Ethics are moral principles or values that specify acceptable conduct, and determine how an institution will be governed. According to Shanahan and Wang, in their book Reason and Insight, the subject of ethics is morality, which is concerned with the practices, judgments, principles, and beliefs that guide peoples actions. It attempts to address the issue of how we ought to live. Many people have different values that guide their lives, but some of these values are better supported than others. Since people have different morals and values, it is important to distinguish between cultural and moral relativism. First, I will explain the difference between moral and cultural relativism. Next, I will indicate the claims that are supposed to follow from cultural relativism.Then I will explain one of the claims and show Shanahan and Wangs argument against this claim. Lastly, I will show why Shanahan and Wangs argument for this claim are true, and why I accept it.
We grow up in a social atmosphere that tells us what is right and wrong. If our own personal morality is different from another cultures, we tend to believe that they are wrong, and our cultural views of morality hold more merit. Societies, in general, must adhere to certain core values for them to exist. However, not all societies value the same morals. With this in mind, moral relativism is the theory that all moral perspectives are equally acceptable. What may be acceptable in one culture may not be acceptable in another, and neither is objectively right.
Cultural relativism ascertains that moral standards differ from one culture to the next. It says that good and bad are relative to culture. What is good is what is socially approved in a given culture. Cultural relativism holds that good means what is socially approved by the majority in a given culture. This means that anyone who is born into a particular culture is expected to follow the moral codes of that culture because they were already in existence. In addition, cultural relativism states that there are different ways of applying basic ethical principles from one culture to the next.
Given that moral standards differ from one culture to the next, a number of claims are supposed to follow from cultural relativism. The first claim states that there are no universal or general moral principles common to all, or most cultures. The second claim states that there is no objective, culturally independent standard by which to judge the moral code of any culture. The last claim states that the moral code or each culture determines what is right and wrong for the members of that culture.
The first claim assumes the fact that there are no universally agreed upon moral truths. This means each culture decides for itself what is morally accepted in that given culture. Therefore, each culture differs in their ethical principles, and has their own set of guidelines that they must follow in order to be to be considered virtuous in their culture. Since cultures have different moral codes, this is the foundation for the claim that there is no universally agreed upon set of moral judgments, because if there were every culture would be practicing them.
The first argument assumes the fact that there are no universally agreed upon moral truths. According to Shanahan and Wang, there are, however, many universal moral truths that all cultures value to be important. They believe that there is the presence of diversity among different cultures moral codes, but it doesnt mean that there are no moral principles common across most cultures. Shanahan and Wang state, The ethical diversity among cultures may be at a fairly high level and may be grounded on more basic moral principles that cultures have in common.
They go on by explaining how basketball, baseball, and football are completely diverse sports, yet there are a set of common underlying principles that each take on. Some of these include, not hiring assassins to take out members of the other team, not using explosives devices, and not to using force on an officials head if he makes a wrong call. Even though the rules are different in each sport, these basic principles are common to all sports, and allow them to exist. Furthermore, Shanahan and Wang believe that there are universally agreed upon set of moral judgments that sometimes are overlooked by overstressing diversity at the expense of communality.
Shanahan and Wangs argument against the first claim
There are universal moral truths that all cultures deem important or else they wouldnt exist. For example, many most cultures value honesty and prohibition of murder. Obviously, these values can be broken based on given situations, but these exceptions would depend on the situation. A society that allows murdering and lying would be shortly lived.
Moral relativism allows for the possibility that something could be morally right in one society, but morally wrong in another. Moral relativism takes tolerance and acceptance to an extreme, which is its Achilles heel. It is not possible for something to be right and wrong at the same time, but moral relativism allows for the possibility of this to be the case.
The variance in moral belief in a society is often portrayed to be greater than it actually is. For example, leaving a newborn baby in the snow to die, as the Eskimos often do, is entirely unacceptable in our society. However, it is not that they believe that murder is morally acceptable, but instead that they value the importance of the tribe over the individual. This varies little from ones held in this country. America sending its troops to foreign land is an example. America is willing to sacrifice some to save the whole. The Eskimo tribe would be in danger of starvation at times if they kept every baby girl. The young boys are not sacrificed because they are needed to hunt and provide for the rest of the tribe when they grow older. In this way, the perceived differences in culture may not be as different as they seem on the surface. Just because cultures have different practices, it doesnt mean that they dont have common ethical principles.