Absolutism Versus Relativism

“Explain the need for finding a medium between absolutism and relativism for today’s global society, and then explaining the possibility of finding such a medium and achieving it.”

Asking me a question about absolutism relating to relativism is akin to asking an atheist to relate Catholicism to Judaism. First, I do not believe that there is any higher moral code than man’s. Second, I believe that morality is merely the mean, within a society, of the ethical beliefs of the whole of the membership. Each person, then, forms their own personal moral code by examining the interactions within their society. I feel that this is more of a political notion than an ethical one. This leads me down the path of nihilism where the only moral code is a personal willingness to accept (or, accept to change) societal values, these values having no transcendence beyond our own lives.

Absolutism, as Thiroux and Krasemann (2009) explain it, is a belief that there are moral truths which transcend human life (p. 89). Relativism describes a belief system that is particular to a certain society, and though each belief may transcend the society, it is not necessarily so (p. 90). It appears that absolutism is flat in geometrical terms while relativity is three dimensional, and just as you can place a circle within a sphere but not the inverse, I believe that absolutism can exist within the confines of a greater relativism. It does not seem, however, that relativism can exist within an absolutist system of morals.

Coexisting moral codes can certainly conflict if two competing beliefs are thought to be absolute. However, I believe that many of the competing moral codes do not have to be unwavering. The members of the various societies of this world can certainly choose to interact or not interact with members of other societies in such ways that would allow their beliefs to compete. This is seen within the debates of religion versus science. Though the can coexist, they are not comparable in terms of values and, therefore, should not be compared. Unfortunately, when one chooses to live within a society, one chooses to abide by the governance of its moral code or should make attempts to change it.


Thiroux, J. P., & Krasemann, K. W. (2009). Ethics: Theory and practice (Tenth ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

“Preventive Medicine”

Passing judgment without the ability to review the context troubles me. Judging an act without seeing the evidence makes no basis for academic discussion regarding the motives or outcome. This exercise will have us judge the actions of a fictional surgeon, whose situations are probably based on facts, during the Korean conflict. Being that this surgeon is a character in a widely available syndicated television show, it surprises me that the particular episode is not available for review. I have taken the time to track down the episode and review it before making comment.

The text (Thiroux & Krasemann, 2009) does state that utilitarians believe that “everyone should perform that act or follow that moral rule that will bring about the greatest good (or happiness) for everyone concerned” (p. 42); however, this description fails to identify the scope and practice of such notions. Whom does this act or rule concern? When does this act or rule gain application? At what point does the actor have enough evidence to make the judgement?

With regards to the M*A*S*H episode[1] (Metcalfe, Reeder, & Mordente, 1979), who is to say that the actions of Col. Lacey did not ultimately save more lives through the heroism of those that he led? Was Lt. Col. Lacey on the verge of improving the tactics of the U. S. Army? Did the unnecessary surgery of Lt. Col. Lacey cost even more lives, then? Lt. Col. Lacey addresses his injured troops, “Your performance over the last few days has given me the confidence to submit a plan to ICOR, a plan for our BN to spearhead a counter-offensive up hill 403, and this time, men, we are going to take it.” This seems to suggest that Lt. Col. Lacey has developed and refined a tactical plan that he feels will prove successful.

In the next sequence, Capt. Pierce questions Col. Lacey’s motives but fails to allow him to answer, putting words in his mouth, and ascribing his own thoughts to Col. Lacey’s motives. After overhearing the Colonel speaking with his General, Capt. Pierce formulates his plan of removing, at least temporarily, Lt. Col. Lacey from his command, and after the successful harvest of a healthy appendix, more injured troops arrive at the 4077. Capt. Honeycut sums up his partner’s actions very simply, “You treated a symptom; the disease goes merrily on.”

After watching the episode and paying special attention to the premise, it seems, at least to me, that this episode deals more with the psychology of Capt. Pierce than with his ethics. It is the psychology of the situation that forces Pierce to act on the situation, in hopes that what he does has an overall positive effect. It does not. Separating ethics from psychology is a mistake, in my opinion. Our psychology changes our perspective and, therefore, should be considered when ethical questions arise.

Utilitarian? The motives of Capt. Pierce were of a self-interested nature. He wanted to feel that he did something instead of standing idle. In my opinion, Capt. Pierce did not have the requisite knowledge to make the utilitarian judgment. I would have done as Col. Potter did in this episode. He notified the upper command of his concerns so that they may be evaluated by people in the position to make a substantive evaluation of a battalion commander.


Metcalfe, B. [Producer], Reeder, T. [Writer], & Mordente, T. [Director]. (1979, February 19). “Preventive Medicine” [Television episode]. M*A*S*H. Los Angeles, CA: 20th Century Fox.

Thiroux, J. P., & Krasemann, K. W. (2009). Ethics: Theory and practice (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


1. “Preventive Medicine” was the 22nd episode of the seventh season of M*A*S*H.

Society’s New Morality?!

The question this week revolves around a notion that society is becoming more ethical. Given weak evidence of this (Strom, 2003) which documents a single person who, for some unstated reason, is giving away his fortune and would like to give away his sole kidney, I can only think of the recent banking and insurance industries foray into subprime lending, the response to that by cities and towns by artificially inflating home values for increases in tax revenue, and people attempting to remove Haitian children from their country under the pretense of humanitarian aid, whether legitimate or not (Hojnacki & Shick, 2008; Tergesen, 2007; Cooney, 2010).

I guess we need to define the terms and the boundaries of the terms. Which society are we talking about? In India, children living in brothels are denied an education because their parents are considered criminals, thereby denying the rights of the children (Briski & Kauffman, 2004). Is this more ethical?

Since when? Which eras are we comparing? In the 1930’s and 40’s, Hitler’s Nazi regime perpetrated one of the most heinous genocides in history, except for China and Tibet in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, where Mao Ze-Dong killed off between 50 and 80 million people. Some more recent and notable genocides (as cited in Scaruffi, 2009):

1,700,000 dead, by Pol Pot in Cambodia, 1975-1979;
1,600,000 dead, by Kim Il Sung in North Korea, 1948-1994;
1,500,000 dead, by Menghistu in Ethiopia, 1975-1978;
1,000,000 dead, by Yakubu Gowon in Biafra, 1967-1970;
900,000 dead, by Leonid Brezhnev in Afghanistan, 1979-1982;
800,000 dead, by Jean Kambanda in Rwanda, 1994;
600,000 dead, by Saddam Hussein in Iran 1980-1990 and Kurdistan 1987-1988.

I believe that if there is a so-called ethical call-to-arms, it is merely a return to balance in the newscasting and reporting which is perceived as something it is not. Though, I would like a return to values, so to speak, but whose values should we value?


Briski, Z., & Kauffman, R. [Writers/directors]. (2004). Born into brothels: Calcutta’s red-light kids [Motion picture]. Los Angeles, CA: ThinkFilm.

Cooney, P. [Ed.]. (2010, January 30). Americans arrested taking children out of Haiti. Thomson Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60T23I20100130

Hojnacki, J. E., & Shick, R. A. (2008, December). The subprime mortgage lending collapse – Should we have seen it coming? Journal of Business & Economics Research, 6(12), 25-36.

Scaruffi, P. (2009). 1900-2000: A century of genocides. Retrieved from http://www.scaruffi.com/politics/dictat.html

Strom, S. (2003, August 17). An organ donor’s generosity raises the question of how much is too much. The New York Times (New York ed.), pp. 117.

Tergesen, A. (2007, November 5). How to Reduce Your Property Taxes. BusinessWeek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_45/b4057079.htm