Essay // Moral Relativism: Aren’t we all entitled to an ugly opinion?

Ugly Opinion

No one system of morality is universal. But can we find a way to synchronize the world?

Educators believe the concept of right and wrong should be taught to children; yet, the concept itself has been challenged as to whose conception of right and wrong should be planted in the minds of the young. In this example, absolutists and relativist have been arguing the claim for choosing moral guidance. Could anyone (organisation or person) be entrusted as the arbitrator in morality? Is everyone meant to follow the same morals?

Ethical relativism is true per se – as no moral principles are valid for everyone. Anthropologists have made discoveries to back up the claim that different cultures have different practices and moral priorities and those which prevail in one does not necessarily have to be accepted in another. This argument tends to lean towards the descriptive explanation, where it is concluded that no one system of morality is universal; “what is believed to be morally good and bad differs from culture to culture” (Benn, 2006 p15) – meaning no system of moral is valid for everyone. Then, we have the normative side where codes of conduct could be assumed to be culturally determined. “Are certain things right for some cultures, but not for others – in the sense that the members of some cultures have certain obligations which members of other cultures do not have?” (Benn, 2006 p15) Ethical relativism, face another problem through other cynics who might claim that universal moral principles do exist. However, a major issue is raised here as the existence of such principles cannot be known; and the attempt to educate people morally comes across as an extreme act of arrogance when the educators would be people just as morally fallible as the rest.

The doctrine has also been questioned in its addition to most debates. Does it even make sense? If it is believed that one should follow the moral principles imposed culturally, that makes no point in arguing the validity of other cultures, as one would have to first see the culture as authority. But this would close the debate uninterestingly. Therefore we look at the argument of cultural diversity where ­it takes the truth of the statement “no one system of morality is universally valid”. This leads to conclude the underlying assumption that some beliefs are false. Why can’t some people be wrong about their morality however strongly the hold to their conviction? An example to back the logic used is in other fields of science where many professionals disagree among themselves. A case that goes against ethical relativity is where morality is questioned by the individuals within the culture (after the assumption that each culture should comply with their respective prevailing opinions and morals).

The argument however is more complicated as the logic behind acknowledging culturally imposed patterns as “right” is heavily scrutinized by the Argumentum ad Nazium. This states the example of the Nazi culture that was clearly mistaken about « some » moral principles such as genomics which disregards assimilation. Assuming, Germany had won World War II, and established Nazi values over Europe, the question of whether their values (human good emerges from conflict and domination) would then be deemed as good after they would have had settled as a culture seems conclusive. Surely, they would still be flawed in some aspects of their ideologies even if they had their own culture. The Nazi example seems enough to suggest the flaw with ethical relativism as the consequence of its applied doctrine here seems unacceptable. What ethical relativism seems to be promoting is tolerance; the idea of respecting the choice of one another. Is this acceptable? It could well be seen as confusion or moral cowardice when one is asked to withhold judgement from cases of extreme evil [e.g. some elements of Islam regarding all non-Muslims termed ‘kaffirs’].


Some locations have been imposing strict behavioural patterns (culture) on members of their respective groups with rules grounded on authoritarianism (e.g. some countries under strict Islamic rules). Such rules would surely leave the resident ethical relativist with a hard choice [if any] when expected to respect the other side’s approach to morality as a matter of giving every human being the freedom to choose their groups, sub-cultures, appearance & social patterns. However, these cultures have survived perfectly for generations [with dogmatism and other illiberal moral certainties] with a blossoming number of faithful living within the confines of their political boundaries – where they are allowed to so as long as the choices of other countries, groups & individuals are respected. By a similar rationale, it would be fair to assume that the owner of a house is free to set out the indoor decorations, furnitures and rules but would be deemed as fairly unreasonable should he try to impose rules in his neighbour’s home [who might prefer blinds to curtains, or Ribena over Pepsi].

