Ethical Relativism – Hugh Phillis

Hugh Phillis

September 7, 2014

Millson: Philosophy 115

Benedict: “A Defense of Ethical Relativism”

            Ruth Benedict’s “A Defense of Ethical Relativism” composes an argument regarding morality in human societies.  She initializes this argument through an inspection of cultural relativism.  In short, cultural relativism is the principle that  “what is and is not behaviorally normal is culturally determined” (Benedict 49).    Then presumably, right and wrong differs from society to society.  Therefore, it is implied that no moral code is universally shared (Pojman 240).  From this stems Benedict’s argument in relation to ethical relativism.  She argues that, similar to behavior, morality is also culturally determined.  This argument can be accurately demonstrated through the current international statuses of homosexual rights.

Many societies around the globe consider homosexual acts morally wrong and personally abhorrent.  From this ethical foundation, various criminal sanctions have been imposed to mitigate what is regarded as in immoral, aberrant behavior.  Examples are rooted in virtually every corner of the globe.  For instance, scores of Ugandans have sought refuge in Kenya due to their country’s homophobic agenda.  The Anti-Homosexuality Act, which became law in February, enacted “life sentences for those convicted of gay sex and criminalized vague offenses like attempted homosexuality” (Chin).   Although this law was repealed (on a technicality), public sentiment and legalized endeavors greatly threaten the lives and wellbeing of homosexuals in Uganda.  Brizan Ogollan, a worker at a refugee camp stated, “They knew at an international level and at the diplomatic level, the decision is going to have impact, but at the local level, it won’t really.  You can overrule the law, but you can’t overrule the mind” (Chin).   This of course references the public indoctrination of these homophobic cultural and ethical viewpoints.  Furthermore, at least ten other notable nations such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar sentence those guilty of homosexual acts to death (Rupar).

On the other hand, many modernized civilizations have integrated homosexuality into society’s mores and acceptable behaviors.   Many nations and peoples have undergone an ideological evolution forming a more open and equal society.    In stark contrast to Uganda or similar nations, homosexuality is ethically and morally acceptable.  Furthermore, to persecute or discriminate on the basis of sexuality is often viewed as a heinous act.  For instance, a shift in social norms has resulted in a majority of Americans in favor of marriage equality.  In fact, roughly forty percent of American states have legalized gay marriage (American).   Furthermore, Spain “has eliminated all legal distinctions” between homosexual and heterosexual persons (McLean).  The perception of behavioral normality has shifted and in turn an ethical standpoint has reversed.

In more liberal, westernized societies where the principles of personal freedom are the cornerstones of society, homosexuals experience greater rights and societal prestige.  Values and cultural factors shape people’s minds.   Within more liberal societies homosexuality established moral acceptance.  Conversely, in more conservative cultures, people are molded into believing homosexuality is immoral and intensely wrong.    In ending, ethical models are the result of a malleable human society, one which “readily take any shape that is presented to them” (Benedict 56).

Benedict, Ruth. “A Defense of Ethical Relativism.” Anthropology and the     Abnormal (1934): 49-56. Blackboard. Web. 6Sept. 2014.

Chin, Corinne. “Why Ugandan Gays Who Fled To Kenya Still Feel Like They’re In            Danger.” The Huffington Post., 17 Aug. 2014. Web. 08            Sept. 2014.

 “LGBT Relationships.” American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Sept. 2014.

 Mclean, Renwick. “Spain Legalizes Gay Marriage; Law Is Among the Most Liberal.”           The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 June 2005. Web. 08 Sept. 2014.

Pojman, Louis. “Who Is to Judge?” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

 Rupar, Terri. “Here Are the 10 Countries Where Homosexuality May Be Punished by         Death.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 2 Feb. 2014. Web. 08 Sept. 2

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