The most currently popular variant of Subjectivist Ethics is undoubtedly "Cultural Relativism"(also called "Social Consensus Ethics"and "Democratic Ethics") wherein the "the right/moral thing to do"is determined by the consensus of public opinion. As but one highly visible manifestation of its popularity - in most modern Western political campaigns there is almost no discussion about "What is the right thing to do?"Almost all discussion is about "What is the popular thing to do?"or "What do the people want?"The same is also true of most Western media coverage. Want to know what to do? Take a public opinion poll.
There are a number of difficulties that must be properly managed if you adopt Cultural Relativism for your system of Morality. The most significant ones are the same two your mother provided when, as a child, you pleaded for permission to do or have something because "everybody else"has the requested permission or thing. Firstly, how do you know that "everybody else"has it? And secondly, even if they do, how do you know that having it is good for you? (Although, of course, this latter challenge is logically begging the question. Within Cultural Relativism if everybody else thinks it is good, it is by definition good for you as well.)
Finding out just what the consensus opinion is on some moral question is not a trivial exercise. Consider, for example, whether it is the consensus of opinion in your own social unit that slavery is immoral. Is the consensus opinion on this issue determined by the noisiest opinions? Or by the most frequently held opinions? Or by the number of people who want you to think that they think everybody else holds that opinion? Do you really have to design and conduct a suitable public opinion poll? As any pollster will tell you, designing a series of questions to find out what people really think (as opposed to what they will tell you they think) is not a simple task.
And then, once you have figured that one out, you have to define just what a "social unit"is to consist of. Are you going to use national boundaries? How about citizenship? Is it possible to have a morally meaningful "social unit"that is larger or smaller than a nation? Can a province or state within a nation have its own culturally delineated standard of ethics? How about the local Hells Angels chapter? Or what about the trans-national population of graduates from the University of London?
In order to provide a rational foundation for Cultural Relativism, therefore, a process must be defined for determining what the particular "social unit"is composed of, and then for determining what the consensus of opinion is. So, if you think slavery is morally reprehensible because your current society views it as such, then you are going to have to explain how you know that, and justify why you define your "current society"the way that you do.
And when that is accomplished, a rationale must be provided for the logical consequence that "if it is good/right/moral for everybody else, then it is good/right/moral for me". Even if on the surface it is true by definition, it is certainly not a self-evident truth - "If all your friends were to jump into the sea, would you also?"Lemmings might say "Yes!"But most people would not. So even if a logical proof is not required, some form of rationale certainly is. The immediate answer does not appear to be a reasonable one.
Even with these basic difficulties are adequately addressed, Cultural Relativism implies some consequences that, initially at least, appear to be if not counter-intuitive then at least not normally expected. They certainly do conflict with the usual manner in which people display moral opinions.
Consequently, any practical application of Cultural Relativism means that "Moral"behaviour is almost always the result of a non-rational and non-logical subjective opinion as to which (or whose) opinion to apply when, where, and how.
While this approach to morality may be the "best"one, and certainly has some appeal to those with a liberal political bent, the difficulty in determining what the consensus opinions are with any degree of accuracy; the challenge of defining just exactly what qualifies as a suitable culture or social unit; the problem of justifying the application of other people's opinions to individual behaviour choices; and the counter-intuitive consequences cited above, would suggest that there might be a "better"approach.
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