Perhaps what ethical relativism is trying to elicit is toleration from all. Toleration has long been considered as morally virtuous. Yet, is it possible to be tolerant to others who strongly believe in “wrong”? So far, the only universally working derivative from the relativism debate seems to be toleration. The problems that confront ethical relativism remain debatable issues with no perfect solutions. However, a strong backup for toleration comes from Simon Blackburn’s article where it came as conclusive that some arguments are pointless – such as arguing about one’s art preference in a gallery. It might keep the debate calmer if people were to agree to differ. Or, maybe relativism is just a way of dealing with each other’s choices while still not in full agreement: tolerance. A similar example would be Piers Benn’s mention of colour preference; where relativism could not determine the “degree of pleasantness” to show which colour was “better”.

Gustave Cailleboteart - Fruit Displayed on a Stand 469

Gustave Caillebotte (Paris 1848 – Gennevilliers 1894), « Fruits à l’étalage« 

Ethical relativism is extremely important as it has elicited toleration from many while tackling hostility among parties. However, it does seem to fall short in terms of help and support when faced with irrational parties who consider their opinions and desires as the only valid agenda and outcome [dictatorship]. Apart from reminding the fact that as a matter of human decency, freedom of choice would seem a rightful entitlement to every human being of the 20th century living on a modern and civilised planet. According to Kantians [Immanuel Kant’s adepts], the sole motivating factor for someone’s action should be reason, and should issue from their own rational deliberations.

Moral relativism’s addition to the issues on morality seem vague, as – assuming that moral judgements are judgements of personal taste, like one’s preference for  a certain colour – it seems fair to conclude that one choice might be desirable for one but not for another. Yet, the logic of “good for one, bad for another”, can at times be misleading in morality. The example of the colour blind test mentioned by Piers Benn seems to deliver concrete proof of how relativism remains a questionable doctrine. Assuming red-green colour blindness was on the rise, the majority would likely quality the affected as “seeing things differently” and not less correctly. This logic however is flawed when applied in other circumstances such as: if half of the population had a disorder that affected their orientation and ability to size objects, they would surely be causing severe injuries to themselves and others; in that case they would be considered as “wrong”. The analogy of colour seems more fitting for morality. However, it still seems unlikely that the concept will work globally, as that analogy also completely cancels the idea of dispute [a hard outcome when human judgement clouded by selfish emotions influence particular individuals] – as this would entice that each culture is right in its own choice; a concept that could easily lead to the arms dealer’s nightmare and a peaceful civilisation.

The examples mentioned seem to bring ethical relativism to just a matter of adopting a tolerant attitude towards others; even if it goes against your beliefs as a human being. While relativism does not seem to add much to the main outcome, it does help parties cope with their differences with an element of fairness: accepting the fact that judgements of taste & lifestyle differs from person to person, and what may be deemed as ‘perfect’ to some may in fact be a torturous nightmare to others [others sometimes in direct genetic networks/bloodlines or culture/nationality/class/IQ,etc].

Drouais, Jean-Germain (French, 1763-1788)

Image: Jean-Germain Drouais (Paris 1763 – Rome 1788), « Marius Prisoner at Minturnes« 




Benn P. (2006) Ethics. pp1-29. Cornwall: TJ International Ltd

Blackburn S. (2002) Think Autumn. pp83-88

And a nod to Garo. A for sparking the question.

28.03.2013 | Danny J. D’Purb |


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6 réflexions sur “Essay // Moral Relativism: Aren’t we all entitled to an ugly opinion?

