What is Descriptive Relativism?

  • Thread starter Phoenix1
  • Start date


Aug 8, 2020
  • #1
To learn about moral relativism, please read through this post on realism vs. anti-realism as it relates to ethics and philosophy. The relativism section is down towards the end.

What I'd like to discuss in this post is a very specific type of moral relativism called descriptive relativism. This relativism describes the type of morality I might consider "loose." It's not contained in a rigid framework or structure; it's viewed much more liberally. Basically, if you're neighbor thinks his actions are moral, who are you to say they're not?

Descriptive moral relativism is one where morality can vary widely and can change dramatically from culture to culture and even, dare I say, time to time. This is viewed every day across the entire globe. If I had to guess, I'd say that this can be plainly seen across various religions. Some religions practice executions while others do not. Some religions absolutely forbid marriage of their clergy while others do not. Some forbid homosexuality while others are much more liberal. The same is true for polygamy along with a host of other issues. I remember when my mother went to Catholic school as a little girl. During those days, it was completely acceptable to slap a child on his or her hand with a ruler to make a point. I've also heard stories about nuns and priests slamming books on the heads of children as well as caning them. Apparently, corporal punishment was moral to the Catholic Church. I can't be certain of all public school systems across the U.S., but I'm willing to wager that this type of punishment is unavailable to any teacher whom may want to inflict it upon a child. I'm also willing to say that even Catholic schools today don't partake in this type of activity. So descriptive relativism says that while one group may find a type of activity completely acceptable, another may not. It also says that while one group may find a certain type of activity acceptable at one point in time, their views on this type of morality may evolve through the years. I bet I can find priests and nuns today who look back on the behavior of those before them and find it abhorrent. These examples can go on and on and are in no way limited to religion. I merely wrote about something I knew of.

Subscribers of descriptive relativism accept that morality or the rules of conduct are flexible across different societies and cultures. And by being okay with this type of flexibility, they become even more steadfast in their views against moral objectivity. We can see this in everyday society across the United States and around the world. I've seen plenty of examples of those who much prefer to adhere to a stricter, more universal, set of rules while others are completely fine with rules changing or morphing from one tribe to another. I'm not exactly sure where these views stem from, whether it be genetic (natural predisposition), from how someone was raised through the years, or from what they pick up throughout life. I can tell you that I've seen people from my own life change their views on this type of morality from era to era. Also, they change these types of views based on what's going on in the world politically.

Do you know anyone personally who subscribes to descriptive relativism? How about moral objectivity? A great example of descriptive relativism would be some feminists fighting for woman's justice in the United States while completely ignoring the injustices of the same group overseas. That's classic. Well, it is if the local feminists claim that women's rights should be infringed upon overseas if those cultures deem it appropriate to do so. If they haven't made that claim and they do think that women have universal rights across all lands, but just haven't gotten around to voicing these opinions, these feminists would be considered moral objectivists. In this case, anyway.

But my question remains; do you know any descriptive relativists? Or moral objectivists? If so, please explain how so below. I'd be curious to read about these people and how they think.
What is Descriptive Relativism? was posted on 08-21-2020 by Phoenix1 in the Philosophy Forum forum.

Similar threads


Forum statistics

Latest member