In my post on cultural relativism I mentioned how there are certain “rules” we can judge all moral actions by, regardless of the society. A blanket statement like “killing is wrong” is false, as evident by such cases as self-defense. However, a statement like “killing is wrong when it isn’t done for a greater purpose” might be possible.
To start with, I want to state that there absolutely has to be a system, or “formula” to determine what actions are moral. For moral truths, there are two options: either we can know moral truths, or we can’t know moral truths. This is the dilemma between moral skepticism and moral knowledge proponents. My argument for moral truth is this: if we can know moral knowledge, there has to be a way that we can determine moral knowledge.
Consider two hypothetical cases of a moral dilemma, A and B. Suppose that the current “moral formula” says that Option 1 for dilemma A is correct, and Option 1 for dilemma B is correct. Let’s say that, upon further reflection, it appears that Option 1 is correct for A, but Option 2 is in fact the correct option for B. These cases are typically brought up to counter a well known moral formula (such as the case of the utility monster against utilitarianism). However,what basis is there to say that Option 2 is correct for B? In order to argue for 2, you would have to use some sort of formula to determine that Option 2 is better than Option 1. Meaning that, you can’t say that “2 is better than 1″, you would have to say that “2 is better than 1 because of _____”. This would only prove that the formula is incorrect. My opinion is that, there has to be some sort of formula that does not have any objections or inaccuracies. If there are successful counterexamples, then the logic used to determine the correct counterexample would be the better formula. However, this has to end somewhere, which in my opinion would be the universal formula for morality. If this formula is impossible to find, then I would argue that moral skepticism is correct.
My personal theory is value utilitarianism (which I’ve written about in my previous posts). Basically, it’s a consequentionalist theory that defines the value of consequences as human rights, group bonds, and happiness. To prove my point about the need for a universal formula, if anyone can think of a counterexample to value utilitarianism please post it in the comments.
Cultural Relativism is the view that morality is based upon the standards of the culture. Meaning that our moral beliefs, such as the belief that stealing is morally wrong, only reflect our own cultural beliefs.
A common case cited is the old eskimo tradition of killing off their elderly and babies. They would leave their elderly in the snow and kill a large amount of their babies. They did this because, in their culture, doing so was necessary to maintain the survival of the entire tribe.
Cultural relativists use this example to show that even our standards of murder is culturally based. However, this example does not work. Consider the motive the eskimos had for killing the elderly and infants. If they had not done so, the entire community could have died from starvation. This shows an obvious cultural difference; we do not need to kill our elderly or infants in order to survive. However it does not show an obvious cultural moral difference. It is still not morally acceptable in eskimo culture to kill for any reason. The only reason that they do accept killing is to avoid a greater evil.
To further my case, consider a hypothetical tribe that has an absolute ruler. The ruler decreed that every firstborn child be tortured and killed in front of him for his amusement. This ritual has been practiced long enough that it is now a cultural norm and the society accepts it. However, does this make the actions morally right for the children who are tortured and killed? Of course not, even if the culture accepts the practice, it is clear that the torture is still immoral. Even if this is a drastic case, it still provides evidence that at the very least, not all moral rules are culturally relative.