Relativism & Subjectivism

Question. Everything.

Lesson Objectives

Define and appropriately use important terms such as universal, objective, subjective, and relative

Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments for and problems with cultural relativism and ethical subjectivism

Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.

Reflect upon ways of living responsibly in a world where people have diverse ethical beliefs

Key Terms

Cultural Relativism





Ethical Subjectivism

Simple Subjectivism



Why Ethics Matters

Is there morality beyond our own subjective view?

• Statements of personal taste do not need reasons

• But moral judgments need reasons

• Moral judgments belong to philosophical inquiry

• Philosophy wants to move us beyond mere personal feeling

     • Philosophical analysis aims for consistency of thought

Are there "Proofs" in Ethics?

• There are differences between scientific proofs

• Science is proven through experimentation. Ethics is proven through analysis

• Complex ethical questions, like complex scientific questions, are debatable

• Having a good argument is not the same thing as convincing others of your argument. Many other factors may interfere with your argument’s effectiveness on others.

What has been our Goal?

• The goal of an Ethics course isn't to tell you how to act

• Our goal has been to help you appreciate moral complexity and to arrive at your own understanding of ethics in an informed and rigorous way

• It is Aristotle's contention & my own: a better person starts with better thinking