Moral Relativism is a philosophical theory that indicates all individuals appear to have dramatically different moral beliefs and practices, that stem from their societies, cultures, and personal beliefs.[1] Moral Relativism rejects the notion that there are universal moral principles, or a divine command theory, valid between individuals all over the world. Moral Relativism asserts that an individual’s moral right and wrong are always proportional to the choice of moral framework he/she lives by.[2] What is morally correct comparative to one moral framework can certainly be morally incorrect comparative to a moral framework employed by another.[3]

How do we know which framework is right? Moral Relativism tells us that there are many different frameworks, none of which is more privileged over another.[4] This approach to the metaphysical status of morality holds that moral values in fact change from society to society throughout time and throughout the world.[5] Moral Relativists attempt to defend their position on morality by offering examples of values that differ dramatically from one culture to another, such as attitudes about polygamy, slavery and gender oppression.[6]

Two Forms of Moral Relativism

Moral Relativists do not believe in universally valid morals; however, they do believe that the validity of moral standards is dependent on:

  • Cultural Relativism- a virtue centered morality that depends on acceptance within a particular community or cultural group.[7]

  • Ethical Subjectivism- a rights-centered morality that emphasizes that the validity of moral standards is dependent on their acceptance by the individual.[8]

Three Main Arguments for Moral Relativism

There are three arguments are often thought to provide a firm basis in favor of Moral Relativism:

  • The Diversity Argument- Among individuals there is a widespread difference of opinions on moral questions.[9] It is not reasonable to believe that all individuals will agree upon universal moral principles

  • The Demonstrability Argument- It does not seem possible for all open-minded individuals of good will to agree that one’s moral standards and beliefs are acceptable, as there is no agreed upon procedure of moral reasoning by which individuals can demonstrate to each other suitability of their moral values.[10]

  • The Divine Authority Argument- According to the divine command theory, moral truths do not exist externally of God’s desire. Some Moral Relativists argue that there is no God, as he can not be found on earth, therefore we cannot follow his universally valid moral standards, as there is no actual presence to determine which moral standards are valid.[11]

Arguing against Moral Relativism

As there are many theories on where, and how we derive our moral beliefs and practices there will always be a multitude of criticisms on each philosophical foundation for making moral decisions. The assumption that there are universally valid moral principles and values is the main argument against Moral Relativism. Theorists and philosophers argue against Moral Relativism, claiming that a universal standard of morality actually does exist. They argue that the practices of some cultures adhere much more closely to these standards, compared to others which deems their culture morally superior.[12] As of current time there is not enough factual evidence to fully support either theory.






  1. ^
    Waluchow, W. J. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough: broadview press.
    Type your reference here.
  2. ^
    Harman, G., & Thomson, J. J. (1996). Moral relativism and moral objectivity. Cambridge: Blackwell publishers .
  3. ^
    Harman, G., & Thomson, J. J. (1996). Moral relativism and moral objectivity. Cambridge: Blackwell publishers .
  4. ^
    Harman, G. (1998). Précis of Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity: précis of part one. Philosophy and phenomenological research, 58(1), 161-169.
  5. ^
    Fieser, J. (2009, May). Ethics. Retrieved October 1, 2009, from http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/#SH1a
  6. ^
    Fieser, J. (2009, May). Ethics. Retrieved October 1, 2009, from http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/#SH1a
  7. ^
    Gowans, C. (2008). Moral Relativism. Retrieved October 1, 2009, from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2008/entries/moral-relativism/
  8. ^
    Gowans, C. (2008). Moral Relativism. Retrieved October 1, 2009, from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2008/entries/moral-relativism/
  9. ^
    Waluchow, W. J. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough: broadview press.
  10. ^
    Waluchow, W. J. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough: broadview press.
  11. ^
    Waluchow, W. J. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough: broadview press
  12. ^
    Coyle, D. J., & Ellis, R. J. (Eds.). (1994). Politics, policy, and culture (p.175). Boulder: Westview press.