Shaw: Morality and Ethical Relativism

William H. Shaw: Ethical Relativism Ethical relativism is a concept in which most simple minded individuals adhere to. According to definition in the chapter, ethical relativism is the normative theory that what is right is what the culture or individual says is right. Shaw argues that it is not very plausible to say that ethical relativism is determined by what a person thinks is right and wrong. He gives reason that it “collapses the distinction between thinking something is right and it’s actually being right. Ethical relativism may be justified occasionally. William H. Shaw examines ethical relativism by providing comprehensive examples on why relativism is a weak method in gaining morals. Shaw gives an obvious and unconvincing example. He compares abortion in two different societies; it is absolutely wrong in Catholic Spain, but widely accepted in Japan. Most readers would agree that this occurs and abortion is a topic that the world will most likely never come to agreeing terms with.

Therefore, relativism is actually significant in each culture. Cultural relativism is complicated in that a whole group of people within an area believe in what they’ve always been told. Shaw gives an excellent example about slavery in the south. Decades ago, it unfortunately existed and it was acceptable in that time period. However, now it is clearly immoral. A relativist would think that it is acceptable because it was part of the culture. It is not steady to keep changing morals through time.

So, who distinguishes right from wrong in that whole society in the first place? I do not fully agree with Shaw’s disputation against the diversity argument for meta-ethical relativism, in which he states that mere diversity and disagreement on what is considered morally right, is not enough reason to claim that there is no objective truth, nor a standard by which we can try to arrive at it and so there is no reason to worry about the claims of the relativist.

The reason that I say “fully” is because, although I do agree that the diversity argument does not entirely rule out the possibility of objective morality, I simply do not feel that this is the argument’s whole intention in the first place. Rather it is claiming that we as a global nation, past and present, will never grasp this objective truth which does raise the question of whether there can be such a thing, and with this I do agree. Doesn’t it seem like there are some things that are ALWAYS morally wrong, regardless of what a culture says about it?