ethical oughts are distinguished from prudential oughts
ethical oughts are concerned with whether or not an action is “good” or “right” (ought i to tell the truth?)
prudential oughts are concerned with what acts are appropriate given a desire to maximize certain values (ought i to jump off a building given that i want to live?)
objective state of ethics
ethical systems can either be objective or nonobjective
objective systems hold that there is some absolute or independent standard or moral value by which we can measure any act
nonobjective systems hold that there is no such independent standard and moral values are determined subjectively
major versions of ethical systems
moral value is determined by the nature of the act itself independent of the consequences
moral value is determined by the consequences, the outcome, of any act
ethical relativism vs. ethical objectivism
there are no universally valid moral principles
all moral principles are relative to either culture or individual choice
conventional ethical relativism
moral content derived from culture
subjective ethical relativism
moral content derived from the individual
notes that what is considered morally right and wrong varies (often wildly) from culture to culture
holds that moral principles derive their validity from cultural acceptance
hence, right and wrong are merely constructs determined by how the majority of the member of the culture view certain actions
reasons for buying cultural relativism
empirical data has been collected that makes it clear that morals do, in fact, vary from culture to culture. this is not a controversial issue.
the majority of members of each culture believe that their values are the right ones and that those who act differently are immoral
in attempting to determine the origin of moral values, given the facts above, it seems reasonable to suggest that the belief in the validity of any culture’s moral values by members of that culture just is because of the pervasive nature of such a belief. in this case it is similar to language; just as the “right” word for any object is determined by the society which uses that language, so goes the determination of the “right” action to take in certain situations.
criticisms of cultural relativism
there is no way to judge the morality of other cultures; it is inappropriate to say, for those individuals behaving in line with the maxims within their culture, that such individuals are ever “wrong”
since right and wrong are determined by the standards within a culture, as long as those standards hold that things such as slavery and other “horrors” are right, they are, in fact, so
moral progress is called into doubt; there is no way to say we are “better” than at some previous time
“ cultures” are difficult to define, and this leads to the possibility of getting to choose which cultural morals to follow, and this leads to subjectivism which seems to do away with morality altogether
there are rules for action that apply universally
these rules are not determined by individuals or any particular culture
this standard allows for the judging of any set of mere cultural or personal standards
criticisms of moral objectivism
from whence this standard?
how can we best find this standard?
how do we make sense of the fact that cultural standards are so varied?
if one argues that there are simply some standards necessary for society to exist, in what way does this objectively justify such standards independent of all societies? how are these not mere prudential imperatives?