view points to those of Ruth Benedict, both of them make interesting arguments. I like how he breaks down his argument into three important theses; the Diversity thesis, Dependency thesis, and Ethical Relativism. They help the reader to take a biased stance either towards his views or against them. I know understand that if  “Truth is with the crowd and error with the individual”, then relativism would be correct, and so would be the opposite. This brings me to Ruth Benedict and her story about the Kwakiutl tribe; the tribe as a whole believed that it was morally right for a person to go out and kill innocent people, if he lost a family member or relative. This tribe as a crowd accepted that, so if we in our country or anywhere else in the world view that as being wrong ( which most of us do), then we are wrong. Initially it all depends on the Dependency thesis, what we view as right, might be viewed as being wrong somewhere else.

I really like when Pojman states that, “Morality then, is just the set of common rules, habits, and customs that have won special approval over time, so that they seem part of the nature of things, like facts” (16.3.). This quote basically explains Ethical Relativism in my opinion, because no absolute or objective moral standards apply to everyone everywhere all the time. Pojman gives an example how culture and society are difficult to define. In the example it would be both wrong and not wrong of Mary, the U.S. citizen and Roman Catholic to get an abortion. From the viewpoint of the church it would be morally wrong, but it wouldn’t be wrong from the viewpoint of being a citizen of the U.S.A. (20.2.).  So in conclusion I think it all leads back to how the Kwakiutl tribe is both wrong and right in their beliefs, which I feel very contradictory about. My moral beliefs are telling me that their customs are outrages, but when I look at the bigger picture I start to understand how they are both right and wrong in their own way.


7 comments

  1. Pingback: Why Think There Is a God? (3): Why Is It Wrong? | Stepping Toes

  2. Pingback: Morality, values and Developing right choices « Stepping Toes

  3. I felt the same way about this – “how the Kwakiutl tribe is both wrong and right in their beliefs, which i feel very contradictory about. My moral beliefs are telling me that their customs are outrages, but when i look at the bigger picture i start to understand how they are both right and wrong in a way”. but within every society, they have their own version of right and wrong just as how everyone has different renditions of their own truths. i felt that they were wrong, but then i would be labeled as a ethnocentric person.

  4. I feel that you are completely right and i can see why you say they are both right and wrong in a way when you gave the example of being a US citizen and a Roman Catholic choosing abortion how it would consider both being wrong and right, you gave a great example.

  5. I can tell you are relativist. I am an absolutist and I think your right that people have different view and they are right in their own perspective. However, I think there is only one definition of universally good and universally bad.


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