Modern Western Ethics Ethical Theories; Subjectivism, Objectivism, Ethical Realism, Cultural Relativism, Super-naturalism, Moral Intuitionism for Andhra Pradesh PSC

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Ethical Theories: Ethical Realism and Cultural Relativism - Modern Western Ethics

Ethical Relativism

  • Ethical relativism or moral relativism is the moral theory that holds that morality is related to the norms of one’s culture.

  • In other words, it means that whether an action is right or wrong depends on the moral norms of the society in which it is practised.

  • So, the same action may be morally right in one society but be morally wrong in another.

  • For instance, pre-martial sex is considered immoral in many cultures across South - Asia but it is not considered immoral or unethical in Western countries like, England, France, etc.

  • Similarly, female genital mutilation is considered a moral practice in Africa but it is considered immoral in the Western countries, like USA, England, etc.

  • Hence, for the ethical relativist there are no universal moral principles that can be universally applied to all people, all time, across all cultures, religions and countries.

  • It is therefore believed that ethical relativism promotes tolerance as an important ethical value, as they believe there are no objective moral values. In short, they respect the diversity of cultures.

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Note: Herodotus advanced the view of ethical relativism in Western philosophy. He said, no set of ethical norms are better or worse than any other. In the second half of the 20th century, Foucault and Derrida were the two prominent philosophers associated with this theory.

Ethical Objectivism

  • Ethical objectivism is the view that accepts that there are universal and objectively valid moral principles.

  • According to ethical objectivists, the moral principles are not subjective, they are objectively valid moral principles.

  • They are relative neither to the individual, nor to the cultures, nor to the society.

  • According to this perspective the truth or falsity of a moral judgement does not depend upon the beliefs or customs or feelings of any person or group of people.

  • Hence, according to ethical objectivism, moral values are intrinsic in nature or they are an end-in itself.

  • Law of Karma accepted by Hinduism is an example of Ethical objectivism.

  • In short, it accepts that there are fixed, universal moral principles that have binding authority over all, in all times.

Moral Realism

  • Moral realism or ethical realism is a meta-ethical view.

  • It is based on the idea that there are real objective moral facts or truths in the universe.

  • So, moral statements provide factual information about those truths.

  • In other words, morality deals with objective facts.

  • It is also known as moral objectivism, it accepts that moral facts and moral values exist and they are objective in nature, meaning, they are independent of our perception of them or our beliefs, feelings, or attitudes towards them.

  • In short, they are independent of the subjective opinions.

  • It is also known as Moral Platonism.

  • G.E Moore, Landau, Michael Smith, etc. are names of some of the influential moral realists.

Ethical Subjectivism

  • Ethical subjectivism is a meta-ethical view which accepts that moral judgements are nothing more than statements which represent a person’s feelings, beliefs, and attitudes towards an ethical value.

  • In other words, in ethical subjectivism, moral values are dependent on a subject’s will, it could be human or divine.

  • Hence, ethical statements do not contain factual truths about goodness or badness of an action.

  • Simply put, according to ethical subjectivists, ethical statements express propositions, they can be either true or false.

  • Their truth or falsity is dependent on attitudes of people.

  • For example, the Divine Command theory accepted by Christianity. According to the theory, whatever God commands is right and whatever he forbids is wrong.

Ethical Supernaturalism

  • According to the ethical theory of moral supernaturalism, ethics is indispensable from religion.

  • So, the only source of moral or ethical values is God.

  • Hence, If God says x is good, then x is good because God desires it.

  • In short, ethics is based on God’s will or moral judgements describe God’s will. So, we must tread on the moral path following God’s will.

  • Ethical supernaturalism is defended as a Biblical teaching.

  • According to Christianity, we can know God’s will or what God desires through four sources; 1. the Bible, the Church, prayer and reason.

  • It is God based ethics.

Moral Intuitionism

  • According to the ethical theory of Moral Intuitionism, our intuitive awareness of values, or intuitive knowledge of facts forms the foundation of our ethical knowledge or knowledge of morality.

  • It is a form of cognitivism, according to which via our rational intuition we can know whether the moral statements are true or false.

  • In short, intuitionists believe that human being have an intuitive moral sense that enables them to know the moral truths and falsities via rational arguments.

  • Intuitionism is advocated by Cudworth, More, Samuel Clarke, Richard Price, David Ross, etc.


Q-1 According to _____ theory there are no universal moral principles


A. Ethical Relativism

B. Ethical Realism

C. Ethical Intuitionism

D. All of these

Answer: A

Q-2. According to ______ ethical theory, moral values are intrinsic or an end in-itself


A. Ethical Objectivism

B. Ethical Realism

C. Ethical Intuitionism

D. All of these

Answer: A

Q-3. _____ is also known as Moral Platonism


A. Ethical Relativism

B. Ethical Realism

C. Ethical Intuitionism

D. Plato’s ethical theory

Answer :B

Q- 4. _______ ethical theory is also known as “God based ethics”


A. Ethical Supernaturalism

B. Ethical Naturalism

C. Ethical Supra-naturalism

D. None of these

Answer: A

Q-5. Moral Intuitionism is a form of


A. Cognitivism

B. Non-cognitivism

C. Realism

D. Supernaturalism

Answer: A

  • We learnt about:



#Ethical Realism

#Cultural Relativism


#Moral Intuitionism