  1. __________

    E.g. 1

    Person A, « You can’t stop a rhino from charging if you were looking for trouble »

    What an educated, philosophically conscious & psychologically reasoning person in the 21st century could likely grasp:

    In Person A’s opinion [which he obviously firmly believes], a rhino could not be stopped if someone was disturbing the animal. This however is not a fact, but Person A’s opinion & belief; which may contain some truth and may be fairly obvious, but still it is not a fact. It will be my choice to choose whether to believe in his words, or not


    E.g. 2

    Person B, « Faith is the light of Hope »

    What an educated, philosophically conscious & psychologically reasoning person in the 21st century could likely grasp:

    Faith seems to motivate and keep a person’s mindstate positive when struggling towards a goal and hoping to achieve it. It might make sense, but is faith the « light » of hope. Light here may have been used as a metaphor as something that enlightens [light chases the dark]. However, « Faith is the light of hope » is once again only Person B’s opinion, and although to some who may not be able to stretch their thinking and philosophically make « some sense » out of the claim, it still concludes to simply being an opinion for Person B, who [from his perspective] believes faith is the light of hope


    E.g. 3

    Person C, « Real men treat women well… »

    What an educated, philosophically conscious & psychologically reasoning person in the 21st century could likely grasp:

    Once again, this would seem to be the same logic as E.g. 2. In Person C’s opinion, « real » [whatever this might imply] men treat women well [whatever this might also imply]. Further questions in an attempt to clear doubts over the meaning grasped would be to ask Person C to define the terms « real » and « well ».



    In an attempt to lessen the burden of meaningless [at times] wastage of neural processes in daily [often useless] social « chit-chats » of insecurity in a platonic attempt to cultivate an « imaginary » sense of worth and acceptance through joint criticism [often biased] of strong individuals with strong opinions, people could try to lessen the burden on their mood and emotions by simply re-interpreting the words of [anyone] to the simple fact that all output from a person [any one in the world] is simply the product of their perception and [unless linked to an objective study, or research, or solid facts] are simply thoughts, ideas and visions that can only be critically explored and considered for possible action [positive or negative].

  2. #Psychology #Radical #Empiricism [W.James works were influential to intellectuals such as Émile Durkheim, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam, and Richard Rorty]


    1890, Principles of Psychology:

    « Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind – without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos… »



    « I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine. »

    – Friedrich Salomon Perls (July 8, 1893 – March 14, 1970) // Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist who coined the ‘Gestalt therapy’

    [Wikipedia: The core of the Gestalt Therapy process is enhanced awareness of sensation, perception, bodily feelings, emotion, and behavior, in the present moment.]


  3. Phenomenology as a Resource for Patients

    #Medicine #Philosophy #Health #Mind #MentalHealth #Society #Education #Culture


    Patient support tools have drawn on a variety of disciplines, including psychotherapy, social psychology, and social care. One discipline that has not so far been used to support patients is philosophy. This paper proposes that a particular philosophical approach, phenomenology, could prove useful for patients, giving them tools to reflect on and expand their understanding of their illness. I present a framework for a resource that could help patients to philosophically examine their illness, its impact on their life, and its meaning.

    I explain the need for such a resource, provide philosophical grounding for it, and outline the epistemic and existential gains philosophy offers. Illness often begins as an intrusion on one’s life but with time becomes a way of being. I argue that this transition impacts on core human features such as the experience of space and time, human abilities, and adaptability. It therefore requires philosophical analysis and response. The paper uses ideas from Husserl and Merleau-Ponty to present such a response in the form of a phenomenological toolkit for patients.

    The toolkit includes viewing illness as a form of phenomenological reduction, thematizing illness, and examining illness as altering the ill person’s being in the world. I suggest that this toolkit could be offered to patients as a workshop, using phenomenological concepts, texts, and film clips to reflect on illness. I conclude by arguing that examining illness as a limit case of embodied existence deepens our understanding of phenomenology…

    Oxford Journals | Journal of Medicine & Philosophy:

  4. _______________________________________



    « Clubbed to Death II », courtesy of Rob Dougan // Album: Furious Angels (1998)




  5. An essay on intelligence

    « The story of intelligence begins with Plato. In all his writings, he ascribes a very high value to thinking, declaring (through the mouth of Socrates) that the unexamined life is not worth living. Plato emerged from a world steeped in myth and mysticism to claim something new: that the truth about reality could be established through reason, or what we might consider today to be the application of intelligence. This led him to conclude, in The Republic, that the ideal ruler is ‘the philosopher king’, as only a philosopher can work out the proper order of things. And so he launched the idea that the cleverest should rule over the rest – an intellectual meritocracy…


    The idea that intelligence defines humanity persisted into the Enlightenment. It was enthusiastically embraced by Immanuel Kant, probably the most influential moral philosopher since the ancients. For Kant, only reasoning creatures had moral standing. Rational beings were to be called ‘persons’ and were ‘ends in themselves’. Beings that were not rational, on the other hand, had ‘only a relative value as means, and are therefore called things’. We could do with them what we liked.

