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Relativism

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19.05.2020
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Introduction

Relativism is a theory, according to which all points of view are considered to be valid, while the truth is relative to an individual. Relativism applies to all genres of ideas, ranging from ethics to history or epistemology. For instance, in ethics, every behavior and morality is considered to be right depending on the situation. Therefore, this approach is largely criticized. However, the philosophers who ascribe to the school of relativism assert that one thing is relative to a framework. For instance, moral values, knowledge, taste, and beauty are relative to an individual’s viewpoint, culture, time, language, etc.

Relativism can be categorized into cognitive relativism, moral relativism, and situational relativism. According to cognitive relativism, all truth is believed to be relative; there is no single truth that is superior to other cultures. Moral relativism states that all morals are relative to a social setting, while in the framework of the situational relativism, the situation dictates what is right and what is wrong.

The answer to the question of whether everything is relative or not has been a constant issue of debate. Those opposed to the relativism point of view believe that there are absolutes and relativists in a society. I believe that in as much as relativism exists, there are still certain absolutes in life, for instance, basic things like one plus one is two. When it comes to morality, there are certain things that should always be there like respect for parents. In life, there are quite a few absolutes as compared to the many things that are relative. Personal preference and choice fall under the category of relative things; however, we cannot dismiss the fact that absolutes do exist. There are some universal rules which we all respect, so we cannot say that everything is relative.

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Relativism is inevitable. For those who do not believe in relativism, at some point, tough situations face them. They end up bending some of the absolute truths. The people who believe in relativism have made it part of their life, and they live by it. Christians are vehemently against relativism. Yet, we see them backslide or do some horrible things that prove a point that relativism is unavoidable.

I believe relativism deserves the right to exist since it allows diversity in the world. We have different cultures that hold different beliefs. Things that are right for one culture may not be right for another. This shows that certain individuals or cultures define morality. It is essential to have relativism so that everyone and not just a few people have the chance to define what is right or wrong. Relativism gives room for flexibility; everything is not black and white. Certain rules and principles are too rigid and cannot apply to all situations. At the same time, relativism gives an exception to certain rules. This makes life easier. Lastly, relativism breeds tolerance. If we disagree with others, we learn to tolerate and accept them. Moral criticisms brought by absolute truths in society disrupt peace between people and cultures who think differently. Though I support relativism, it cannot allow cross-cultural comparisons because it considers everything unique for each culture. It is difficult for a society, which subscribes to relativism, to tell if it is making any progress or not. Relativism cannot make sense of it because it judges things with regard to a situation or era. This makes it hard to decide which rules are changing.

Relativism affects people’s lives. Relativism makes people tolerant and flexible, hence, relating to others will be easy. With relativism, one gets to try out so many things without limitation by certain things which absolute respect. However, if people do not check relativism, it may result in selfishness. With relativism, people so what is right according to them and the situations they face. Human beings are selfish in nature and will do what is best for them.

There are certain institutions that defy relativism. The church is a universal institution that has stood firmly against relativism. The church views it as a pervasion of culture and that people are drifting away from the absolute truth which is God. The church acknowledges some aspects of validity in relativism, but it does not believe that all things should be relative. The church is against the rejection of God. People have formulated their own different ways of what is right and wrong. Different kinds of government systems have defied relativism because they have existed for a long time. The rationalists say the relativist is afraid of such structures in the society as the tyrannical rule that sways the minds of people or the dogmas of church and state.

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Finding the answer to the question “who am I?” is somewhat hard. We live in a society that has expectations on how people should behave. Certain personal decisions are in conflict with societal expectations. Most people think teens have issues with their identity, but in fact everyone faces this problem. The difference is that teenagers are less tolerant when compared to adults, and that is why they get in a lot of trouble in search of their identity. Relativism can answer the question “who am I?” more effectively. With relativism, personal identity is crucial. Individual’s perspective affects decision making. Everything is valid to the situation the person faces. Relativism brings independence. Certain individuals formulated objective truths about the world. They are not 100% truths, but people have made us believe that they are true. If we study certain theories and principles that society believes in, we will find loopholes. Therefore, relativism is the best way of finding out about their true self. Paradoxically, absolutism is relative in nature. Let us look at the society in the olden days and now. Back then slavery, mistreatment of the minority, etc. existed, while now they do not because the times have changed. So the absolutism, which many stand for, is also temporary. This makes it relative.

