Ariadne's Thread on Ethical Relativism
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Professor Sidgwick Speaking
Good morning! Yes, indeed. Good morning!

I want to welcome all of you to this dialog on ethics. And I want to say thank you all for volunteering for this class. I'm glad to see that we have people here from several departments: philosophy, anthropology, political science, and economics. We wanted several areas to be represented.

Our topic for discussion is ethical or moral relativism. What that means and what questions it involves is our subject for today. 

In general, ethical relativism is a theory about moral judgments and moral principles - a 'meta-ethical' theory. It makes claims about what those judgments or principles mean and how they are grounded or not grounded in certain ways. It makes claims about the status of those judgments and whether they have certain properties. For example, an ethical relativist may claim that ethical judgments are not objective in some sense of that rather ambiguous term.

By the way, I'm using the terms 'ethical' and 'moral' interchangeably. Some writers make a distinction between the two, but I suggest that we not do so. Therefore, the phrases 'ethical judgment' and 'moral judgment' are synonymous. The same goes for the phrases 'ethical principles' and 'moral principles.'

But I want your views. Let's open with a question. 

A man in some west African cultures can have more than one wife. In our country, this is illegal. Moreover, many people here would consider it morally wrong for a man to have more than one wife. What kinds of ethical and meta-ethical questions does this difference raise?

For a brief description of the participants in the discussion, click here.

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