Relativism 1

Posted by Jake on Jan 25, 2017

It is quite common to hear people offer some version of the theory of individual relativism (see pp. 48, 58-59 for a refresher on that topic). Consider the following example from a class of mine several years back:

Student #1: So, are you saying that abortion is immoral? Student #2: No. I'm simply stating that I, personally, wouldn't have one. I don't think it is good, but I'm not going to say that it is wrong for someone else to have one.

Notice that Student #2 in that dialogue invoked the theory of individual relativism (also called subjectivism). But is that a coherent and consistent position? Does it really make sense to believe an action to be wrong for oneself but not wrong for others? If you truly believe that all moral codes are equal, can you even offer a defense of your own moral code? (For, according to your own belief, it isn't any better than anyone else's; and if it isn't any better than someone else's moral code, then you have no reason for adhering to it instead of that of another.)

[The purpose of this discussion forum is to stimulate thought. I'm not looking for a specific opinion, I'm looking to see that you have considered the issues at hand and have engaged with the material.]

In terms of subjectivism/relativism, student #2 is making a coherent statement. Student #2 is allowed to disagree about the morality of abortion but not conclude whether it is right or wrong for student #1 because of student #1's relativity to factors such as society, culture, personal experiences, and circumstances. Relativity defines the moral code, therefore it is okay for Student #2 believe it is wrong for themselves but not for Student #1.

The book best summarizes student #2's stance with this excerpt: "Morality, then, is just the set of common rules, habits, and customs which have won social approval over time". This line tells us that morality can be defined by standards implemented in one environment, valued according to that particular environment's social approval.