Realism and Relativism in Ethics

Catherine Wilson

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Early Modern Europe

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199556137
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Realism and Relativism in Ethics

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  • Philosophy
  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Moral Philosophy



This article examines the shift in the concept of realism and relativism in ethics in early modern Europe. It suggests that the problem of the nature and foundations of moral rightness and moral obligation became visible to philosophers of the early modern period as they began to reconsider the problems of error, superstition, and illusion to question traditional authorities and to devote attention to scientific methodology and the logic of discovery. It contends that the doctrine that qualities are perceiver-relative, combined with an increased awareness of other ages and cultures, made moral relativism an attractive position, even while its less attractive implications were grasped at the same time.

Keywords: realism; relativism; ethics; Europe; moral rightness; moral obligation; scientific methodology

Article.  9977 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy

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