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Ethical Relativism

  Ethical relativism, in philosophy, is the view that ethical judgements are true or false only relative to a particular context. So if I say that eating people is wrong, while you say it is right, we may both be speaking the truth. For cannibalism may be wrong in my context and right in yours. Relativists disagree about what the relevant context for us is. Some would say it is a particular cultural or historical setting, so cannibalism may be permissible among ‘primitive’ natives of a Pacific Island but not in a modern European city. Other relativists claim that the relevant context is that of a specific individual, so that cannibalism may be right for you and wrong for me simply because we are different people with different inclinations. But all relativists deny that there is any way of formulating moral claims that will make them true in all conceivable contexts. In this they depart for the common-sense view that we can reasonably make moral assessments of the behaviour of other people, even when they come from a rather different social or historical context. AJ

See also emotivism; ethical intuitionism; fact and value.Further reading B. Williams, Morality, chapter 3; Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy.



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