A major threat to ethics, according to Simon Blackburn, a philosophy professor at the University of Cambridge, is the threat of relativism. Blackburn describes in his novel, Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, the dangers of relying on the fact that truth and moral values are relative to certain individuals and cultures rather than universal. Some of these dangers, which I will describe further in this essay, include the lack of universal truth and the belief that one’s values cannot affect relations with another.
Dangers, such as these, cause relativism to threaten people’s standards of behavior by making ethics seem impossible, thus becoming a threat to ethics. The first issue of relativism that Blackburn discusses is that of the freshman relativist’. He begins by describing how comfortable and preferable relativism can seem at first. He states, “Nobody is comfortable now with the blanket colonial certainty that Just our way of doing things is right, and that other people need forcing into those ways. (18) Many people do not like being told what they should believe and how they should do things. Americans, especially, are known for their tendency o fight back when their rights are imposed on, as proven through civil rights movements. This, however, leads to the belief that What is right for certain people is not right for other people’. This belief that there is no absolute or wrong, no universal truth is what defines relativism.
Blackburn shows a need for universal truth through his explanation of Antigen by Sophocles in which Antigen is faced with the choice of obeying the Kings laws or burying her brother who opposed the King. In Antigen’s case, she is under the pressure of following two different standards, that of her king, and that of her family. She is forced to make the decision of which is more important to her, and then she must face the consequences of her decision. Ultimately, she decides to give her brother a proper burial and suffer the wrath of her king.
Blackburn argues that, “every society that is recognizably human will need some institution of property (some distinction between ‘mine’ and yours’), some norm governing truth-telling, some conception of promise-giving, some standards restraining violence and killing. ” (20) In some cases, a universal understanding of truth is necessary. Hitler, for example, truly believed he was doing right by respecting the Jews, even though most of the world recognized the evil of his actions. Blackburn also applies this to societies that tolerate widow burning and enforce female genital mutilation.
This concept can also be applied to business, although not quite as harshly. When multiple businesses must work together, such as in a partnership, they must have a common understanding of all concepts involved in the relationship. If a certain concept has a different meaning for each business, issues may arise. Inconsistency from one business to another may cause difficulties when trying to cooperate with each other due to misunderstandings. On the other hand, Blackburn agrees that a certain degree of relativism is acceptable, if not necessary.
There are many situations in which multiple cultures can differ yet both remain good. Blackburn states, “any particular set of standards is purely conventional, where the idea of convention implies that there are other equally proper ways of doing things, but that we Just happen to have settled on one A Major Threat To Ethics By flagellating of them. ” (19) This concept can be applied to different cultural rituals such as weddings and funerals. The result remains the same no matter how the ritual is reformed. Another case that this would apply to would be the different monetary systems in different countries.
If a corporation conducts business in multiple countries, the employees involved must be aware of how to convert the values. As a future accountant, it will be necessary of me to learn of the different monetary systems of many companies. With the rejection of God, our pluralistic society has become far more accepting of relativism. This can be seen through time, especially with the current wave of relativism encouraging society to accept homosexuality, pornography, evolution, and any more issues, which were once considered morally wrong, but are now being promoted.
Now, if people go against relativism, they are ostracizes for being intolerant. Ultimately, society cannot survive nor prosper without standard laws to keep order. Relativism is not an issue that needs to be ended; however, people must realize that there is a limit to it. The ultimate goal of ethics is to ensure that people can come to an understanding of what is true and be able to cooperate through that truth. This is especially important in business, where corporations thrive due to their cooperation and relationships with other corporations.