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    Absolutism And Relativism Essay

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    Absolutism and relativism are two extreme ethical approaches to reality. Whilethey are both valid and supported by facts, they are very contrasting in theirviews. Values are what a person cares about and thinks is worthwhile. Forexample, values can include life, love, religious faith, freedom, relationships,health, justice, education, family and many other things.

    Usually these valuesare what provides the passion in a person’s life, and gives them hope and areason for being. A person might go to any lengths to protect what they feel isright and to preserve these values. Values can be divided up into twosubcategories: absolute and relative. Absolute values deal with conventionalethics. In absolutism, everything is certain.

    Relativism, on the other hand, ismore subjective. It includes concepts such as utilitarianism and idealism. Relativism stresses the idea that nothing is certain. These two ideals areextremes when approaching reality and values. An ethical absolutist believesthat there is a single or universal moral standard that is equally applicable toall people at all times, and each society must adhere to them. There is onemoral law, one universal code, and one eternal standard that govern all people.

    Right is right and wrong is wrong; everything is black and white. There is adistinct difference between what is “actually” right and what is”thought” to be right. Actions are inherently good or bad, regardlessof the consequences. They also feel that if two people are in disagreement aboutwhat is right, then obviously one of them must be mistaken, since ethicalstandards are either right or wrong. Immanuel Kant and his categoricalimperative support the absolutist’s opinions.

    Kant, a German philosopher, wasone of the greatest thinkers of all time, and his writings are widely used tostudy ethics and morality. According to him, to possess moral worth is moreimportant than to possess intelligence, humor, strength or any other talent ofthe mind or body. He feels that moral worth has absolute value. When faced witha moral decision, one test of a moral act is to ask oneself, “Is this thekind of act that everyone should perform?” This question can determinewhether a given principle is moral and objective or merely subjective. ImmanuelKant stated, “There is. .

    . but one categorical imperative, namely, this: Actonly on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it shouldbecome a universal law” (M-WDQ). Universal principles impose categoricalimperatives that demand that a person act in a certain fashion. A categoricalimperative is unconditional and moral.

    For example, “Keep yourpromises” or “Don’t lie”. The opposite of this is thehypothetical imperative, which is conditional on something. People who followKant’s theories, Kantians, defend his principles. In his article in The NewRepublic, Michael Sandel wrote, “Kant argued that empirical principles,such as utility, were unfit to serve as basis for the moral law. A whollyinstrumental defense of freedom and rights not only leaves rights vulnerable,but fails to respect the inherent dignity of persons” (Sandel). In the viewof modern-day Kantians, certain rights are so fundamental that even the generalwelfare cannot override them.

    The extreme opposite of absolutism is relativism. Relativists feel that circumstances arise that can alter cases, and makeexceptions to any rule. It is okay to have everyday standards to live by, butexceptions are always welcome since they are right and good. The judgment ofgood of bad is based upon the result of consequence of the act rather than theact itself.

    Contrary to ethical absolutism, ethical relativism claims that iftwo individuals disagree on a moral view, both can be right, since moral viewsare not right or wrong. The two people can both be right because “Culturalcircumstances alter the way people think about their environment, thus emphasisof moral or immoral judgment is placed on differing actions in differingcultures” (Sherman). Relativism is subjective and seeks to gain happiness;therefore, this ideal makes perfect sense. The article “The Paralysis ofAbsolutophobia” by Robert Simon gives reasons why relativism is soprevalent among students today. He feels that students’ have their ownindividual interpretations of multiculturalism and postmodernism, and that anycriticism of another culture’s practices is a kind of cultural imperialism. Also, because we all speak from some particular perspective, truly objectivemoral knowledge is impossible to attain (Simon).

    In the same article RobertSimon speaks about having absolute values. He feels that to be tolerant andwilling to consider the viewpoints and arguments of others is in itself a moraljudgment. Also, there is nothing about moral judgment that requiresinflexibility, intolerance, fanaticism or an inability to recognize that peoplewill disagree. And finally, Simon feels that people should replaceabsolutophobia with a greater appreciation and openmindness.

    Part of therelativist view deals with utilitarianism, which was supported by John StuartMill. His view defends liberal principles in the name of maximizing the generalwelfare. Referring to Mill’s utilitarian views, in his article, Sandel remarks,”The state should not impose on its citizens a preferred way of life, evenfor their own good, because doing so will reduce the sum of human happiness, atleast in the long run; better that people choose for themselves even if, onoccasion, they get it wrong” (Sandel). In On Liberty, Mill writes,”The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own goodin our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, orimpede their efforts to obtain it”.

    In one respect, utilitarianism wouldseem well suited to liberal purposes. Seeking to maximize overall happiness doesnot require judging people’s values, only aggregating them. Utilitarianssometimes defend individual right on the grounds that respecting them now willserve utility in the long run. All of Immanuel Kant’s opinions strongly opposedthis.

    It is obvious that ethical absolutism and relativism are extremeopposites. They each have strong evidence backing them up and forming separateopinions. Even great philosophers took stands on absolutism and relativism. Immanuel Kant supports absolutism, while J.

    S. Mill supports relativism. Manypeople, however, feels that the best solution lies as a “happy medium”that lies somewhere in the middle. I agree with that notion.

    As the saying goes,”Moderation is key”; I don’t feel that an extreme is ever the way togo. Relativists see happiness and idealism, which I feel is important. I alsothink that it is important to seek the greatest good for the greatest number ofpeople. Absolutism, on the other hand, has absolute certainty.

    I feel it isimportant to also have assured realities that you can look forward to relyingon. I disagree with the absolutist opinion that people cannot have differentviews on moral issues. I think that people, depending on their experiences,culture, age, religion, and social status have differing opinions on topics. That is all a part of the world, and its diverse qualities and characteristics. BibliographyHalpin, James. Good Conversation: An Invitation to Moral Disclosure.

    Simon& Schuster Custom Publishing. Needham, Massachusetts, 1997. Kant, Immanuel. Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Quotations.

    Merriam-Webster, Inc. New York, NewYork, 1992. p 15. Sandel, Michael. “Morality and the liberal ideal: mustindividual rights betray the common good?”. The New Republic.

    May 7, 1984v190 p15 Sherman, Bob. Basic Ethics and Morals. World Wide Web: http://www. flash.

    net/bob001/basics. html. Simon, Robert L. “The Paralysis of Absolutophobia”. From The Chronicleof Higher Education.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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