Honesty Through Moral Relativism Lens

Last week one of my friends was preparing to leave for an important date, and before she left the house, she asked my opinion concerning her dress. I told her that the dress was horrible before clarifying that was my personal opinion, and it does not matter in the end. She was mortified by my response, and she ultimately did not go on a date because she spent the rest of the evening locked in her room crying, for I had hurt her feelings.

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When she later narrated what had happened to other friends, they reprimanded me for being insensitive and immoral. I agree with the assertion that being honest, which at times could be cold, is evil. However, my agreement with this statement is based on moral relativism. Consequently, while my friends think I am immoral for speaking my mind, I also know I am honest because based on moral relativism, there are no right or wrong behaviors. It all depends on how someone views and interprets the issues at hand.

According to Harman, moral relativism holds that people will have different opinions concerning a particular subject because there is no universal law or truth in ethics (5). Consequently, my being straightforward and honest regardless of whether the other party is hurt cannot be judged as immoral because what informs my decision to take such a stand is not universally acceptable. Similarly, I cannot accuse empathic people, who will generally lie to make other people feel good, of being immoral because they are pretenders. The privilege that I enjoy under moral relativism should also be extended to others when dealing with issues that we cannot agree upon.

However, my stand on this issue could be criticized through what Shalvi et al. call moral licensing (128). The argument behind moral licensing is that individuals tend to justify their behaviors by claiming that they have been acting in a particular way all along. In other words, I explain my straightforwardness by noting that it is in my nature to act as such. However, I would answer those criticisms through moral relativism, with the central idea being that there are no standard truths in ethics that can hold for everyone under the universe.

Therefore, the decision on whether to lie to a friend to make her feel good and be seen as empathetic or being honest and telling her my truth regardless of whether she is hurt or not is a personal prerogative. I would also add that the basic principles of moral relativism demand that people should not be judged for their choices. Consequently, I would tell my critics that I cannot adjudge their stand on any moral issue, and thus I expect the same from them.

In conclusion, the issue of being honest even when other people will be hurt in the process could be termed as immoral and insensitive. However, it could be defended through moral relativism, which holds that there is no objective standard through which societies or people can be judged as moral or immoral. I believe that if someone asks for my opinion, then he or she should be prepared to take it because I do not seek to please people. Whether this stand is immoral or not, moral relativism covers my perspective on the issue, and in the same way, I cannot also judge people for thinking that I am immoral.

Works Cited

Harman, Gilbert. Moral Relativism Explained. n.d. Web.

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Shalvi, Shaul, et al. “Self-Serving Justifications: Doing Wrong and Feeling Mortal.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 24, no. 2, 2015, pp. 125-130.

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