Louis Pojman

Relativism versus Objectivism

  1. The Foundations of Moral Relativism -

    1. The rejection of ethnocentricism -

      Definition: ethnocentricism - the uncritical belief in the inherent superiority of own's own culture.

      1. Herodotus' histories (485-430BCE) - "Custom is the king of all"
      2. The decline of colonial/cultural imperialism
      3. The rise of anthropology as a serious academic discipline

    2. Decline of the role of religion in Western society

      1. The Reformation
      2. The New Science (Modernity)
      3. The Industrial Revolution/Urbanization

    3. The False Disjunction between Absolutism and Conventionalism - there are only two choices, you must be one or the other

  2. Ethical Relativism - there are no universal moral principles

    1. The fundamentals of Ethical Relativism -

      1. The Diversity Thesis (or cultural relativism) - morals differ from culture to culture

      2. The Dependency Thesis - the force of 'right' and 'wrong' is dependent upon an actions acceptance by a society

    2. Two types of ethical relativism -

      1. Conventionalism - 'right' and 'wrong' get their meaning from the agreement of the society at large

      2. Subjectivism - 'right' and 'wrong' get their meaning from the individual only

    3. Problems with Ethical Relativism -

      1. Subjectivism leads to absurd conclusions -

        1. 'morality' has no meaning
        2. no interpersonal criticism is possible

      2. Conventionalism collapses into Subjectivism -

        1. How do we determine what a society is?
        2. How is reform possible within a conventionalist system?
        3. No intercultural moral critique is possible.

  3. Objectivism - The alternative to Relativism -


    Definition: Moral Objectivism- there are some (at least one) universalizable moral principles.

    Definition: Moral Absolutism - there are some (at least one) universalizable moral principles which are inviolable.


    1. The Hierarchy or Normative Principles -

      1. Primary Principles - general normative principles which direct attitude within a given social context -

      2. Secondary Principles - specific normative principles which guide action within a given social context -

    2. The Nature of Primary Normative Principles -

      1. alleviation of suffering
      2. avoid/resolve social conflicts
      3. promote human flourishing/survival


PHI 105 Page | Notes Index