Ethical Systems: Relativistic Before Discussing Any Ethical Essay

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Ethical Systems: Relativistic

Before discussing any ethical system it is important to understand what the terms ethics and ethical systems mean. Trevino & Nelson, (2007) define ethics as "the principles, norms, and standards of conduct governing an individual or organization," and the right action, or moral behavior in a particular situation is determined based on ethics, whereas, ethical system refers to the underlying ethical principles used by an individual in making decisions. Several ethical theories have been developed over time and these have come to be known as the ethical systems, they include duty-based, entitlement, goal-based, humanistic, relativistic, and rights-based ethical systems. However, this essay will deal with the relativistic ethical system since this has been chosen as the personal ethical system.

The relativistic ethical system, commonly referred to as relativism, often uses the personalized approach to ethics. This system is subjective and focuses on personal experience as a form of judgment, and many different factors play a role in determining how a person uses this system. The main feature of this system is that there are no absolutes on its approach (Arrington, 1989).

The development of the relativism theory was initially out of the works produced by anthropologists and social scientists; this was majorly through their writings in the early to mid-1900's. Some of them showed that ethical judgments made by different groups of persons throughout the world were diversified at some level. The rise of fascists governments and fascist philosophy in the 1930s and 1940s intensified the debate regarding foundation of morals, that is, whether they were absolute or relative (Hancock, 1974). Such debates have eventually led to the creation of various versions of ethical relativism and they have become more sophisticated over time.

Regardless of the many versions of ethical relativism, they all agree with the principle governing ethical relativism; moral absolutes do not exist, no moral rights and wrongs. The principle suggests that social norms are the determinants of right and wrong. The category of ethical relativism referred to as situational ethics is a term that is common among
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many. What ethical relativism actually implies is that there has been an evolution on the morals of individuals, there have been changes over time, and thus the morals are not absolute (Cauthen, 2001). Ethical relativism gives room for various cultures and practices apart from allowing individuals to adapt ethically concurrently with the changes in knowledge, culture, and technology in the society. These have been considered as advantages of ethical relativism since the adaptation is viewed as good and a valid way of practicing relativism.

The fact that ethical relativism considers truth, right and wrong, and justice as all relative has been considered to be a disadvantage. It is not accurate to consider something to be right or nothing I made right by the mere fact that a group of individual think that it is right. A good example in this case is slavery which was very normal and morally acceptable in America two centuries ago, currently it cannot be imagined in the same America. On the other hand, absolute set of ethics is not given room by ethical relativism. Logics dictate that, for a Divine Absolute Ethics Giver to exist then there must be absolute ethics (Schneewind, 1983). When an absolute set ethics is required then it would mean that an extrapolation of an Absolute Ethics Giver would point to God, this would go against ethical relativism. The implication of this is that the idea of an absolute God would not be supported by ethical relativism and would not include religious systems that are founded on absolute morals; that is, it would absolutely condemn absolute ethics. This would indicate an inconsistency of relativism since it would contradict beliefs of values of absolutism. Furthermore, if there have been changes in ethics overtime then there is the issue of self contradiction within the relativistic perspective. For instance, a change in social ethics in America regarding slavery has changed it from acceptable and correct 200 years ago to unacceptable and wrong currently. What if in the next 200 years slavery becomes acceptable again, how will it be categorized as wrong or right? This would…

Sources Used in Documents:


Arrington, Robert L. (1989). Rationalism, Realism, and Relativism: Perspectives in contemporary moral epistemology. Cornell University Press

Cauthen, Kenneth. (2001). The Ethics of Belief: A Bio-Historical Approach. Lima, Ohio: CSS


Hancock, R.N. (1974). Twentieth century ethics, New York, Columbia University Press

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