Moral relativism

Philosophical Studies 135 (2):123 - 143 (2007)
Abstract
Moral relativism comes in many varieties. One is a moral doctrine, according to which we ought to respect other cultures, and allow them to solve moral problems as they see fit. I will say nothing about this kind of moral relativism in the present context. Another kind of moral relativism is semantic moral relativism, according to which, when we pass moral judgements, we make an implicit reference to some system of morality (our own). According to this kind of moral relativism, when I say that a certain action is right, my statement is elliptic. What I am really saying is that, according to the system of morality in my culture, this action is right. I will reject this kind of relativism. According to yet another kind of moral relativism, which we may call epistemic, it is possible that, when one person (belonging to one culture) makes a certain moral judgement, such as that this action is right, and another person (belong to another culture) makes the judgement that the very same action is wrong, they may have just as good reasons for their respective judgements; it is even possible that, were they fully informed about all the facts, equally imaginative, and so forth, they would still hold on to their respective (conflicting) judgements. They are each fully justified in their belief in conflicting judgements. I will comment on this form of moral relativism in passing. Finally, however, there is a kind of moral relativism we could call ontological, according to which, when two persons pass conflicting moral verdicts on a certain action, they may both be right. The explanation is that they make their judgements from the perspective of different, socially constructed, moral universes. So while it is true in the first person's moral universe that a certain action is right, it is true in the second person's moral universe that the very same action is wrong. I explain and defend this version of ontological moral relativism.
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