Question: Chapter 3 in Rosenstand’s The Moral of the Story deals with the issue of moral truth—what is the morally right thing to do in a particular situation and what are the correct principles or guidelines for a living a morally good life? Moral subjectivism is the view that moral propositions are true only relative to the particular beliefs of a particular person or subject of experience; ethical relativism is the view that what is good, right, and morally correct is true relative to a particular cultural tradition and set of behavioral practices; and moral absolutism (this is what Rosenstand calls “hard universalism” is the view that there are universal moral truths or principles that hold for everyone, everywhere, at all times and under any circumstances.
The most common viewpoint adopted by college students today is ethical relativism, and this is probably because it seems to be the most tolerant and fair-minded position, in that it respects diversity and individuality. However, Rosenstand points to a number of problems with ethical relativism. Where do you place yourself on this spectrum of moral stances? Are you a moral skeptic or a moral subjectivist? an ethical relativist? a moral absolutist? If you have never thought about this before, now is the time to do so. Explain why you hold the viewpoint you do, and defend that view from what might be seen as at least one major difficulty with adopting that ethical stance. Alice Walker’s novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992), presents a strong case against ethical relativism by denouncing the practice of female circumcision, or perhaps more accurately termed, female genital mutilation, a traditional practice of certain cultures that is seen as morally correct, as not only the right thing to do, but something that one is morally obligated to do. If you are an ethical relativist, you should be able to show why Walker is wrong for condemning this practice as morally wrong. If those who carry out the practice believe that it is the morally right thing to do, who is Walker, or who is anyone with different beliefs, to tell them they are wrong?
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