Moral relativism

philosophical positions about the differences in moral judgments across peoples and cultures

Moral relativism is the view that that terms such as "good", "bad", "right" and "wrong" are not subject to universal truth conditions; rather, they are relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of an individual or a group of people.


  • The market is neutral and relativistic; it does not inquire as to the origin or validity of the desires it responds to. ... We do not think we require discussions about our use of resources but are willing simply to sum up dollar-backed private desires. There is a rather good correspondence between these characteristics of the market and the relativistic, subjectivistic ways of thinking about ethical issues.
    • Stephen Hart, What Does the Lord Require? How American Christians Think about Economic Justice (Oxford: 1992), p. 122
  • With his attractive picture of human flourishing, Aristotle offers lasting refuge against the seas of moral relativism. Taking us on a tour of the museum of the virtues — from courage and moderation, through liberality, magnificence, greatness of soul, ambition, and gentleness, to the social virtues of friendliness, truthfulness, and wit — and displaying each of their portraits as a mean between two corresponding vices, ­Aristotle gives us direct and immediate experience in seeing the humanly beautiful. Anyone who cannot see that courage is more beautiful than cowardice or rashness, or that liberality is more beautiful than miserliness or prodigality, suffers, one might say, from the moral equivalent of color-blindness.
    • Leon Kass, "Looking for an Honest Man," National Affairs (Fall 2009)
  • It is as if a man were acquiring the knowledge of the humors and desires of a great strong beast which he had in his keeping, how it is to be approached and touched, and when and by what things it is made most savage or gentle, yes, and the several sounds it is wont to utter on the occasion of each, and again what sounds uttered by another make it tame or fierce, and after mastering this knowledge by living with the creature and by lapse of time should call it wisdom, and should construct thereof a system and art and turn to the teaching of it, knowing nothing in reality about which of these opinions and desires is honorable or base, good or evil, just or unjust, but should apply all these terms to the judgments of the great beast, calling the things that pleased it good, and the things that vexed it bad. ... Do you suppose that there is any difference between such a one and the man who thinks that it is wisdom to have learned to know the moods and the pleasures of the motley multitude in their assembly?

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