    According to Kant, the reasoning being – today, we’d say the intelligent being – has infinite worth or dignity, whereas the unreasoning or unintelligent one has none. His arguments are more sophisticated, but essentially he arrives at the same conclusion as Aristotle: there are natural masters and natural slaves, and intelligence is what distinguishes them…

    by Stephen Cave, executive director and senior research fellow of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at the University of Cambridge. A philosopher by training, he has also served as a British diplomat, and written widely on philosophical and scientific subjects

    Full Article:


    “I teach you Der Übermensch. Man is something which shall be surpassed.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

    “Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.” -Euripides

    “Common sense is the best distributed commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it.” -Rene Descartes

    “I won’t talk to my colleagues about philosophy… They are too stupid.” -Colin McGinn

    “All civil institutions assume the same mediocre type of man. It is therefore not suprising when we find them full of lies.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

    “The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, even to murder, for the truth.” -Alfred Adler

    “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” -John Dewey

    “You do pay a price for stating it simply, namely it’s easier for the professionals to misunderstand it.” -John Searle

    “Many people are afraid of freedom. They are conditioned to be afraid of it.” -Herbert Marcuse

    “There is no great genius without some touch of madness.” -Seneca

    “The envious man thinks that if his neighbor breaks a leg, he will be able to walk better himself.” -Helmut Schoeck

    « Diseases of the soul are both more dangerous and more numerous than those of the body. » – Cicero

    “The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the overexamined life is nothing to write home about either.” -Daniel Dennett

    “What you do not wish others should do unto you, do not do unto them.” -Confucius

    “When you keep playing the same role, you keep attracting the same people.” -Jerry Corstens

    “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” – Winston S. Churchill

    « Progress is impossible without change, & those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. » -G.B. Shaw

    « It is not surprising that I, or any ordinary man, should wander in perplexity. » -Socrates

    « There is nothing so absurd that some philosopher has not already said it. » -Cicero

    « Honor is the reward of virtue. » -Cicero

    « It is the sign of a great mind to prefer things in measure to things in excess. » -Seneca

    « Formation, méritocratie, ordre et amour… simple. » -Danny J. D’Purb

    « Il n’y a pas de ‘social’…le social c’est simplement de l’interaction entre organismes. Donc le terme social n’est pas valide scientifiquement puis qu’il n’est pas précis. Il n’y a que l’individu, ses choix, sa langue, ses capacités [e.g. de synthèse culturelle] et son développement: les acteurs majeurs dans l’explication scientifique, philosophique et psychologique de la conception de l’individu [à noter que chaque conception est unique à l’individu comme ses empreintes digitaux, la forme de son crâne, ou la structure de son corps] » -Danny J. D’Purb

    « Proving yourself to ‘others’ doesn’t prove anything. Realize you have nothing to prove. » – Jerry Corstens

    “En 2018, en ce qui concerne la Théorie Organique, il n’y a pas vraiment de débat entre intellectuels dans la psychologie, mais simplement la découverte des nouvelles perspectives mécaniques/scientifiques qu’elle introduit pour expliquer la conception psychologique et philosophique de l’individu. Donc la formation, qui ‘peut être’ mécanique et structurée dans son application [e.g. l’apprentissage à distance par texte/video/audio], se développe indirectement pour créer et donner une dimension socio-culturelle à l’individu une fois adoptée, maîtrisée, et déployée.” -Danny J. D’Purb

    Philosophie, Science et Société:

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