Ethical relativism is a system of ethics in which you consider your fellow man's ethical beliefs compared to your own instead of applying a universal standard. It questions whether there is a universal standard in the first place and requires you to be knowledgeable about a large number of ethical systems that may conflict with each other. In order to make ethically relative decisions you have to be willing to temporarily use a new system of ethics you are not familiar with. Ethical relativism thus challenges sound ethical reasoning by saying that everybody has their own idea of sound ethical reasoning and you have to be willing to pretend that the unfamiliar system is right for the other person, even though you do not agree with it. Reasoning, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. An ethical relativist would argue that you need to be out there in the real world to see ethically difficult situations instead of at the library, and that you also would need to make your own choices instead of asking a priest.
Let's say, hypothetically, that one person figured out the meaning of life and his/her explanation was so good that everyone in the world immediately agreed with it and abandoned all other ethical directives. This would actually not be a blessing because a lack of ethical diversity leaves us unprepared for unforeseen situations. One example in which relativism is a direct challenge to the idea that reasoning alone can give us all the ethical guidance we need is that in every situation, reasoning depends on assumptions. Assumptions are always at the heart of every set of ethical guidelines. For instance, we assume that stealing is bad because it was part of our upbringing. This is usually an unquestioned assumption. However, there may be a group of people out there who think there is nothing wrong with it. An ethical relativist would say that there is no way to prove stealing is bad (although it has a very clear negative effect on everyone involved) because it is a basic assumption. This is a big challenge to ethics because regular ethics requires constant strengthening of its core assumptions without a clear reason.
Another challenge from ethical relativism is that it gives people more freedom to live the way they want to. In the U.S., and also in many other countries, freedom is a very precious thing. Naturally any ethics system that gives people more freedom would be very appealing to them. We take for granted how much freedom we have and a large number of people would embrace a system that allows them to form their own ethical lifestyle without fear of judgement from their neighbors.
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