What Is a List of Moral Beliefs That a Relativist Might Challenge?

by Rebekah Richards

Relativism refers to the notion that beliefs cannot be absolutely true or valid but instead are relative to situations and perspectives. One aspect of relativism is moral relativism, which argues that the truth of moral arguments is relative to different groups, rather than absolute across all cultures and peoples. Moral relativists such as the contemporary philosopher Gilbert Harman define the basic tenet of moral relativism as "there is not a single objectively true morality but only many different moralities, just as there is not a single true language but only many different languages." Someone subscribing to moral relativism may challenge any moral belief presented as an absolute truth, such as the ideas that female circumcision is wrong or people have a right to own guns.

Human Rights Beliefs

Moral relativists disagree with the notion of anything having "universal" values, including human rights, since their philosophy argues that different cultures hold different notions of moral truth. Relativists therefore believe each group or culture decides what its moral framework considers to be a human right. For instance, one society may provide free education since they see it as a basic right, while another may believe the right to life makes the death penalty morally unacceptable.

Feminist Beliefs

Many people believe practices relating to women's rights, such as female circumcision or arranged marriages, are morally wrong. Moral relativists argue that while these practices may be wrong according to the moral code of certain cultures, they may be morally acceptable according to the morality of a different group. For example, moral relativists may challenge beliefs such as "honor killings are wrong," "women should not wear clothing that exposes their skin" or "women should receive equal pay as men."

Medical Beliefs

Medical beliefs also vary from society to society, so a moral relativist may challenge particular beliefs presented as absolute truth. For example, a relativist might disagree that "euthanasia is wrong" or "everyone has a right to medical care." They might also disagree with definitions of disease or wellness, since some conditions are specific to culture; for instance, talking to dead people is widely considered a sign of mental illness in the Western world, but is not viewed as strange in other cultures, according to Palomar College.

Religious Beliefs

Moral relativists may also challenge religious beliefs, since many religions claim they embody absolute truth. For instance, moral relativists may disagree that "there is one God" or "the only way to live a good life is through Jesus." Moral relativists may also disagree about cultural ideas about religion, such as the notion that people have a right to worship a religion of their choice or that the government should be based on a religion's tenets.

About the Author

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at tolerance.org. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

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