|Relativism and Absolutism
(Text copyright 2005 by Theodore Gracyk)
Cultural relativism is the position that:
A second, more radical argument:
Relativism is sometimes defended for more practical reasons, such as that it is an antidote to ethnocentrism.
Gentle ethnocentrism is valuable for strengthening the ego, etc.
Harsh, Euroamerican ethnocentrism “gives rise to serious problems.”
Absolutes are fixed and permit no variation
Universals concerning values are the “least common denominators” of human life, but they can take many forms, all of them equally valid.
For more about relativism, click here.
Absolutism holds that some "absolutes" (some fixed principles) are true apart from their being endorsed by any individual or group.
The key distinction made by the absolutist but not the relativist (where "X" is a placeholder for whatever is at issue):
Thinking X is right vs. X actually being right.
If we are not tempted by nihilism or subjectivism, then showing relativism to be mistaken is good reason to adopt absolutism. (But notice that this does not tell us which type of absolutism to endorse.)
Three arguments made by Shaw against relativism:
Argument that subjectivism (individual relativism) is “muddled."
Argument that that ethical relativism has unacceptable consequences (e.g., social reformers are always immoral).
Argument that ethical relativism is false.
Second version of the argument:
Last updated Aug. 9, 2012