Analysis of Moral Absolutism and Moral Relativism according to Ruth Benedict and Christina Sommers
Morality is often described as making sure that one always conforms to the rules that exist concerning conduct. However, a question that is often raised concerning morality is that, which person has the right to make rules. For example, a person who is religious will tend to claim God makes rules since he is the utmost authority regarding good conduct. However, it should be known that almost all absolute ethical theories, which philosophers developed, have no religious presuppositions. Even Aristotle claimed that the rights things are those, which are good for people as well as their states or countries. A person who is an absolutist claims that there will always be indisputable answers with regards to any moral questions that might arise. On the other hand, a person who is relativist believes that what a person thinks is right may not be the same for someone else. In this case, what is accepted in one culture may not be accepted in another culture and this philosophy is quite open. This paper seeks to give a critical analysis of why moral relativism is a philosophy that should be adapted as being universal as opposed to moral absolutism.
Ruth Benedict argues that people from various groups have their own unique views concerning morality. This depends on their environments and history, as well their different cultures. She believes that moral relativism is the proper way to view and focus on society’s morality. Benedict has been able to provide evidence in many instances as to why society will never have moral progress. For example, with regards to homosexuality, different cultures have their own stance concerning this issue. The cultural attitudes that people have concerning homosexuality has for a long time not been analyzed based on ethics. This is because homosexuality varies depending on the culture of an individual. Furthermore, different cultures have their own sets of customs and morals. An example is the Kwakiutl tribe who avenge the death of one of their people by killing other people. They rather choose to kill other people as opposed to mourning the dead person (Benedict 206). On the contrary, Americans would view this behavior of going to kill other human beings as being extreme and abnormal. The people from the Kwakiutl tribe would view their own behavior as being ‘normal’ and thus be honored because of their crude actions. It is evident from Benedict’s argument that there is no behavior, which is accepted universally. In addition, many people will be willing to take in anything that is presented to them. This explains the reason as to why moral relativism is far more powerful than moral progress according to Benedict.
Christina Hoff Sommers believes that the ozone has a moral hole and mostly, the United States has been affected because it has suffered from a cultural shift. Furthermore, with regards to absolutism, people need to always start with a foundational belief that a difference between wrong and right exists. America should be willing to believe in the values of absolutism, as even Thomas Jefferson made such claims. He believed that no human being can survive without the desire to gain the right to liberty and life as well the right to pursue happiness. He stated what he knew as opposed to giving his opinion regarding the issue; in this case, he declared a truth that was objective. According to Sommers, individuals need to be educated on the importance of moral education in order to efficiently embrace absolutism. It is no wonder she advocated for her belief on “moral education must have as its explicit aim the moral betterment of the student” (Sommers 390). Furthermore, young children should be instilled with moral education when they are quite young. Therefore, when they grow up, they will know how to differentiate between what is wrong and what is right.
The United States as well as the whole world is suffering from moral decay, as people are not aware of the value of absolutism. According to this philosophy, any innocent life that is taken by an individual is regarded as being morally wrong. People who go by this philosophy acknowledge the fact that it is wrong to abuse children, to steal or even lie, and these values are accepted all over the world. It is recommended that an absolutist needs to be mature in order to effectively understand that despite the fact that they do not have answers to everything, the answers still exist. They have to ensure that they learn about what is good and people will always disagree at one point. In this case, it is evident that absolutism and relativism will never accept each other’s philosophies (Irvine 42).
In my opinion, I concur with the argument provided by Benedict concerning moral relativism as opposed to the issue on moral progress. Every society has its unique ethics and morals that are accepted among its people. The society accepted marijuana even before it was legalized, but after it was criminalized, people viewed it in a negative light. Those people who use marijuana were thus viewed as being deviants of society. In this modern era, America is still deciding on whether it wants marijuana to be legalized and this often leads to the question of morality. If it were to be legalized, would it mean that steps were being made towards moral relativism or moral progress? This means that people have not made progress, but they are accepting things that are happening at the time. Moral neutrality has to exist so that people do not impose their personal views or their judgments. People should always have a neutral stand even when they are busy convicting others. If this takes place, cultures will be able to tolerate each other and thus not judge each other harshly.
In conclusion, attitudes are changing quite fast and it was the norm for an absolutist to see the wrong and right of any moral issue. Currently, people who claim to be secular are the ones who are non-judgmental and willing to tolerate behavior that is repugnant. This norm is at the moment under attack because society is now accepting deviant behavior that was earlier on not considered as being normal. People need to ensure that they make moral decisions and speak the truth as well as acknowledge the fact that others can sometimes make wrong decisions. Relativists should also reflect on their philosophy and ensure that people know the right things, thus, the world will be better than it is today. Indeed, moral relativism as portrayed by Ruth Benedict is more appealing as opposed to moral absolutism by Christina Sommers.
Benedict, R. A Defense of Moral Relativism. The Journal of General Psychology , 10 (1934): 204-213.
Irvine, W. Confronting Relativism. Academic Questions, 14, 1 (2001): 42.
Sommers, C. Are we living in a moral stone age? New York: Kirkpatrick Signature Series Reader, 2008.Print.