Relativism is a theory, according to which all points of view are considered to be valid, while the truth is relative to an individual. Relativism applies to all genres of ideas, ranging from ethics to history or epistemology. For instance, in ethics every behaviour and morality is considered to be right depending on the situation. Therefore, this approach is largely criticized. Some of the relativism themes are not purely philosophical, ethical relativism pose threats to certain standards and policies in the society that have always been respected. It has propagated ‘cultural wars’. However, the philosophers who ascribe to the school of relativism assert that one thing is relative to a framework. For instance, moral values, knowledge, taste and beauty are relative to an individual’s viewpoint, culture, time, language etc. relativism is related to solipsism, which is the fact that an individual alone is the one to determine his/her values thus there are many centers of values as the many individuals in the world (Sire, 1986).
Relativism has been there for ages, Plato believed in dualism which is a mild form of relativism. Dualism is the inability to tell absolute truths in society because one cannot tell the difference between the ‘real’ reality and ‘perceived reality’. Famous dualists such as Descartes, bacon and Luther stripped gods their authorities and empowered people to be in charge of their own decisions. This formed the basis of the modern relativism. Before the Descartes era, God was the only source of knowledge and reality. After that people started questioning God and opted to other ways of answering their problems. Human beings embraced epistemology which was a total paradigm shift.
Relativism can be categorized into cognitive relativism, moral relativism and situational relativism. According to cognitive relativism, all truth is believed to be relative; there is no single truth that is superior to other cultures. Moral relativism states that all morals are relative to a social setting, while in the framework of the situational relativism, the situation dictates what is right and what is wrong. Cultural relativism is the belief that different cultures have different views of what is right and wrong. This is a true observation; we have diverse cultures all over the world with different cultural beliefs. Some cultures allow things which are considered to be barbaric among other cultures, for instance in the Spartan culture warriors were highly valued in order to survive the tough Greek life which had constant wars. Weak male and female babies were thrown off the cliff, and the Spartan culture allowed slavery. The Spartan people believed their acts were right according to their culture.
Relativism is relevant for in the society for various reasons. Let us start with moral relativism. The modern society has accepted moral relativism as the primary source of the moral philosophy. People hold their concepts of what is right and wrong. Relativism acknowledges the existence of moral values in the society but it does not impose them on people. It does not mean that relativists do not know what is right and wrong. Relativism gives people the opportunity to do something on their own not because they were forced by the social structures in the society for instance abortion is a contentious moral issue that has been debated over and over. Some countries have legalized abortion others have not. At the end of the day it is a personal choice to abort or not to. In the modern society cases of abortion are on a constant rise because people have adopted relativism.
The critics of relativism have farfetched some of their opinions. Relativism is a tool that guides individuals in making certain decisions in life without making us slaves of certain traditions. Personal freedom comes with relativism; I get to do what I want my way. Cultural relativism exists because we do not know which culture is the right one. How do we know that certain aspects of our cultures are morally wrong or how do we know that certain sacred texts are telling the truth? If we bring religion and secular views into this context, we realize that there are many religions and many secular beliefs. So which one of them is right? That is why relativism exists. Nobody knows the real absolute truth about morality or about religion. People should stop believing that their ethical or moral opinions are the infallible. All opinions matters and are valid, and that is why relativism is relevant.
Another relevance of relativism is that it promotes cultural diversity and undermines ethnocentrism. Absolutism says that some cultures are better than others, this is plain ethnocentrism. We cannot compare cultures since they have different values. The fact that some cultures are more developed than others does not mean that they are better.
The case study –My Sister’s Keeper based on a bestselling novel by Jodi Picoult poses many ethical questions which are related to relativism. It makes us question how decisions are determined to be right or wrong. A quick plot summary of the book starts with Anna, who is a designer’s baby. He mother gives birth to her to be a perfect match to her elder sister Kate who suffers from a rare case of Leukaemia since birth. Anna starts by donating umbilical cord to Kate. As she grows Anna donates blood, Marrow and stem cell to keep her sister alive. When she turned 13, her sister hits renal failure and Anna’s parents expect her to donate her kidney. Anna goes to an attorney and sues her parents for the mistreatment of her body. The book ends with a long court case between Anna and her parents. All along the book Anna is struggling to answer the question “who is she?”. Is she just a product created to keep her sister alive or is she an independent person who can make decisions about herself. The book sheds light on saviour siblings and parent’s autonomy.
