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  • Ethical or Moral relativism is the view that there are no universally valid moral principles.
  • There are two forms of moral relativism: 1. Subjectivism and 2. Cultural relativism.
  • Opposed to moral relativism, we have moral objectivism, which affirms the universal validity of moral principles.


  • According to subjectivism, moral statements are statements of personal opinion and there is no objective way to determine which moral or ethical principle is the best.
  • “X is right” means “X is right for me”. Subjectivism is a form of relativism because it says right and wrong are relative to subjective preferences.
  • Thus, something can be right for one person and wrong for another. It is like people have different ethical tastes.


  1. Subjectivists would believe that there can be no ethical disagreement since ethics is about personal opinion. However, we notice that there are genuine ethical disagreements. For instance, people disagree about ethical issues, such as capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia and so on.
  2. Subjectivism suggests that one can never be wrong about ethics, since one is an authority with regard to personal opinion. But this would imply that no one was ever wrong about slavery, untouchability, sati and other heinous acts.

Cultural Relativism:

  • According to cultural relativism, right and wrong are relative to one’s culture. It is also known as Conventionalism.
  • Cultural relativism maintains that there is no universal ethical principle that transcends culture, ethical beliefs differ from society to society. For example, some societies accept monogamy, while others polygamy.
  • Unlike subjectivism, cultural relativism maintains that ethical standard transcends individual opinion and that right and wrong are relative to one’s culture.
  • Also, there is no single, overriding standard for all cultures to follow. In other words, custom is the king.


  1. It is not possible to draw cultural boundaries in contemporary times. Even if ethics is relative to the culture, one needs to ascertain to what culture one belongs to.
  2. Again, one may belong to several cultures and subcultures but then different cultures would give different advice and one would always stand at the crossroad not knowing in which direction shall one proceed.
  3. Some critics argue that Cultural relativism is self-contradictory, since it maintains that there are no universal standard that applies across the cultures. But if cultural relativism is true, then it would be true for all the cultures. Thus, if cultural relativism is true then, at once, it must also be false.


  • It is about the meaning of ethical words. It is the view that ethical statements are expressions of emotions and not statements of facts.
  • Charles Stevenson and A. J. Ayer are associated with this view. According to emotivists, when we say ‘X is right or good’, we express positive emotions about it. Similarly, when we say ‘Y is wrong or bad’, we express negative emotions about it.
  • For them, ethical statements are not cognitive judgments about emotion hut are expressions of emotion. They believe that expressions of emotion are intended to alter the behaviour of others.


  • Emotivism suggests that there can be no rational deliberations about ethics, since ethics involves expressions of emotions. But we notice that people make rational ethical arguments all the time. ETHICAL / MORAL RELATIVISM




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