Ethical Relativism


Standards of right and wrong are the mere products of time and culture. Morality is a neutral concept - there is no such thing as an absolute right or wrong. Instead, morality is defined by what is \'good\' or \'bad\' in a given society, by the social norms. What held true twenty thousand, two thousand or even two hundred years ago may or may not hold true now. The human race has grown and continues to expand; our technology, culture, customs, and laws constantly change and evolve. So why is it so hard to believe that this is true for ethics as well?


Perception is reality. What one believes to be right or wrong could be completely different from what someone else believes. I believe that abortion is a much-needed aspect of society. You might disagree completely. Which position is morally correct? Everything you believe, you believe because you were taught in some way shape or form. Is it wrong to kill? "Of course", a modern American citizen would respond. Ask this to a member of the ancient Yanomamo tribe and they would not only disagree, but they would find it to be a common and accepted act among their people. Upon an Emperor’s death, Samurai would take the lives of their willing friends as a sign of honor and respect. It is hard to judge exactly what good and bad are, because their definitions change as time goes by. Morals will never stop evolving, so something that may be “good” or ethical by today’s standards, may be “evil” in the future. The greatest good is in the eye of the beholder.


Since Relativism also does not allow for the existence of an absolute set of ethics, many people do not seriously consider it. Subtlety, it denies the existence of a Divine Ethics Giver (a.k.a. a God). The Christian Bible itself is just a hair under two thousand years old. God\'s will, the 10 commandments, etc, would not hold sway in the argument of relativism. “Thou shall not kill”. Sound familiar? Well, that is a poor translation of what the Bible truly states. In Ancient Hebrew this translates (verbatim) into "thou shall not murder". But think about this for a moment. What is the definition of murder? If God didn’t define it, doesn’t that mean it is left up to the society? In Webster’s, it\'s listed as “the unlawful killing of one person by another, especially with a premeditated malice”. Since the laws now are obviously different than the laws two thousand years ago, this statement would be relative to the time and place in which the murder took place. The current legal definition of murder is “the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought”. Did all ancient societies worry about the lives of fetuses? No. But obviously current society does. The complexity involved proves that morality cannot be black and white. Again, it is all relative.


The average person (approximately 64% of the American population) does not believe in relativism, because it is unfamiliar and new. It rests upon that idea that we are the way we are only because society has shaped and molded us. Most people would rather believe that it is their very human nature that dictates what is right; that humans are born with the inherent knowledge of good and evil. This however, is not the case. Human nature is garnered on competition. Whether it is the student who goes the extra mile to impress the professor, or the athlete who pushes himself to the utmost. It is the constraint of civilization that shapes this competition into a working society. Even if you are the type of person who always puts others before you, you only do so because it makes you happy. The good of an action can be weighed but that weight will vary depending on who is judging.


Ethics can be summed up to the rationality of one’s guilt. Essentially, it’s any strain that might exist on one’s conscience, for whatever reason. However, even as Shaw himself has written, it is up to the parent figure to instill this sense of guilt into the child if the child is to perceive self-approval in the absence of parental