Moral Relativism visits many of areas of ethical issues.
A relativist’s main aim when making an ethical decision would be to please as many people as possible. They would try to understand about a person’s or people’s beliefs or culture before making the decision. They would try and learn all they could about those beliefs and cultures and try to understand why these people would believe in these things. Relativism is also the belief that everyone has a right to their own opinion and this opinion is valid and should always be considered.
A relativist would also believe that there is no moral objective truth or ‘natural law’ that humans follow. They believe even if there was then we cannot know it as what is morally true for one person may not be true for another individual. They believe that morals are subject to culture, time and place. This is also known as cultural relativism.A modern cultural relativist J L Mackie wrote’There are no objective values.’This is expressing his views that such values as good and bad are not part of the physical world around us and people just follow the code of the culture they live in at the time they are living.One type of Moral Relativism is situation ethics.
This was devised in 1966 by the philosopher Joseph Fletcher. His most famous quote which generally sets the tone for situation ethics reads;’The morality of an action depends on the situation’Joseph Fletchers ethical theory suggested that although having strong relativist beliefs, situation ethics can also accommodate strong Christian ethical beliefs. The main idea of situation ethics is in certain situations the most loving choice must be made no matter what. In one of Fletchers forewords a great quote to support situation ethics can be found.’There are times when a man has to push his principles aside and do the right thing’ (St Louis taxi driver 1963)This is highlighting that despite going against all you have believed in your whole life in some situations you must do the most loving thing. The love however must be unconditional love known as agape love.
The two main ethical theories were brought together for situation ethics to exist. Legalistic ethics relates strongly to natural law and are strong guidelines set down for humans to live their lives and use to base ethical decisions on. Usually Catholics and other religions have strong legalistic traditions.
The opposite of this is Antinomian ethics where a person would make a decision without any principles. They would make a decision spontaneously and have the view that each decision is unique from the last one. The compromise to this is Situation ethics were a person would follow a moral law until a decision is made where agape love needs to be the outcome even if it goes against the natural law. To prevent people becoming confused on what principles needed to be used to break down the situation he divided the principles into two categories.The first principles were the four working principles. These were the principles that must be assumed are working before a decision is to take place.1. Pragmatism – The action used must definitely be successful and be successful until the very end product which is love.
2. Relativism – Fletcher said that all decision must be based on love yet there were no fixed rules or ‘absolute’ beliefs in situation ethics.3. Positivism – relies upon the fact that the person freely chooses to believe in agape love as described by Christianity4. Personalism – laws are for the benefit of the peopleThen Fletchers more detailed and perhaps more important six fundamental theories.
First Proposition- Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love: nothing else.This means actions cannot be intrinsically good. It is only good if the most loving outcome is brought because of the actionSecond Proposition- The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else.Love replaces law and Jesus replaces the Torah.
The commandments are not absolute. Jesus broke them when he needed to for the most loving outcome.Third Proposition- Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed: nothing else.Justice is love in the community around us. Love and justice cannot be separated.Fourth Proposition- Love wills the neighbours good whether we like him or notAgape love is the desire to do well.
It is unconditional love and it goes out to everyone around us. Yet nothing is required back from it.Fifth Proposition- Only the end justifies the means; nothing elseFletcher believed the end result is far more important than the action itself. However the end result must be the most loving. However he said we must also look at the motive for acting and also the consequences.
Sixth Proposition- Love’s decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively.This is perhaps the most important proposition linking with situation ethics. It is saying that something an action is either right or wrong based on the situation.
Fletcher believed an action that brought the most loving outcome is right. He said that Jesus himself also followed this belief as he distanced himself from Jewish groups that lived on a rule based society.