"All ethical statements are relative." By examining the justifications for - and implications of - making this claim, decide whether or not you agree with it.

Essay by rjshah2High School, 12th grade September 2005

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The statement puts forward the idea that what is right or wrong and good or bad is not unconditional but variable and relative, depending on the person, circumstances, or social state of affairs. The view is as ancient as Protagoras, a leading Greek Sophist of the 5th century BC, and as modern as the scientific approaches of sociology and anthropology. From this view rises the theory of Ethical Relativism, which states that all ethical statements are relative to each individual and/or society.

Ethical relativism is not merely the belief that what is right depends exclusively on the circumstances, but there is general consensus that circumstances can make a difference; for example it is understood that whether it is right for a man to enter a certain house depends on his status over the house, whether he is the owner, a guest, a police officer with a warrant, or a burglar.

Nor is ethical relativism the belief that what someone thinks is right is relative to his social habituation, for again anyone can agree that there is a causal influence behind what people think is right. Ethical relativism is the view that what is really right depends solely upon what the individual or the society thinks is right. What a person thinks at a different time and place will be different from another and hence what the person thinks is right will vary accordingly. Therefore, ethical relativism is a theory about the legitimacy status of moral principles, according to which changing and even conflicting moral principles are considered true, consequently leaving no objective way in which principles can be justified to be valid for all people and societies.

It can be seen that if each society has its own ethics, certain activities may be plausible in a certain culture...