Ethical Theories Part III

Feb 15, 2013 by

Now, having finished an examination of Common Sense Morality, I shall begin examining a new theory.  The second theory I shall examine is called Ethical Relativism.  Ethical Relativism is the belief that an act is right if and only if it conforms to the morals of the society in which it is performed.  This theories is not baseless, but has a logical argument behind it.  First, Ethical Relativism asserts Anthropological Relativism:  Different Society hold different views on moral actions.  From this, it asserts its beliefs.  Seems logical enough, if different people assume different beliefs, there is no reason to believe that any one morality is right, therefore, morality is like laws in that you obey the morality of whatever society you are in.

However, this basic logic has some flaws.  For the purposes of debate, I will not deny Anthropological Relativism, but accept.  However, think of this logic in more basic terms.  People disagree on what X is, therefore X is a matter of opinion.  This seems odd indeed.  Fill X with other examples.  People disagree on the shape of the earth, therefore the shape of the earth is a matter of opinion.  People disagree on creation, therefore creation is a matter of opinion.  Disagreement does not cause something to be a matter of opinion.  Therefore the logic of the argument is flawed.

Now, in order to amend this, a man named Louis Pojman offers an addition to the argument for Ethical Relativism.  Added into the logic should be the dependency thesis:   All moral principles derive their validity from cultural acceptance.  With this premise, one can draw the conclusion that therefore their are no valid moral principles, all moral theories are a matter of opinion based on the society that they are in.

Now, it should be clearly noted that Pojman is not an Ethical Relativist.  In fact, he is merely setting Ethical Relativism up for an even greater fall.  He is allowing Ethical Relativism showing that the logic of Ethical Relativism neccesarily leads to logic that we do not accept as true, but must in order to accept Ethical Relativism.

A fourth desirable feature of an Ethical Theory is that it must not produce false conclusions.  If a theory produces false conclusions, that it appears as though the theory is not true.  This is the basic idea of what, in philosophy, is known as a reductio ad abusurdum, or reductio for short.  It takes a conclusion, such as if someone concluded that two plus two equals five, and shows that from this conclusion one derives blatantly false conclusions.  Such as if two plus two equals five, and the number two is replaced with a pair of apples, than putting a pair of apples next to a pair of apples ought to produce five apples.  It does not.  Now, if the conclusion of a reductio is false, there are one of two possibilities, either the logic is invalid, where the premises of an argument do not necessarily lead to the conclusion, such as purple is a color and Socrates is a person therefore Socrates is purple.  The second possiblity is that one or more of the premises are false.  Such as Elephants are purple, Socrates is an Elephant, therefore Socrates is Purple.  It is a perfectly valid argument, but none of the premises are true, Socrates is not and elephant and elephants are not purple.  Next week I shall show how Pojman applies this to Ethical Relativism.

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