The questions to the case study demand ethical answers. The first question asks which character are we sympathetic about. Should we sympathize with Anna or her mother? Anna wants independence of her body while her mother wants her to keep her sister alive by donating her kidney. Anna is eating up by guilt as she makes the decision of not donating her kidney to her sister. However, Kate backs Anna’s decision by telling her that she does not want to live anymore. On the other hand, their mother Sarah wants Kate to live. In fact, she does not see Anna as her child, but only as a means of survival for Kate. Sarah neglected other children and paid attention to Kate only. Relativism applies to this case, normally the rationalists do not believe in the creation of “designer babies” to help a dying kid. Sarah’s idea may not have worked out until the end, but it gave her a lot of time with Kate. When Anna was 13, she began making her decisions. Such decisions involved enlisting the services of a law, self destructive behaviours, such as smoking, in order to help with her guilt. Anna was also applying the rules of relativism. She was a grown person; thus, she had a right to make her decisions. Who is to be pitied pity between them? Both of them are going through rough situations. Moreover, they have different expectations. Kate’s mother did not listen to her. Her mother assumed she wanted to live; she never talked with her about her emotions. Her mother took care of her and did not abandon her when she was ailing. It came as a shock to her mother when Anna confessed in the court room that Kate did not want to live. Kate had to choose between her mother’s ideas, her sister’s ideas and what she wanted. I sympathize with Kate because her decision never counted for long. The book has an ambiguous distinction between what is right and wrong. Everyone is struggling to come to terms with their decisions. Anna is in between a rock as she figures out whether not to donate her kidney to sister which will kill her or to have control over her body. If Anna donates the kidney, the involved surgical process is risky, and she might end up dying. The line of telling the difference between the right and wrong was obsolete in this family. It reached a point where everyone was fighting for their personal needs.
The book/ movie reach a point where science is in conflict with humanity. The designer baby realizes that she is human. She feels she has a right to decide about her body. Ethics would question the idea of designing of a baby by scientists so that they can meet specific genetic requirements. Ethics believe that life is sacred and such babies should not be designed. On the other hand, Sarah was a relativist; she acted in line with the situation and did the best to save her child. We cannot crucify Sarah for what she did because it gave her another daughter who kept her sister alive for some time. The end justified the means for her. The question of screening embryos for the desired traits depends on the characters involved. It is also dependent on the situation they are facing. We cannot blindly say it is wrong because we are not in that situation. A parent who faces such a situation will be the best to answer that.
Relativism has been under constant criticism since its inception. Empiricists, rationalists and theorists such as Kant have been constantly attacking the idea of relativism. They say relativism is a foolish belief that something cannot exist and not exist at the same time. One of the strongest arguments that have been used against relativism is that, if everything holds an equal value in society, then Nazis and other evil people are as right as the other members of the society. Nazis were ethnocentric people who made their decisions based on what they thought were right to them. They believed their culture was more superior to other cultures. This was a loophole which people have used to attack relativism constantly. The critics of the modern day relativism have a hard time in justifying their view because the society has adopted relativism. Nothing is as black and white as it was before and people are constantly doing what they think is right according to them. Modernism started with the Enlightenment period when people began taking a keen interest in knowledge.
Post modernism is a 20th century development. Scepticism, subjectivism and relativism characterize it. Post modernism does not trust the old absolute truths. People use certain ideologies to maintain the political and economic power. Modernism is more appropriate for the use of logic and science is used to better the society. The society is more knowledgeable in the modern time than in the past. Knowledge brings cynicism and doubts about certain truths and reasons. Brian Duignan considered that post modernism encompasses some form of metaphysical, epistemological, or ethical relativism. Post modernists argue that relativism should not be there, but we cannot base everything on rationality. There are other sources of knowledge that rationalists do not acknowledge, yet they are part of the society such as the witches and astrology. Post modern society features absolute relativism and anti-realism. Relativism defines equality of all ideas. The current society hardly believes in any absolute truth, which is true because there is always a truth about something. The critics argue that human nature is the same with only little variations. They also argue that the relativists present a distorted culture. Saying that different cultures have different values is true but they do not live in isolation. They share common values. Another point for the critics of relativism does not consider diversity that is why it can fuel such things as tribalism, racism and so forth
Relativism is argued to be philosophically weak. Phrases such as ‘anything goes’ have marred the reputation of relativism. If anything is as good as the other as the relativists say, then nothing is compelling about this theory. Critics therefore say relativism is just an opinion.
