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Critique of Relative Morals

Critique of Relative Morals

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Published by Celine Socrates

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Published by: Celine Socrates on Aug 19, 2010
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Socrates, Ma. Celine Anastasia P. Political Science 1442007-50486 Dr. Herman KraftCritique of Relative MoralsIntroduction
When it comes to the notion of “morality” in politics, it is interesting to note that neither of the classic Realist writers (Carr and Morgenthau), and not even Michael Walzer andMachiavelli and much less Thucydides, gave an explicit definition of the term itself. All of theseauthors seem to converge on the idea of morality as a social structure that affects the way states behave. In the absence of an explicit definition of morality, one thing is clear among the authors:there is an existing correlation between state behavior and morality. Andrew Heywood definesmorality as “concerned ethical questions and the difference between right and wrong”(Heywood, 2005). It is clear that morality necessarily requires a specific standard of good andevil, unlike the idea of “social norms”, for example, which is merely subject to social structuresand may change with the development of society.Given the nature of morality, one fundamental debate arising between Idealism andRealism is the notion of an “absolute” standard of morality. Morgenthau (2006) for example,questions the universality of morality. Walzer (1996) on the other hand, without outright sayingthat there is an absolute moral order, concedes that there are underlying agreements among statesthat make possible any sort of agreement or disagreement among them.
 
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Can the concept of “morality” really be said to exist if, as Morgenthau asserts, there is nouniversal standard of it? Can notions of good and evil, and the very notion of “morality”, in theend, be merely reduced to social norms that are constantly changing depending on culture,structures and circumstances? This debate is also central in determining whether or not moralityeven matters in international politics. Claiming that morality is relative is tantamount to assertingthat its place in international politics is close to none.The main argument of this paper is that, despite differences in the moral interpretations of historical events and political decisions, there is still, at the very root of all these, a universalmoral standard that governs our notions of right and wrong, regardless of culture, society, or circumstances. This paper is a critique of Moral Relativism which is held by most realists, mostexplicitly by Hans Morgenthau. This will be done through a critical examination of the primaryarguments introduced by Moral Relativism.
Dissecting Moral Relativism
There is a strong link between Moral Relativism and Realism. The idea that states cannotagree among themselves on a specific standard of good and evil is at the core of many Realistassumptions, such as the cynicism when it comes to international cooperation and the possibilityof a “harmony of interests” among states, much less a notion of a “world government”. This being the case, it is necessary to examine the philosophical foundations of Moral Relativism inthe first place, in order to confirm its validity.This paper will focus on two central issues among the many arguments identified byKreeft (1999): (a) cultural relativism, and (b) social conditioning. Morgenthau used the same
 
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arguments in his chapter on Morality, where he devoted a considerable part arguing for MoralRelativism.Many social scientists may argue that moral relativism can be empirically confirmedthrough a cultural approach. Some may equate cultural relativism with moral relativism. Becauseof differences in cultural norms, the sense of morality in each culture is also different. By justlooking at the example of the different states in the U.S., one can see that while for some statesgay marriage is perfectly acceptable, other states with a more conservative culture, especially theones from the South, find this to be morally wrong. Likewise, in issues such as euthanasia andabortion, the U.S. appears to be morally fragmented. To demonstrate this on a bigger scale,social scientists may also argue that in African countries, for example, the circumcision of women is a traditional practice of some communities, while for other countries in the West it is aviolation of human rights already.This argument is flawed because it makes no distinction between the notion of “values”and “value judgments”. Just because each culture can have different value judgments, this doesnot rule out a universal value that exists behind these judgments. If we look at the issuesmentioned above, all of them go back to certain universal “core” values. Beneath seemingdisagreements with regard to the application of “values” are real agreements on greater underlying values. “The moral agreement among Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Socrates,Solomon, Jesus, Cicero, Mohammad, Zoraster, and Hammurabbi is far greater than their moraldifferences.” (Kreeft, 1997)Walzer was right when he argued that “our sharpest disagreements are structured andorganized by our underlying agreements, by the meanings we share.” Take the idea of divorce,for example. The moral question cannot be simplified into whether or not a “conclusion” of 

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