The principle of individual moral relativism posits that what is ethically right is dependent on the moral norms of an individual or the society where such act is normally practiced. The notion behind this principle is that there is no definite way to define what is ethically right, because ethical values are relative to an individual or culture. For instance, what is considered to be ethically right in one culture may not receive the same treatment in another society. The difference in the perception of what is ethically right is attributed to the fact that culture differs across societies, thus people often follow a different set of moral ethics. This paper aims to define individual and cultural relativism as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Cultural relativism suggests that a person’s set of beliefs and deeds should be interpreted as a reflection of his culture. That is, there is no way to decide what is right and what is wrong because these are supposed to be defined upon each culture and society (Lukes, 2011). This means that moral ethics are culture-specific, so that activities that a morally right in one culture may be perceived otherwise in another. There is no standard way to define morality, the principle of cultural relativism institutes that people cannot judge the customs of another society. Accordingly, cultural relativism spells out the need for “general tolerance and respect for difference, which refers to the idea that cultural context is critical to an understanding of people’s values, beliefs and practices” (Howson, 2009). The strength of this principle is that it promotes respect for other culture, knowing that each perceived things differently. On the other hand, the weakness is that culture can be used to excuse the commission of morally unacceptable behavior.
In contrast to cultural relativism, individual relativism posits that what is morally right is dependent to the viewpoint of each individual. For example, one person may perceive abortion to be morally right while another may believed that it is an immoral practice. The advantage of individual relativism is the tolerance that one has over the belief of another. People are born and raised differently, thus there is always the great dissimilarity in each one’s belief, and the key point of maintaining a harmonious relationship with others is in being tolerant of their belief that is different from us. The disadvantage, however, is that, individual relativism can go the extent where people can defend their acts on the premise that every person is right because of their belief that they are ethically right.
Lawrence Kohlberg’s Conventional Stage
Kolhberg theorized that people adhere to good behavior in order to conform to the expectation of the society. That is, a person earns the approval of others by conforming to good behavior, in addition to that, there is also the learned orientation where one learned to behave well as a part of his duty and respect to the authority (Kolhberg & Hersh, 1977). I think the theories provided by Kolhberg’s about ethical relativism, especially the conventional stage, are applicable in the general setting and the theorist is right in suggesting that “behavior is frequently judged by intention”(Kolhberg & Hersh, 1977). Consequently, I agree with the aspect of ethical relativism where one’s belief of ethically right or wrong is dependent on an individual. On the other hand, we should not always conform to the idea that “right and wrong” is relative to an individual or cultural standpoint, because there should always be a standard to base ethical beliefs concerning critical activities. For instance, extremist groups cannot go on with their radical activities just because they somehow believed that they are right.
Howson, A. (2009). Cultural relativism. EBSCO, 1-5. Retrieved from ttps://www.ebscohost.com/uploads/imported/thisTopic-dbTopic-1247.pdf
Kohlberg, L., & Hersh, R. (1977). Moral development: A review of the theory. Theory in Practice, 16(2), 52-59.
Lukes, S. (2011). Moral relativism. Profile Books.