Relativism is a theory of knowledge or ethics that identifies the relativity of judgment based on the events, person, or situation with which the individual is dealing. In addition, relativism refers to the perspective that ideas and views are relative to variations in consideration and perception (Velleman, 2015). Therefore, this theory of knowledge denies the existence of an objective and universal truth, instead proposing that each perspective or viewpoint has some truth in it. Relativism comprises of several main categories that differ in terms of controversy and scope. For instance, whereas moral relativism deals with moral judgment differences among cultures and people, truth relativism proposes the absence of absolute truths and the fact that truth is relative to culture, language, and other reference frames. On the other hand, descriptive relativism describes variations among people and cultures sans evaluation, whereas normative relativism assesses the truthfulness or morality of perspectives and ideas in a specific framework (Velleman, 2015). This paper aims to explain the concept of human moral development and various relativist places where people search for moral guidance, including individual, religious, and cultural relativism.
Generally, moral development emphasizes the understanding, change, and emergence of morality across the entire cycle of life from childhood to adulthood. In this case, morality develops and is influenced by one’s behavior and experiences when dealing with moral problems via varying periods of cognitive and physical development (Velleman, 2015). Therefore, moral development relates to the perception of right and wrong that explains the reasons why children and adults differ in terms of character and judgment. Moral development also entails the development of value systems that influence decisions on whether a specific act is right or wrong. Lawrence Kohlberg identified three main stages of moral development. The stages are the pre-conventional level where morality is controlled by external factors, the conventional level where morality is influenced by societal and personal relationships, and post-conventional level where morality is influenced by abstract values and principles (Velleman, 2015). Nevertheless, this theory is criticized for its gender and cultural bias toward white and upper class people.
One relativist place where people look for moral guidance is individual relativism. In this case, individual relativism proposes that the wrongness or rightness of any act is exclusively dependent on the person’s standards (Jensen, 2015). Therefore, individual relativism argues against the relevance of cultural standards and posits that the morality of one’s behavior is entirely dependent on the individual’s standards. Every person has moral standards that are equally appropriate and true, meaning that people cannot judge others based on their personal standards. As such, individual relativism proposes that no act is right or wrong and is relative to the other person’s standards. Individual relativism requires people to respect others individually and avoid considering their moral standards as being superior. However, individual relativism can go wrong because if all people’s values and standards are true, it is impossible to have any false beliefs because everyone’s beliefs and values would be true (Jensen, 2015). Therefore, individual relativism leads to conflicting beliefs with minimal opportunity for compromise.
On the other hand, religious relativism proposes that a specific religion and its beliefs are true for a specific individual but false for the other person. As a result, this relativist place implies that no religion can be exclusively or universally accepted and true, with religious values and beliefs being accidents of birth (Jensen, 2015). Therefore, individuals who are raised in Poland have a god chance of believing in Christianity, whereas another individual raised in Somalia is more likely to become a Muslim. Moreover, if one’s beliefs are the result of historical influence and happenstance, no religious belief is objectively or universally true. Thus, Muslim morality provides standards of morality for Muslims, Christian morality provides standards of morality for Christians, and Hindu morality provides standards of morality for Hindus. Morality is true in relation to specific religious viewpoints, meaning that specific moral principles may be common to several religious points of view (Jensen, 2015). However, religious relativism can only be considered logical if the question of morality is located in a specific religious system’s confines regarding the specific religious system.
Finally, another relativist place that people can look for moral guidance is cultural relativism. In this case, cultural relativism holds that the individual’s practices, values, and beliefs should be perceived from the perspective of one’s culture instead of being judged against another person’s criteria (O’Grady, 2014). Thus, the standards of culture act as the sole basis of morality in cultural relativism. In cultural relativism, immoral actions in a specific country may not be necessarily immoral in other countries. Therefore, one cannot judge the other person’s moral standards and values because although moral systems may vary depending on the culture, they remain equally valid. As a result, no system of morality is better than other systems of morality based on cultural differences. However, cultural relativism erodes reason by requiring that people cannot judge the moral standards practiced in other cultures without evaluating the reasoning behind their actions (O’Grady, 2014). In this case, cultures without the capacity to decide on right and wrong do not have the capacity to reason and make judgments.
Overall, relativism is a doctrine that morality and truth exist in relation to historical context, society, and culture. As such, knowledge and morality are not absolute. Instead, right and wrong or standards of morality are products of varying frameworks and conventions of evaluation. In this case, the authority of moral standards is confined to contexts such as religion and culture.
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