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Ethics—The Basics by John Mizzoni. CHAPTER ONE: RELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?. Ethics—The Basics RELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?. Some cross-cultural ethical issues: Child labor Breast ironing Sexual relations with minors Female circumcision

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ethics the basics by john mizzoni

Ethics—The Basicsby John Mizzoni

CHAPTER ONE:

RELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Some cross-cultural ethical issues:

  • Child labor
  • Breast ironing
  • Sexual relations with minors
  • Female circumcision

DO YOU KNOW OF OTHER CULTURAL POINTS OF DIFFERENCE?

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Some other cross-cultural ethical issues:

  • Slavery
  • Bribery/Gifts
  • Polygamy
  • Cannibalism
  • Spousal/child/elder abuse
  • Infanticide/senilicide/invalidicide
  • Genocide
  • Capital punishment
  • Torture
  • “Honor“ killings
ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics4
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Some other cultural & ethical differences:

  • Birth folkways/customs (e.g., circumcision)
  • Marriage customs (e.g., arranged marriages)
  • Funeral customs
    • Earth burial in the ground
    • Fire cremation
    • Water burial at sea
    • Air “towers of silence” Parsees (Zoroastrians) in India
    • Rock interment in mausoleums
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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Some other cultural differences:

Coming-of-age customs (USA)

  • Confirmation
  • Sweet sixteen parties
  • Debutante balls
  • Driver’s licenses
  • Gaining the right to vote
  • Gaining the right to consume alcohol

DO YOU KNOW OF SOME OTHER SUCH COMING-OF-AGE CUSTOMS OUTSIDE THE MODERN USA?

E.g., spirit quests, sweat lodges, first hunting

ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics6
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?
  • WHAT MAKES SOMETHING RIGHT OR WRONG?
  • WHERE DO RIGHT AND WRONG COME FROM?
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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Relative Ethics:

—Says culture or society determines what is right or wrong.

—Therefore, what is right or wrong can change, in relation to (relative to) place or time.

ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics8
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethical Relativism:

—Is normative ethics, and states that something is right if it is consistent with a society’s customs/folkways.

—Conversely, something is wrong if it goes against a society’s folkways.

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethical Relativism (continued):

—Not surprisingly, ethical relativism leads to irreconcilable differences.

—Ethical Relativism advises us to choose actions like those of others in the surrounding culture: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Universal Ethics:

—Is normative ethics, and states not everything is relative; at least some aspects of ethical values, standards, or principles are not relative.

  • At least some aspects of ethics are universal (e.g., The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)).
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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Cultural Relativism:

—Is descriptive ethics, and states that people in different cultures do have different standards, practices, and values.

—“As a matter of fact, Romans act differently from us.”

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

CULTURAL RELATIVISM

IS NOT THE SAME AS

ETHICAL RELATIVISM.

ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics13
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethical Relativism:

Is prescriptive, or normative, and states that we should act in accord with cultural norms. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!”

ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics14
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethical Relativism:

  • Implies that no values or standards exist that are permanent, universal, and objective.
  • Implies that ethical standards will always be relative.
ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics15
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethical Relativism:

Major Premise: If judgments about right and wrong differ from culture to culture, then right and wrong are relative to culture, and there are no objective moral principles.

Minor Premise: Judgments about right and wrong differ from culture to culture.

Conclusion: Therefore, right and wrong differ from culture to culture and there are no objective moral principles.

Where is the problem here?

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethical Relativism:

HERE IS THE PROBLEM:

If judgments about right and wrong differ from culture to culture, then right and wrong are relative to culture, and there are no objective moral principles.

Therefore judgments about right and wrong are based on what people believe to be right and wrong; however, right and wrong may be independent of what people believe (e.g., cannibalism).

ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics17
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?
  • The universalist criticism of ethical relativism is that very general basic values—not specific moral rules or codes—are recognized to some extent, at least implicitly, in all societies.
  • The universalist can still appreciate cultural differences.
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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Therefore, ethical universalism is consistent with cultural relativism, but not consistent with ethical relativism.

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethics and Human Nature

  • Some biologists reject ethical relativism because they believe that the root of human nature is biological and genetic, not cultural.
  • Most theologians also reject ethical relativism.

WHY?

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethics and Human Nature:

The belief in a common human nature is rooted in observation, and comes from many fields—the sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts. It is not just an unsupportable assumption of ethical universalists.

ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics21
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?
  • Ethics and Human Rationality:
  • Most philosophers maintain that humans have a rational nature that is not shaped by their culture, but is part of their human nature.
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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethics and Human Rationality:

Our rational nature includes our ability to reason—to think logically. Just as there are rules of “good” thinking—of logic, there must be rules of “good” acting—of ethics.

ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics23
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

“Good” Ethical Rules:

  • Give reliable results; they are consistent
  • Give positive results; they lead to happiness, success, flourishing
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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Relative Ethics or Universal Ethics:

  • Relative ethics is acceptable to only a small minority of philosophers.
  • Relativism should not be confused with tolerance; ethical relativism denies tolerance is universal.
  • Ethical relativism would deny that there are universal human rights.
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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Relative Ethics or Universal Ethics:

Criticism #1 of Relative Ethics:

If cultural relativism is defended on the ground that it promotes tolerance, an argument can be made that it actually promotes intolerance by defending intolerant societies.

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Relative Ethics or Universal Ethics:

Criticism #2 of Relative Ethics:

If cultures and societies are morally infallible, then critics and reformers are morally wrong to try to change a culture or society. Moral progress thus becomes a meaningless idea, since it implies improvement of a society or culture that is already as morally right/good as it can be.

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Relative Ethics or Universal Ethics:

Criticism #3 of Relative Ethics:

How can relative ethics be applied when we are members of several societies and cultural subgroups, e.g., a Pennsylvanian Chinese Irish Catholic American who teaches at a state community college and is a member of the Catholic Worker movement?

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Relative Ethics or Universal Ethics:

Criticism #4 of Relative Ethics:

To a certain extent, ethical relativism contradicts itself: It denies that there are any universal principles, BUT it states as a universal principle that ethics is relative.

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Relative Ethics or Universal Ethics:

As a consequence of these and other criticisms, most philosophers do not consider ethical relativism to be a legitimate ethical theory or tradition.

ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics30
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Chapter Conclusion:

  • The problem of the origins of ethics

Both RE and UE offer different solutions to the problem of origins

  • The problem of relativism

Both RE and UE offer different solutions to the problem of relativism

ethics the basics relative ethics or universal ethics31
Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?
  • The problem of human nature
    • RE emphasizes the differences between human beings and human cultures; UE emphasizes similarities--shared biological and psychological deep structures, and shared rational and logical standards.
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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Chapter Conclusion:

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do you agree that there are universal ethical principles? Or do you think that all ethics is relative?

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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethical Relativism in History:

  • CAN YOU THINK OF ANY EXAMPLES OF ETHICAL RELATIVISM FROM HISTORY?
  • CAN YOU THINK OF ANY EXAMPLES OF ETHICAL UNIVERSALISM FROM HISTORY?
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Ethics—The BasicsRELATIVE ETHICS OR UNIVERSAL ETHICS?

Ethical Relativism/Universalism in Popular Culture:

CAN YOU THINK OF ANY EXAMPLES OF ETHICAL RELATIVISM OR ETHICAL UNIVERSALISM IN POPULAR CULTURE—books, movies, TV, music?