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
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.
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
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.”