Utilitarianism and Kantian deontology are the basis of making moral decisions, which are primarily against relativism. According to deontology, moral decisions depend on the motives behind it and not the consequences of the decision. Immanuel Kant who came up with the deontology theory believed that, as human beings, we should adhere to the right things despite the consequences involved. Doing the right is the right practice, no matter the situation. With utilitarianism, moral decisions are dependent on the consequences and not the motives. An action should translate to harmony. One should feel at peace about the right thing. This is the only time an action can be considered right. One must foresee what will happen before doing something. Both cases try the idea of human dignity despite their differences; they bring the aspects of rationality. The aspect of collective goodness among the people is against relativism where people do something in regard to their personal choices.

The case study –My Sister’s Keeper based on a bestselling novel by Jodi Picoul poses many ethical questions that are related to relativism. A quick plot summary of the book starts with Anna, who is a designer’s baby. He mother gives birth to her to be a perfect match to her elder sister Kate who suffers from a rare case of Leukemia since birth. Anna starts by donating umbilical cord to Kate. As she grows Anna donates blood, Marrow, and stem cell to keep her sister alive. When she turned 13, her sister hits renal failure and Anna’s parents expect her to donate her kidney. Anna goes to an attorney and sues her parents for the mistreatment of her body. The book ends with a long court case between Anna and her parents. Along the book, Anna is struggling to answer the question “who is she?”. Is she just a product created to keep her sister alive or is she an independent person who can make decisions about herself. The book sheds the light on saviour siblings and parent’s autonomy.

The questions to the case study demand ethical answers. The first question asks which character are we sympathetic about. Should we sympathize with Anna or her mother? Anna wants independence of her body while her mother wants her to keep her sister alive by donating her kidney. Anna is eating up by guilt as she makes the decision of not donating her kidney to her sister. However, Kate backs Anna’s decision by telling her that she does not want to live anymore. On the other hand, their mother Sarah wants Kate to live. In fact, she does not see Anna as her child, but only as a means of survival for Kate. Sarah neglected other children and paid attention to Kate only. Relativism applies to this case, normally the rationalists do not believe in the creation of “designer babies” to help a dying kid. Sarah’s idea may not have worked out until the end, but it gave her a lot of time with Kate. When Anna was 13, she began making her decisions. Such decisions involved enlisting the services of law, self-destructive behaviors, such as smoking, in order to help with her guilt. Anna was also applying the rules of relativism. She was a grown person; thus, she had a right to make her decisions. Who is to be pitied pity between them? Both of them are going through rough situations. Moreover, they have different expectations. Kate’s mother did not listen to her. Her mother assumed she wanted to live; she never talked with her about her emotions. Her mother took care of her and did not abandon her when she was ailing. It came as a shock to her mother when Anna confessed in the courtroom that Kate did not want to live. Kate had to choose between her mother’s ideas, her sister’s ideas, and what she wanted. I sympathize with Kate because her decision never counted for long. The book has an ambiguous distinction between what is right and wrong. Everyone is struggling to come to terms with their decisions. Anna is in between a rock as she figures out whether not to donate her kidney to sister which will kill her or to have control over her body. If Anna donates the kidney, the involved surgical process is risky, and she might end up dying. The line of telling the difference between right and wrong was obsolete in this family. It reached a point where everyone was fighting for their personal needs.

The book/ movie reaches a point where science is in conflict with humanity. The designer baby realizes that she is human. She feels she has a right to decide about her body. Ethics would question the idea of designing of a baby by scientists so that they can meet specific genetic requirements. Ethics believe that life is sacred and such babies should not be designed. On the other hand, Sarah was a relativist; she acted in line with the situation and did the best to save her child. We cannot crucify Sarah for what she did because it gave her another daughter who kept her sister alive for some time. The end justified the means for her. The question of screening embryos for the desired traits depends on the characters involved. It is also dependent on the situation they are facing. We cannot blindly say it is wrong because we are not in that situation. A parent who faces such a situation will be the best to answer that.

Relativism has been under constant criticism since its inception. Empiricists, rationalists, and theorists such as Kant have been constantly attacking the idea of relativism. They say relativism is a foolish belief that something cannot exist and not exist at the same time. One of the strongest arguments that has been used against relativism is that, if everything holds equal value in society, then Nazis and other evil people are as right as the other members of the society. Nazis were ethnocentric people who made their decisions based on what they thought were right to them. They believed their culture was more superior to other cultures. This was a loophole that people have used to attack relativism constantly. The critics of modern-day relativism have a hard time in justifying their view because society has adopted relativism. Nothing is as black and white as it was before and people are constantly doing what they think is right according to them. Modernism started with the Enlightenment period when people began taking a keen interest in knowledge.

