Moral Relativism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The remainder of this entry will discuss DMR, the contentionthat it is unlikely that fundamental moral disagreements can berationally resolved, arguments for and challenges to MMR,mixed positions that combine moral relativism and moral objectivism,and the relationship between moral relativism and tolerance. But firstthere needs to be some consideration of the recent contributions ofexperimental philosophy to these discussions.

Moral relativism is an important topic in metaethics

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It’s always open to the defender of the principle in question to say, “The implications you’ve drawn from my principle are not false.” For example, a cultural relativist could gleefully say, “Sure, I accept the three implications you mentioned.

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Experimental philosophy is an approach to philosophy that explicitlydraws on experimental knowledge established by the sciences to addressphilosophical questions (see the entry on ). There are three significant ways in whichexperimental philosophy has played an important role in discussions ofmoral relativism. These concern the extent to which there is moraldisagreement or moral diversity among people (that is, DMR),the extent to which folk morality is committed to an objectivist orrelativist understanding of moral judgments (that is, the views ofordinary people concerning MMR), and the extent to whichacceptance of moral relativism affects moral attitudes such astolerance (that is, ways in which views concerning MMRcausally influence whether or not people have tolerant attitudes).


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In addition, it is worth noting that MMR is sometimesjustified by appealing in a significant way to a distinctive analysisof moral judgments in combination with a claim about moraldisagreement. For example, Prinz (2007) argues that what he calls“moral sentimentalism” implies a form of MMR once weacknowledge moral disagreements. According to moral sentimentalism, anaction is morally right (wrong) if and only if some observer of theaction has a sentiment of approbation (disapprobation) concerningit. Prinz defends this position on the basis of a metaethical argumentthat it is the most plausible account in light of empirical studieslinking moral judgments and emotions. Since people often haveconflicting sentiments about the same action, a judgment of the form'Action X is right' may be true (when expressed by a personwho approves of X), and 'X is wrong' may also betrue (when expressed by a person who disapproves of X). Onthis view, the truth of such moral judgments is relative to thesentiments of the persons who make them. Moral sentimentalism is acrucial feature of this argument and many philosophers would deny thatmoral rightness and wrongness depend on our sentiments in thisway. But most arguments for MMR are not based on moralsentimentalism.

Relativism vs. Objectivism in Ethics | Raised Right

For then you would believe something that is in conflict with cultural relativism—namely, that morality is individually relative rather than culturally relative—and so you wouldn’t believe cultural relativism.

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The second concern, the extent to which ordinary people accept someform of moral objectivism or some form of MMR (or some othernon-objectivist position), has been the subject of considerableexperimental research in recent years. This research has sometimesbeen conducted by psychologists (or other scientists), sometimes byphilosophers, and increasingly sometimes by both working together (foroverviews of this literature, see Quintelier et. al. 2012 andSarkissian Forthcoming). In the past, philosophers with a variety ofmeta-ethical commitments have sometimes claimed that in everyday moralpractices people implicitly suppose that moral objectivism in somesense is correct (for example, see Blackburn 1984: 180 and Jackson1998: 137). By contrast, on occasion some philosophers have maintainedthat ordinary people sometimes have attitudes that conflict withobjectivism. For instance, Wong has argued that in some moraldisagreements people grant that the person with the conflicting moraljudgment is reasonable in accepting the judgment to the extent thatthese people are unsure if their own position is uniquely right--whathe calls “moral ambivalence” (see Wong 2006: ch. 1). So who arecorrect, philosophers who claim that ordinary people accept a form ofobjectivism (folk moral objectivism) or philosophers who think thatordinary people at least sometimes accept something closer toMMR (folk moral relativism)?

Ruth Benedict: “A Defense of Moral Relativism” – …

An objector to cultural relativism would be happy for you to think it’s a bad argument, and to think that the cultural-differences is probably a bad argument, too.