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Understanding Moral Relativism and Utilitarianism


Moral values surely differ from society to society. This is the charm that makes up our world and allows us to evaluate and consider different methodologies and opinions. Typically, different cultural factors of one society’s environment such as weather, religion, population density, and so forth, directly affect and contribute to said society’s adoption of specific morals and acceptable laws, whether or not it might be acceptable to another society. For example, California’s drought, in previous years, imposed water restrictions and created great awareness of water preservation within its population, where most citizens greatly valued and respected available water supplies and took it upon themselves to cut down on water usage. In contrast, another state, like Vermont, who is typically blessed with an abundance of precipitation, where its citizens most probably do not care as much for water preservation, perhaps leaving the sink on with steady flowing water as they brushed their teeth, or nonchalantly playing with the “slip and slide” with non-stop running water to cool off on those warmer, summer days. These two societies, due to their environmental circumstances obviously have different moral s about water usage. Another example to consider, on a grander scale, might be that of China, from 1979 to just recently 2014, when they adopted the “One Child per Family Policy”, designated to control their country’s overpopulation problems. (1) To enforce this, there were fines for “mistakes”, pressure to abort additional pregnancies, and even “forced sterilizations” for “certain” women after already being blessed with one child. (1) These measures are surely extreme and unacceptable to us Americans, as we were and are not living through similar circumstances, but what should we do with such differing morals, whether it be on a personal or business level?

To have a universal code of morals would be unrealistic, but just because we are not subject to the same cultural factors or circumstances as another, should that give us the right to judge these societies or rather understand and accept these variations? Since it is differences that breed improvement and advancement, it is obvious that we must embrace our societies’ diversities and possibly abide by them when visiting or working within their communities. Just as is suggested by Moral Normative Relativism, “who’s to say who is right and who is wrong?” we should exhibit tolerance to any new situation. Exceptions can apply, of course, if these differing morals or values are vehemently opposed to yours, for example, India’s abuse on women, where it then would be our moral and ethical obligation to speak up and properly contest and educate for a possible change and improvement of such immoral activity.

The differences within the world’s societies are most interesting and should be embraced within reason. Similar minded individuals and businesses tend to group together to form harmonious communities. It is up to us to find the society that appeals to us best which shares the most of our personal and business ethical beliefs.

This leads us to how we should make such morally relevant decisions. Should we accept a purely utilitarian approach where decisions are based on the greatest happiness for the greatest number? Or should we apply “rule utilitarian” principles where one still aims to bring the greatest happiness to most while following commonly acceptable rules, such as, you should not lie. Or perhaps adopt the “hedonistic” approach, where one is concerned more with pleasure rather than happiness? Or lastly, the “ideal utilitarian” approach, which promotes the consideration of additional values such as friendship, pain, health and beauty in addition to happiness and pleasure? Are these truly measurable evaluations or are they perhaps too subjective to reach an accurate decision? No matter the variation in utilitarian beliefs, there are issues that must be addressed. This methodology is quite biased as who’s to say what the true measurement of happiness or another value is? Whose happiness should the decision be based upon when the situation might affect multiple people? Also, can one be honest enough, truly putting aside desires for personal gain and pleasure, for the greater good? And finally, the end doesn’t necessarily justify the means, as exemplified with the utilitarian belief that it would be acceptable to kill a person to then distribute said person’s organs to 5 other in need, therefore, saving 5 lives in exchange for 1 lost. Due to these extremes, it would be foolish to solely base personal or business decision solely through utilitarian principles, however, it would be a good place to start.

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