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Postmodernism is a 20th-century development. Skepticism, subjectivism, and relativism characterize it. Postmodernism does not trust the old absolute truths. People use certain ideologies to maintain political and economic power. Modernism is more appropriate for the use of logic and science is used to better society. Society is more knowledgeable in modern time than in the past. Knowledge brings cynicism and doubts about certain truths and reasons. Brian Duignan considered that postmodernism encompasses some form of metaphysical, epistemological, or ethical relativism. Post modernists argue that relativism should not be there, but we cannot base everything on rationality. There are other sources of knowledge that rationalists do not acknowledge, yet they are part of the society such as the witches and astrology. Postmodern society features absolute relativism and anti-realism. Relativism defines equality of all ideas. The current society hardly believes in any absolute truth, which is true because there is always a truth about something. The critics argue that human nature is the same with only little variations. They also argue that relativists present a distorted culture. Saying that different cultures have different values is true but they do not live in isolation. They share common values. Another point for the critics of relativism does not consider diversity that is why it can fuel such things as tribalism, racism and so forth

The critics of relativism have farfetched some of their opinions. Relativism is a tool that guides individuals in making certain decisions in life. We do not have a single role model for everyone, even the worst and most evil people had people who look up to them. This is a basic fact that relativism does exist. People cannot just have one role model. We look up to people for reasons that are appealing to us. People ponder about how to live their lives, whether to live as they want or to live a fulfilling life. Young people still prefer to live a happy life when they can do everything as they wish. As we grow older, we start wanting a fulfilling life, maybe getting married and providing for the family. However, situations dictate how fulfilling life will be. In the modern times, we experience high divorce rates, family break ups and disintegration. Putting one’s needs ahead can be selfish but it does not have a lot of problems.

Darwinism theory of biological evolution makes sense to the world. The fact that we have biological similarities with the apes could indicate that we have a common ancestry. Adaptation to the environment and mutation is a reasonable argument for Charles Darwin, so the theory holds something. Critics of the Darwin theory use religion and the fact that it does not follow a certain scientific method.

The question as to what extent my world is unchangeable depends on an individual. However, when it starts hurting others then that is the moment to change your world. We live in a society where everyone has a right to personal liberty but not at the expense of the liberty of others. Religious relativism is currently at risk, with the spread of pluralism all religions are considered to be valid. However, the choice of the right religion depends on a person. If Islam is appealing to me, and their teachings reflect my beliefs, then that should be the religion that I would follow. The idea of Christians criticizing relativism is not beneficial because it bears selfish points in this view.

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Giving up ones authenticity so that he or she may fit in a social setting is not necessary. However, if there are a lot of benefits that come along with giving up my identity, then giving up that identity is fine. We make decisions based on personal opinions and the situations we face. If I stand to gain something, why not give up my personal identity? All opinions are equally valid. Opinions are not just made without a reason which makes them valid. The only problem cited by the relativism critics is that what is reasonably beneficial to somebody may not be reasonable to others, but that is undermining others.

Conclusion

Committing to a tradition does not prevent us from being free unless we allow it. A tradition is perfect as long as it does not affect people’s lives negatively. Even when we commit to certain traditions we get to integrate it into life. Being best at something does not necessarily mean one is evil unless he is a Nazi or a criminal. Being best at something is a personal decision, but one needs to check how it affects others. People create their own lives. Once they are knowledgeable, they get to see the various directions they want their lives to go. Not all people can tell whether their lives are authentic, or they are living in a lie. The truth of the matter is that I create my life the way I want, and gear it towards a certain goal. If it is a fake and it makes me achieve something, then there is nothing wrong about it. The vital issue is that I get to choose the life I want. A crucial way of assessing ones character is if it makes him or her happy. We can also assess the effects that things exercise on an individual. For instance, it is crucial to check if it helps him achieve positive development. Being a patriotic citizen is imperative for us, but if certain rules and principles are not right, then we should go against the law. However, this may be risky and dangerous. If a person does not respect my opinion, then why would we respect them?

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