In the study of ethics or moral science, the two popular topics of debate are the questions of Absolutism and Relativism.
Ethics is in essence, a system of moral principles that are concerned with what is good or right for the individual and the society. It defines who we are and what we should follow to have a congenial society.
Absolutism vs Relativism
The main difference Between Absolutism and Relativism is that absolutism endorsed equality. They believe that truth is equal in every situation. Whereas Relativism stressed that truth depends on the relative situation.
Absolute morality stands for a universal standard of ethics to be applied to everyone irrespective of circumstances. on the other hand, Relative morality wants to base the ethic on the belief that truth or rightness can mean differently to different cultures.
In the absolute concept of morality, there is no middle ground. It is either right or wrong. They consider things objectively. According to this principle, the context in which the action took place is given very little importance. They don’t consider the beliefs, intentions, or goals that lead to the action. This is why the legal system and religious leaders also favor the absolutism approach to morality.
Relativism is another important concept that has gained a great deal of importance in the field of morality or ethic. This principle completely rejects the absolutism approach and states that human behavior can not be categorized into rigid compartments. Relativism stressed the context like intentions, beliefs, and goals of an individual or society that gives rise to a certain action.
Comparison Table Between Absolutism and Relativism
|Parameters of Comparison||Absolutism||Relativism|
|Approach||Absolutism approaches things objectively and considers an action right or wrong accordingly.||The relativism approach is more analytical and flexible. According to them, human actions can not and should not be categorized rigidly.|
|Context||Absolutism completely ignored the context of the action.||Relativism puts much emphasis on context. They recognized it as one of the most important factors in ethics.|
|Objectivity||Absolutism is very objective in its approach. They say a rule is a rule, it shouldn’t be bent.||Relativism doesn’t care too much for objectivity. They are more concerned about the situational aspects of an action.|
|Rigidity||Absolutism is very rigid in its approach to moral rules or ethics.||Relativism doesn’t have any rigid rules of conduct. To them, right and wrong are relative aspects.|
|Value||Absolutism as a concept of ethics brings values to the rule of law. It judges everyone and everything equally.||Relativism has become more popular because it is accepting and tolerant. Its values lays in the fact that it is not governed by any universal truth but by the relative nature of circumstances.|
What is Absolutism?
Absolutism concept that can be applied to a variety of subjects. In morality or ethic, it is an approach that is very straightforward. It observes things objectively and gives judgment accordingly.
Absolutism does not consider the relative circumstances that give rise to a certain action. They only focus on the action itself.
According to this principle, every moral question has a right and a wrong answer. They disregard the context and lead the action to speak for itself.
Ethical absolutism emphasizes that Ethics are true in all circumstances. Which means that they are the same in all cultures, religions, and situations. This is why the absolutists are also referred to as deontological as they reject consequence.
Under absolutism, all moral values are fixed. The time, place, people, or situation are insignificant. Here, the moral principles are also graded like one rule is higher or greater than the other. For example,” Do not steal”, is not as important as” Do not kill”.
One of the advantages of absolutism is the ability to critically evaluate the ethic and dispense equal judgment.
Some popular examples of absolutism works are Kant’s categorical imperative and The Devine Comand Theory.
What is Relativism?
Relativism believes that nothing is innately right or wrong. They assert that morality is contextual. It is influenced by the situation or cultural beliefs.
This kind of view is more acceptable in modern society as tolerance is the catchword in the present time.
Every culture has its own set of ethics which are distinct from others.
So, morality or the rightness or wrongness of an action can be best defined by taking into account the relative circumstances.
Relativity claims that the standard of ethics or morality differs from culture to culture. What is acceptable to one may be abhorrent to the other? It is the duty of all individuals to be open-minded and more tolerant.
The popularity of the Relativism concept is also greatly due to the death of old ways and old certainties in religion and science and the emergence of new scientific approaches to social sciences.
The breakdown of the old ethical framework and the increasing awareness of social diversity also contributed to the popularity of the Relativism theory over absolutism.
Main Differences Between Absolutism and Relativism
- Absolutism looks at things objectively whereas relativism looks at the relative circumstances of the said action.
- Absolutism is rigid in its beliefs in right and wrong but relativism is more fixable and accepting in its outlook.
- Absolutism holds that ethics are true in all situations and so no special treatment should be given to anybody under any circumstances but relativism says that it is wrong to measure everyone with the same yardstick.
- Absolutists are deontological as their theory ignores the importance of circumstances in their ethics whereas, relativists are teleologists as they base their principle of ethics on the circumstances and relative situations.
- Absolutism is all about equality. To the right is right and wrong is wrong. There is no middle way. Relativism goes for equity. They consider the context of the situation important while deciding the rightness or wrongness of an action.
The principles of absolutism and relativism Play a significant role in the development and study of ethical theories. Both principles have their own merits and demerits. The important thing is to see what works when.
Absolutism points of judging or measuring everyone with the same yardstick is not fair. Also, the Relativism approach of accepting diversity and flexibility can turn it into just a ” socially acceptable code of conduct”.