The strengths and weaknesses of relativist views of ethics Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:24:05
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A. How might a moral relativist respond to the claim that people should always tell the truth?

B. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of relativist views of ethics.


To tell the truth is morally right, but telling a lie can also be morally right. Can the contradictions both be justified if the motive is love? Can we lie if the intention is love, or by always telling the truth are we better people? Some relativists claim that as long as the intention is love, then an action is morally right.

In a relationship, when the crucial moment arrives and your partner turns to you and says, Do you love me?, how best do you respond? Morally, can you justify lying to someone about love? The law of love says that you can not refrain from action. If refrain denies you from following a certain course, then can lying be accepted? Dependant upon whether you do love the person or not, the best approach to take will be a matter of your personal opinion and beliefs. Fletcher would deal with a situation relative to love.

Relativism, relativizes the absolute, it does not absolutize the relative. If the absolute is such that, you should tell the truth because it is the loving thing to do, then relativism would say that, maybe saying Yes, I do love you, may be justifiable, but it may also cause the most pain in the long run. This relativist approach is held by consequentalists. The pain of turning to someone and saying, No, I dont love you, may be initially hurtful, but it is done to bring about the best long-term result. A deontological approach would differ with this, and impart a belief that your answer would come from a pre-determined set of rules that you chose to live your life by. Here, there is no intention of harming or pleasing someone, as the consequences of your response would not factor into it.

When responding to a situation, who has the right to justify whether the action was morally right? Is justification dependant upon love, motive, intention or belief? Where does love factor into a situation? If love is the determining factor behind a lie, is it therefore justified? Situation ethicists would say that love decides which actions are morally right. The circumstances of which an act is executed, decides upon the moral justification. Responsibility appears to widen as the choice of outcome increases.

By telling a lie, you therefore have to accept full responsibility for its consequences. Will this widening of freedoms be a problem in a society where we are all of different moral standing? The truth of the matter is that maybe there may be some people within society who do not conform to the same moral standards set down by their community. When making important moral decisions (some may classify lying as one such example), is it not important to be fully qualified? Some may argue that those who are morally uneducated are not competent of making important decisions, and therefore this widening freedom, is potentially a road to moral disaster. Lies are justifiable, as conception of morality and social ethics are distorted.

Perception of truth is also an underlying factor for discussion. The ability to rationalise situations depends upon intellect and up-bringing. Most situations can be rationalised as morally right, (if youre of the belief of subjectivism everyone has the right to their own moral beliefs), as long as a person is of a high enough intellect.

Lying can equally be justified by those who are of low and of high intellect, as a full understanding and comprehension of the consequences and detriment of certain actions is understood on different levels. Those who have greater understanding may therefore see the lie as morally wrong. This would be due to the fact that they have a different insight into the situation. Different people have different views upon moral attitudes, and most believe theyre more than entitled to their opinion. Cultures will rationalise situations with different theories and attitudes, and as a result of this, lying in one culture can be morally right, whereas in another it will be morally wrong. Society will nurture people into certain beliefs and understandings, and consequently the moral justification surrounding lies will always differ from society to society.


Living in the modern world, we are lead to believe that social tolerance is a norm. It would be nice for this to be the reality; however, we all know it is an unachievable dream. The subjectivist creates a lifestyle which everyone aspires to but society denies us of. The idea that you have the ability to think, understand and believe whatever you would like to, would be nice, the practicality of it unfortunately, is that this type of thinking would only bring about conflict within humanity. No level-ground would exist. With everyone of the opinion that they were right, would we not be on our way to creating an argumentative generation who are not capable of compromise? The theory is good, but the practise should never be tried if we want our world to stay relatively civilised.

If society should be made to conform, then why are we not living in a land where our lives are shaped by rules and regulations? Absolutists would relish the day that humans are made to toe the line. Conflict and difference within the world, would not occur as everyone would be living within the same rules, and therefore there would be no room for discrepancies.

The diversity between societies creates an environment in which tolerance is needed to overcome conflict. By establishing a theory which allows a plural approach to situations, it can be understood that we are encouraging a greater respect and appreciation of the differences between cultures. This conventionalist approach rejects ethnocentricity, but accepts, like subjectivism, certain ideas like Hitlers genocide. How can an approach such as this be received as acceptable within the civilised world?

Other controversial questions are raised by this point of view, e.g. How can we remain neutral in response to situations which one culture accepts to be morally right, and another deems morally wrong? This question would never arise if an absolutist approach was imposed upon the world. The principle that there is one set of moral truths to be followed by everyone, independent of religion or culture, can also be believed to be the will of God. His omnipotence means that his law is the only law. The other philosophy is that of Jesus claim, that love is the greatest charge, and therefore there is leeway, as far as love is the driving factor. On the reverse, situation ethics would argue, that ethical rules are very often minor; the individual situation should be individually evaluated. Maybe love is the greatest factor, but this is highly disputed between the theorists.

The love theory: Im sure many people would like to believe that if the motive, intention or even the outcome is love, then lying is morally acceptable, but for many the truth may not be so clear cut. Once again, the idea is good in theory, but the practice may not be so realistic.

Telling the absolute truth to everyone you meet seems like an ideal way to live; never having to cover up lies with more lies. Minimally distorting the truth, (white lies), is an excepted custom these days. Lying is an accepted way of life for two fundamental reasons: 1. To provide gain and 2. To avoid pain. However, the problem facing people today is the fact that lies are easily exposed by our body language, and most peoples natural feeling of guilt. So, are we really gaining or avoiding anything, if the truth is bound to surface sooner or later? Truth be told, the world may be a better place if the world was to be lie less, but we may all believing in a perpetual land of unhappiness. At present however, it seems that most people are happy to live in an oblivious state; a happy state, even if they are living a lie.

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