Moral relativism or ethical relativism (often reformulated as relativist ethics or relativist morality) is a term used to describe several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different peoples and their own particular cultures. An advocate of such ideas is often labeled simply as a relativist for short. In detail, descriptive moral relativism holds only that people do, in fact, disagree fundamentally about what is moral, with no judgment being expressed on the desirability of this. Meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong
. Normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, everyone ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when considerably large disagreements about the morality of particular things exist.
Said concepts of the different intellectual movements involve considerable nuance and cannot be treated as absolute descriptions. Descriptive relativists do not necessarily adopt meta-ethical relativism. Moreover, not all meta-ethical relativists adopt normative relativism.
American philosopher Richard Rorty in particular has argued that the label of being a “relativist” has become warped and turned into a sort of pejorative. He has written specifically that thinkers labeled as such usually simply believe “that the grounds for choosing between such [philosophical] opinions is less algorithmic than had been thought”, not that every single conceptual idea is as valid as any other. In this spirit, Rorty has lamented that “philosophers have… become increasingly isolated from the rest of culture.”
Moral relativism is generally posed as a direct antithesis to “moral idealism” (also known as “ethical idealism” and “principled idealism”). Through an idealistic framework, examples being that of Kantianism and other doctrines advocated during the Enlightenment era, certain behavior seen as contrary to higher ideals often gets labeled as not only morally wrong but fundamentally irrational. However, like many fuzzy concepts, the distinction between idealist and relativist viewpoints is frequently vague.
Moral relativism has been debated for thousands of years across a variety of contexts during the history of civilization. Arguments of particular notability have been made in areas such as ancient Greece and historical India while discussions have continued to the present day. Besides the material created by philosophers, the concept has additionally attracted attention in diverse fields including art, religion, and science