Consideration of Ethical Theories

Normative relativism: values and norm systems for each culture are equal; impossible to say that certain norms and values are better than others. We have to respect all value and norm systems. No universal norms.

The author identifies 3 flaws in the aforementioned theory:

  1. Contradiction between no universal norms and the universal norm to respect all value and norm systems
  2. Meaningful moral discussion hindered by defaulting to one’s own personal opinion
  3. Potential creation of unworkable or intolerable situations

To support the second flaw, the author asks: “should the torture of political prisoners be tolerated because this is customary within a given culture?” Quite an extreme example; I imagine the author wants this example to be thought-provoking. The author then goes on to describe an opposing position, universalism, which argues that there is a system of norms and values that is universally applicable. The authors raised these two theories and their imperfections to suggest there are more rational theories.

However, I find that there is a way to be more considerate of the key components of the normative relativism theory. Virtue ethics fits in well with this. Virtue ethics allows for moral judgment to be made based on not action or consequences of the action, but the actor’s characteristics. When considering these theories, I could not help but to think of the history between Colonial France and Algeria. Forceful unveilings, staged unveiling ceremonies, burning of women’s veils once they were removed, the propaganda—”to liberate Muslim women from the patriarchy, enabled by colonization.” Clearly, normative relativism was not at play here. But we can also see that not even virtue ethics made its mark. The action and consequences of Muslim women wearing their veils were not judged based on their qualities or characteristics. Perhaps for them, wearing the veil allowed for them to realize a good life—ascribing to the virtues of piety, modesty, integrity, courage.

Unveil yourselves

Translation: Are you not pretty? Unveil yourselves!


One thought on “Consideration of Ethical Theories

  1. I like your example much better. It’s much more nuanced. While I don’t want to sound like I’m coming down on virtue ethics all together, I think that it only sidesteps the criticisms of normative relativism. In virtue-ethics-based evaluations, we need to make relative judgements about virtues that come into conflict with one another. Instead of making prejudiced judgements about another’s norms, one can make prejudiced judgements about the virtues motivating these norms, e.g. devaluing modesty or piety.


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