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Relativism and Absolutism According to Harman Term Paper

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Updated: Sep 18th, 2021


Relative is a view that is based on the fact that the truth and falsity, good and bad right and wrong are relative to an individual or a certain culture. In this case, one thing can be considered to be right in one culture but can be taken to be an abomination in another culture. This is brought about by the fact that different people have gone through different life experiences which are determined by different factors that surround them. These factors can either be environmental factors or age. (Steven D 2006).

People living in different environmental conditions view things differently. For example, there is a big distinct behavior difference between those people who live in urban areas and those living in rural areas. This is because the people living in rural areas are very conservative and most of them are very stubborn to changes. This is contrary to the urban class of people, who are very flexible to changes and are fast to embrace new technologies and new ways of doing positive things. This is because most of these people are educated and hence respond positively to any new good way of doing things. This makes the people living in rural areas and those living in urban areas always be in a state of conflict between what is right and wrong due to their differences in their view of things. (Steven D 2006).

The age difference can also make two groups of people differ on the issue of what is right or wrong. This is because the old people have gone through a different life experience to the one experienced by the young generation. This has been brought about by the change of technology and the cultural diversity due to the cross-cultural interactions. This diversity has contributed to the compromise of the various cultural norms and beliefs which were used in the past to define good or bad. This is very necessary as has helped to establish a conducive environment for the survival of the different people present in such a place to live in harmony regardless of their different norms and beliefs cultures. (Steven D 2006).

In absolutism, people have the view that truth or false bad or good right or wrong is one. Therefore, when they talk about moral absolutism, they believe that there exists a single right morality. Therefore, anyone else who does contrary to their view of what is right or wrong is automatically judged to be wrong irrespective of his/her cultural beliefs or norms.

Absolutism and relativism by Harman

According to Harman, absolutism and relativism are two extreme ethical approaches to reality. This is because though both are well supported by some facts they are always contrasting in their views. Their difference arises due to the different values that we have. Values are the things that give life a passion. They include love, faith, freedom, family, and education. These values are the one that gives someone hope and a purpose for being (Steven D 2006).

These values can be categorized as absolute values or relativism values. Absolute values deal with convention ethics. They assume that everything is certain. Relativism values on the other hand deal with a concept such as utilitarian and idealism. It believes that nothing is certain.

According to Harman, an ethical absolutist believes that there is a single moral standard that should apply to all people and each society should be a subject to it. They assume there is only one moral law and one external standard that govern all people. They believe that right is right and wrong is wrong irrespective of the place or time, that is they believe in black and white at all times and places. The belief that there is a distinct difference between what is good and what is thought to be good. According to them, actions are either good or bad regardless of their consequences. They believe that if two people disagree about what is right or wrong then one of the two people must be wrong because there is only one standard to determine good or bad and hence both of them cannot be right if they differ in their opinion. (Benjamin S 1978).

According to Harman, relativism is subjective and this makes it more sensible as a way of making a judgment. This is because the different cultural environment makes people view things differently concerning what is considered to be good or bad This method hence acts as a better way of determining what is good or bad this is because it puts into consideration the cultural differences before making a judgment. In relativism, it is very possible for more than two people to differ in their opinion on ethical issues and surprisingly find all of them justified due to cultural differences. (Steven D 2006).

This method is a good way of making a judgment in a cosmopolitan society where we have people with different beliefs. This is because it helps to unify the various cultures present in society to enable the people present to interact well and help them work in harmony for high performance in their day-to-day activities. This is situation is the opposite of the circumstance that should exist if absolutism is employed. This is because absolutism defines universal standards and laws which govern all people. This is not a good way because some people will feel discriminated against as they hold different cultural beliefs which they think are being undermined. Therefore a situation like this can result in disharmony of the people living or working together which can lower performance.. (Benjamin S 1978).

According to Harman, what is true what is moral or good differs from one individual to another and from one culture to another. He beliefs that there is nothing such as certain truth or fact. He believes that what is considered right in one culture might be wrong in another culture. What is considered moral by one culture can also be considered to be immoral in another culture that holds different beliefs?


The theory of absolutism which state that there is only valid truth and one moral code that governs all people, in all cultures at all times should be done away with. This is because this belief is very dangerous and wrong. It can lead to intolerance in a society because people who think they know what is right will become insensitive to the other group. This can perpetuate hatred between the two groups which can result in war or persecution in the society. Therefore, for harmony to perpetuate in our society we should embrace relativism which beliefs in cultural diversity and bring tolerance in the society. This helps to ensure harmony in society as everybody respects and tolerates each other. This method is the one that guarantees peace in society. It is also the one that helps to appreciate the various cultural beliefs that are present in different societies. People are made to accept that what they consider good in their culture might not be acceptable in a different culture and hence should learn how to live with those people they differ in beliefs at harmony. (Benjamin S 1978).


Benjamin S.Liamzon (1978) Ethical Absolutism and Relativism, University press of America, NewYork.

Steven D Hales (2006) Relativism and Foundation of Philosophy, IMT publishing Press Westport.

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