Moral relativism

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Moral relativism may be any of several descriptive, meta-ethical, or normative positions regarding the differences in moral or ethical judgments between different people and cultures:

  • Descriptive relativism is merely the positive or descriptive position that there exist, in fact, fundamental disagreements about the right course of action even when the same facts obtain and the same consequences seem likely to arise.[1]
  • Meta-ethical relativism, on the other hand, is the meta-ethical position that the truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not objective or universal but instead relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of people.[2]
  • Normative relativism, further still, is the prescriptive or normative position that, as there is no universal moral standard by which to judge others, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when it runs counter to our personal or cultural moral standards.[1]

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Variations

Descriptive relativism is the observation that different cultures have different moral standards. Descriptive relativists do not necessarily affirm or deny the existence of a single correct normative appraisal, given the same set of circumstances. Likewise, they do not necessarily make any meta-ethical commitments to the semantics, ontology, or epistemology of moral judgements. That is to say, descriptive relativists are not necessarily normative or meta-ethical relativists, though they might be. Descriptive relativism is a widespread position in academic fields such as anthropology and sociology, which simply admit that it is incorrect to assume that the same moral or ethical frameworks are always in play in all historical and cultural circumstances.

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