Wong (1996) defended a partly similar position, though one intended toallow for greater diversity in correct moral codes. He argued thatmore than one morality may be true, but there are limits on whichmoralities are true. The first point is a form of metaethicalrelativism: It says one morality may be true for one society and aconflicting morality may be true for another society. Hence, there isno one objectively correct morality for all societies. The secondpoint, however, is a concession to moral objectivism. It acknowledgesthat objective factors concerning human nature and the human situationshould determine whether or not, or to what extent, a given moralitycould be one of the true ones. The mere fact that a morality isaccepted by a society does not guarantee that it has normativeauthority in that society. For example, given our biological andpsychological make-up, not just anything could count as a good way oflife. Again, given that most persons are somewhat self-interested andthat society requires some measure of cooperation, any plausiblemorality will include a value of reciprocity (good in return for goodon some proportional basis). Since these objective limitations arequite broad, they are insufficient in themselves to establish aspecific and detailed morality: Many particular moralities areconsistent with them, and the choice among these moralities must bedetermined by the cultures of different societies.
By contrast, subjective relativists claim that in ethics your choices determine not only your ethical beliefs but also the ethical facts. If you decide that cheating on your boyfriend or girlfriend is morally permissible, that makes cheating morally permissible for you. You never have to wonder or worry whether your ethical beliefs correspond to the facts. Your beliefs create the ethical facts. Without your beliefs, there would be no ethical facts about what is right for you. So, there is never any possibility that you could be wrong about what is right for you. According to subjective relativism, believing so makes it so.
Mixed positions along the lines of those just discussed suppose thatmorality is objective in some respects, on account of some features ofhuman nature, and relative in other respects. For the respects inwhich morality is relative, it is up to particular societies orindividuals to determine which moral values to embrace. Hence, theauthority of morality depends partly on objective factors and partlyon the decisions of groups or individuals. Insofar as this is true,such mixed positions need to say something about the basis for thesedecisions and how conflicts are to be resolved (for example, whenindividuals dissent from groups or when people belong to differentgroups with conflicting values). The objective features of mixedpositions may help resolve these issues, or may limit their import,but at the point where these features give out there remain some ofthe standard concerns about relativism (such as those raised in thelast section).
As with Foot, Nussbaum came to this mixed position from theobjectivist side of the debate. Some moral objectivists may think shehas given up too much, and for a related reason many moral relativistsmay believe she has established rather little. For example, bodilyappetites are indeed universal experiences, but there has been a widerange of responses to these—for example, across a spectrum fromasceticism to hedonism. This appears to be one of the central areas ofmoral disagreement. In order to maintain her objectivist credentials,Nussbaum needs to show that human nature substantially constrains whichof these responses could be morally appropriate. Some objectivists maysay she has not shown this, but could, while relativists may doubt shecould show it.
However, the subjective relativist’s position is no longer a very interesting one. The features that make subjective relativism an attractive position for a lot of people are no longer present: the emphasis on trying to get other people to be more tolerant, the opposition to ethnocentrism, the critique of the injustices done in the name of moral absolutism, etc. Subjective relativists want other people to become relativists, too. They want to tell those who believe in moral absolutes that they are for being absolutists. Relativists of all stripes are continually criticizing people who believe in absolute moral truths for being closed-minded, intolerant, dogmatic, politically incorrect, and just plain wrong. But if belief in moral absolutism is merely wrong-for-the-subjective-relativist but not necessarily wrong-for-you, then the relativist is not in a position to criticize you for being an absolutist. Going with the option under consideration avoids a contradiction, but only by making it impossible for the subjective relativist to disagree with absolutists.
The value of cultural relativism, the principle that one culture should not be judged by the standard of another culture, is illustrated in the comparison of Peace Corp volunteer Floyd Sandford’s African Odyssey and anthropologist Richard Lee’s Dobe Ju/’hoansi....
In another example, Harman (2000a) argues that a moraljudgment that a person ought to do X (an “innerjudgment”) implies that the person has motivating reasons to doX, and that a person is likely to have such reasons only if heor she has implicitly entered into an agreement with others about whatto do. Hence, moral judgments of this kind are valid only for groups ofpersons who have made such agreements. An action may be right relativeto one agreement and wrong relative to another (this combines agent andappraisal relativism insofar as Harman assumes that the person makingthe judgment and the person to whom the judgment is addressed are bothparties to the agreement).
Harman's relativism is presented as a thesis about logical form, butthe relativist implication arises only because it is supposed that therelevant motivating reasons are not universal and so probably arosefrom an agreement that some but not all persons have made. In thissense, moral disagreement is an important feature of the argument. Butthe main focus is on the internalist idea that inner judgments implymotivating reasons, reasons that are not provided simply by beingrational, but require particular desires or intentions that a personmay or may not have. Internalism in this sense is a controversial view,and many would say that a moral judgment can apply to a person whetheror not that person is motivated to follow it (see the section on'Psychological: Moral Motivation' in the entry on ).However, internalism is not a standard feature of most arguments formoral relativism, and in fact some relativists are critical ofinternalism (for example, see Wong 2006: ch. 7)
His 1984 Moral Relativity was a study of this concept, and his 2006 Natural Moralities presented a new and sophisticated account of it.
It is worth noting that internalism is one expression of a moregeneral viewpoint that emphasizes the action-guiding character ofmoral judgments. Though Harman and others (for example, Dreier 1990and 2006) have argued that a form of moral relativism provides thebest explanation of internalism, a more common argument has been thatthe action-guiding character of moral judgments is best explained by anon-cognitivist or expressivist account according to which moraljudgments lack truth-value (at least beyond the claim ofminimalism). In fact, some have claimed that the expressivist positionavoids, and is superior to, moral relativism because it accounts forthe action-guiding character of moral judgments without taking on theproblems that moral relativism is thought to involve (for instance,see Blackburn 1998: ch. 9 and 1999, and Horgan and Timmons 2006). Bycontrast, others have maintained that positions such asnon-cognitivism and expressivism are committed to a form of moralrelativism (for example, see Bloomfield 2003, Foot 2002b, andShafer-Landau 2003: ch 1). For an assessment of this debate, seeMiller 2011, and for a discussion of non-cognitivism and relatedpositions, see the entry on .
There are two basic kinds of ethical relativism: subjective ethical relativism and conventional (or cultural) ethical relativism. The two kinds of relativism are defined as follows: