relativism-summary

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					                                                                                            Knighton 1


Stephanie Knighton

Greg Spendlove

PHIL 1130-007

February 22, 2011

                                      Relativism Summary Paper

        In her article “A Defense of Moral Relativism” Ruth Benedict states that normality and

abnormality are relative. She uses normal and abnormal as if she were saying moral and immoral.

To begin Benedict is basically saying that higher cultures have standardized customs and belief

systems that give a false sense and belief that all cultures should think and believe as they do. She

also says that we need to look at more isolated cultures to get a fair view of customs and beliefs

because customs and beliefs are relative depending on cultural background.

        Benedict mentions emotions such as joy, anger, and grief, or human drives such as the sex

drive, and argues that these emotions can be expressed differently in other cultures than they are

expressed in our own culture.

        A large part of her argument is that what we may see as normal, or moral, would be

considered abnormal, or immoral, in another culture. Benedict also states that a person considered

abnormal in our society would be considered normal and given a place in society in another culture.

A few of the examples Benedict uses to make this point are: psychics, cataleptics, and homosexuals.

Benedict stresses her point with detailed examples such as the culture that is based on paranoia and

suspicion where no one trusts their family or neighbors, and kindness and sharing are treated as an

abnormality.

        She concludes her argument by stating that normality is culturally defined and that on one

culture can utilize the whole range of human behavior. Benedict also states that the majority of man

will take any shape that is presented to them.
                                                                                             Knighton 2


         In his essay “Who‟s to Judge?” Louis Pojman he asks just that question, examines ethical

relativism, and outlines ethical objectivism.

         He begins by outlining and explaining relativism. He summarizes relativism by stating,

“Ethical relativism is the doctrine that the moral rightness and wrongness of actions varies from

society to society and that there are no absolute universal moral standards binding on all men at all

times.” He continues on and breaks relativism up into three sections: the Diversity Thesis, the

Dependency Thesis, and Ethical Relativism.

         In the Diversity Thesis Pojman argues that cultural relativism does not entail ethical

relativism. In thee Dependency Thesis he argues that a behavior is not morally permissible just

because it is deemed acceptable by society. He also argues that Ethical Relativism is seems to reduce

to Subjectivism, and subjectivism leads to the demise of morality. Pojman takes the time to make his

argument for subjectivism and sums it up this way, “Subjectivism treats individuals as billiard balls

on a societal pool table where they meet only in radical collisions, each aiming for its own goal and

striving to do the other fellow in before he does you.”

         Pojman argues that if relativism were true then as long as his actions were acceptable within

his society then Hitler‟s genocidal behavior is just as morally permissible as Mother Theresa‟s good

deeds.

         In his conclusion Pojman gives his outline for a modest objectivism in this concise manner,

“So, returning to the questioned asked at the beginning of this essay, „Who‟s to judge what‟s right or

wrong?‟ the answer is: We are. We are to do so on the basis of the best reasoning we can bring forth

and with sympathy and understanding.”

				
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