Moral Relativism and Moral Nihilism

James Dreier

in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780195325911
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Moral Relativism and Moral Nihilism

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According to this article, moral “properties,” such as rightness, are relations to the moral standards of relevant person(s). For example, there may be rightness-relative-to-Alice as distinct from rightness-relative-to-Bill, and an action that is right-relative-to-Alice might not be right-relative-to-Bill. Here is an analogy. Weight is a relation between an object's mass and the local gravitational field. This is why an object has a different weight on the moon than it has on the earth. The relevant gravitational field must be specified or assumed before one can fully understand an assertion to the effect that something has a given weight. Similarly, a system of moral rules must be specified or assumed in order to understand what proposition is expressed by an assertion to the effect that something is right or wrong. This article proposes a “speaker relativism,” according to which the moral system of the speaker is the relevant one.

Keywords: rightness; moral rules; gravitational field; speaker relativism; moral system

Article.  11509 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy

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