The Christians are one of the big critics of relativism. They say that relativism is a blatant rejection of the existence of God. Relativists talk of the fact that there is no absolute truth on the existence of God. People who do not believe God exists are entitled to their opinions. This is considered an act of treason by Christians since it is an act of rebellion against the divine law. Christians also argue that relativism leads to duplicity. They argue that relativists say that anything is valid or everything goes but they get angry when things do not go their way. This is an act of duplicity and hypocrisy since relativists believe that anything goes yet they get disappointed when things do not go their ways. Christians have developed other arguments against relativism such as it leads to greed and pride, it enslaves people and it leads to totalitarian rule among others. The arguments used against relativism are somehow baseless at the end of the day. A relativist can tell the difference between Hitler and mother Teresa. Nobody really lives by the fact that anything goes, those criticizing relativism are far fetching their arguments simply because relativism challenges their opinions.
We do not have a single role model for everyone, even the worst and most evil people had people who look up to them. This is a basic fact that relativism does exist. People cannot just have one role model. We look up to people for reasons that are appealing to us. People ponder about how to live their lives, whether to live as they want or to live a fulfilling life. Young people still prefer to live a happy life when they can do everything as they wish. As we grow older, we start wanting a fulfilling life, maybe getting married and providing for the family. However, situations dictate how fulfilling life will be. In the modern times, we experience high divorce rates, family break ups and disintegration. Putting one’s needs ahead can be selfish but it does not have a lot of problems. Darwinism theory of biological evolution makes sense to the world. The fact that we have biological similarities with the apes could indicate that we have a common ancestry. Adaptation to the environment and mutation is a reasonable argument for Charles Darwin, so the theory holds something. Critics of the Darwin theory use religion and the fact that it does not follow a certain scientific method. All of these theories obey the law of relativism. One may choose to criticize Darwin’s Law as long as he has reasons against it.
The question as to what extent my world is unchangeable depends on an individual. However, when it starts hurting others then that is the moment to change your world. We live in a society where everyone has a right to personal liberty but not at the expense of the liberty of others. Religious relativism is currently at rise, with the spread of pluralism all religions are considered to be valid. However, the choice of the right religion depends on a person. If Islam is appealing to me, and their teachings reflect my beliefs, then that should be the religion that I would follow. The idea of Christians criticizing relativism is not beneficial because it bears selfish points in this view.
Giving up ones authenticity so that he or she may fit in a social setting is not necessary. However, if there are a lot of benefits that come along with giving up my identity, then giving up that identity is fine. We make decisions based on personal opinions and the situations we face. If I stand to gain something, why not give up my personal identity? All opinions are equally valid. Opinions are not just made without a reason which makes them valid. The only problem cited by the relativism critics is that what is reasonably beneficial to somebody may not be reasonable to others, but that is undermining others. For instance, if one gets education, he or she may base his earning in life on it. However, other people are educated by they do not benefit from this. They can income from other activities, not just employments. There are those who can sing so well that this becomes a career. This means that most factors in life obey the law of relativism.
Committing to a tradition does not prevent us from being free, unless we allow it. A tradition is perfect as long as it does not affect people’s lives negatively. Even when we commit to certain traditions we get to integrate it into life. Being best at something does not necessarily mean one is evil unless he is a Nazi or a criminal. Being best at something is a personal decision, but one needs to check how it affects others. People create their own lives. Once they are knowledgeable, they get to see the various directions they want their lives to go. Not all people can tell whether their lives are authentic, or they are living in a lie. The truth of the matter is that I create my life the way I want, and gear it towards a certain goal. If it is a fake and it makes me achieve something, then there is nothing wrong about it. The vital issue is that I get to choose the life I want. A crucial way of assessing ones character is if it makes him or her happy. We can also assess the effects that thing exercise on an individual. For instance, it is crucial to check if it helps him achieve positive development. Being a patriotic citizen is imperative of us, but if certain rules and principles are not right, then we should go against the law. However, this may be risky and dangerous. If a person does not respect my opinion, then why would we respect them?