Is it Right to be a Relativist?
The study of ethics and philosophy is one that brings many different kinds of “thinkers” together. One person’s philosophy on ethics is another person’s philosophy on evil. We will be working this term on constructing personal ethical bases and understanding how ethical codes (both personal and professional) are created and followed.
To start us thinking about the different areas of philosophy and ethics, and how we fit into the different molds or world views, let’s imagine the following scenario:
It is 2019. The federal law banning female circumcision is still under appeal in the courts. You are a nurse assisting a plastic surgeon at a local hospital. The plastic surgeon comes from a country where they practice “female circumcision”. This practice is also sometimes called “female genital mutilation”.
Fire Eyes: Female Circumcision, Written by Soraya Mire, Directed by Soraya Mire, Ethnographer Soraya Mire, Narrated by Carol Christiansen (New York, NY: Filmakers Library, 1995), 57 minutes
You are not a member of the doctor’s culture but reside in a state where this practice is still legal. The plastic surgeon has agreed to perform this practice on a young girl, the daughter of a friend of the surgeon. The friend has authorized the procedure. The girl only knows this is a custom. You did not know that today you would be asked to assist in this procedure. You can refuse to participate (your job may be on the line in the future due to that decision). Or you can assist the surgeon. What ought you to do? We now want to examine the ethical issues involved. To do this, let’s look at the role of relativism, moral truths, and other issues.
For the initial post, address the following questions:
- What would a subjective moral relativist say about what this doctor is doing? Do you agree with the subjective moral relativist? Why or why not?
- Examine what a cultural moral relativist would say here. Do you agree with the cultural relativist? Why or why not?
- Name and evaluate general criticisms of cultural relativism as being the wrong moral approach.
- Is there an objective moral truth about any of the possible actions by the nurse and/or doctor in this case? Why or why not?
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