Relativism and Morality

Relativism and Morality

Relativism is a concept that defines moral judgments as true or false relative to a perspective and that no perspective has a privilege over all others (Sheehy, 2006). In morality, there are aspects of human actions that are absolute wrong or right. However, in some circumstances, a wrong or right behavior may be relative to place, culture, time, religion, and other determinants of human diversity. However, there is a variation in judgment of human actions, which creates difficulty in determining what constitutes a right or wrong, human behavior. Relativism masks the underlying shared moral norms. Embracing the idea of the existence of radical moral values facilitates a denial of the universal values present in every human society (Goodman, 2010).

Foundation of Relativism

Relativism is useful in creating cohesion among societies and cultures by discouraging passing judgments on the practices and beliefs of other societies (Goodman, 2010). The problem is that the emergence of radicalism in religion and politics has a foundation in the relativist definition of diversity. There are population groups that perceive actions of other groups as contrary to their belief system. The result is a reaction in the form of violence and injustices amongst groups. Relativism discourages integration of human societies, and the formation of the larger world society with a common belief and justice system. It protects the uniqueness of the various social groups even when it involves negative human relationships.

Objectivism, therefore, provides a better approach to social interactions that lead to greater integration than relativism (Sheehy, 2006). The basic principle is we all have human nature. An action that hurts one human being hurts the other too. Therefore, the beliefs that divide human beings into groups and create hatred are those that are unnecessary and must face elimination from the value system. However, there are exceptions to the need for complete integration of human societies.  There are aspects of human belief systems that are a mystery. These include religion and perspectives of the origin of mankind and the world. These are issues that are not possible to explain, and, therefore, exists a variation among different cultures. Science, which is the basis for objectivism, does not provide a universally accepted demonstration of the knowledge of the origin of the world and mankind. These may be the only points of concern for human integration. Otherwise, other elements of human beliefs are universal and with potential to create unity.

Universal Moral Values

In his text, “Some Moral Minima”, Lenn Goodman, takes about the objective view of morality citing several atrocities guided by the principle of relativism. In Goodman’s perspective of political practice, actions such as famine, genocide, and germ warfare are unacceptable universally (Goodman, 2010). The intention of the proponents of genocide is to destroy a culture, tribe or language, race, and other forms of social classifications. In history, such attempts have been witnessed in which the instigators apply violence, fear, and intimidation. As Goodman’s describes, Turkey used methods such as starvation, deportation, torture, massacre, and expropriation, in an attempt to alienate and eliminate the entire Armenian people. There are many other examples. Stalin and the Russians used famine to try to destroy Ukrainians by hoarding food reserves causing people to starve resulting in death of millions of people. The germ warfare is another example of that claimed human lives, in the development of many countries.

The colonial administrators supplied the Native American people with small pox infected blankets with the intention to reduce their population significantly. Other aspects on Goodman’s list of absolute moral wrongs are the issues of child soldiers, hostage taking, and terrorism. These are acts of evil because they are deliberate actions aimed at spreading malice. The battle for political control and the religious dominance is the main reason behind the growth of separatist groups. These groups plan and conduct terrorist activities in the form of kidnappings and murder through the use of explosives. It is universal that these are moral wrongs.  Incest, slavery, and polygamy are other examples of practices that have a universal disapproval.


The idea that morality is relative to social groupings holds ground for the purpose of creating tolerance of human variation, in terms of race, culture, ethnicity, religion, and social class (Sheehy, 2006).  It provides a basis of understanding among the various, diverse population groups which consider each other unique. However, a relativist view of the society exaggerates the idea of human diversity. It conceals the common identity and the moral norms shared by the various social groups. In order to progress, there are universal values core to any society. Relativism uses the principle of tolerance as its justification. According to this perspective, slavery and other social vices are relative to different societal judgments. Relativism, therefore, promotes categorization of societies in classes based on superiority and inferiority. We do not have a moral right to compare and judge societies as either more or less superior to the other.


Goodman, L. (2010). “Some Moral Minima”. The Good Society, 19(1): 87-94.

Sheehy, P. (2006). “Moral Relativism”. Richmond Journal of Philosophy, 13(1).

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