The relativity of Ethics

In a natural world Ethics might be objective, but it is not absolute. Just as it happens with morality, there is no ethical absolutism where can judge in a universal and unequivocal way what is ethical or not. Ethics is full of dilemmas and controversies: and this is because Ethics is also relative.

To illustrate the relativity of Ethics we are going to use the particular case of abortion. Abortion is the subjects of strong moral debates: is it right or is it wrong? Does it violate the sanctity of life, etc.? . But in the present we are not going to be concerned about the moral dilemmas of abortion. Moral dilemmas of abortion remains in the realm of subjective moral orders. In the present we are concern about the ethical dilemmas of abortion which are objective, practical and universal. The ethical dilemma of abortion is about what is the best thing to do? rather than what is the right thing to do, as posed by morality.

The ethical dilemma of abortion comes from the difficulty to determine what is the best interest for the mother and for the child. On one hand we have to evaluate the well-being of the mother: was the mother victim of rape, is her life at risk, is she under aged, or is she simply deciding to terminate the pregnancy because it doesn’t suit her project of life. On the other hand is the well-being of the baby: is it a fully developed baby or is it in its early stages, is the baby carrying an impairing  genetic disorder or is it a healthy baby, etc. And then there are also considerations about the prospects of life: is the mother mentally impaired and incapable of taking care of the baby on her own, is the mother considering abortion because she lives in abject poverty, is it going to be an unwanted child victim of neglect, etc.

Ethics then, is relative. It depends on all the circumstances that makes each individual case.  Ethics is also hierarchical: some things are more ethical than others and some are more unethical than others. How ethical or unethical action are, depends on the degree of well-being or the degree of destruction, pain and suffering they bring. For example, an abortion on a mother that is either under aged, mentally impaired, victim of rape or whose life is in danger is more ethical than an abortion done because it doesn’t suit someone’s lifestyle. And an abortion at the early stages of development, when there are just a few cells reproducing, is more ethical that an abortion at an advanced stage of development, when there is a young baby with a fully developed nervous system that is responsive to the environment.

Ethics is an objective problem about the consequences of our actions: the degree of destruction, pain and suffering or the degree of well-being they bring. Ethics is not a matter of opinion: the constructive or destructive effects of our action are objective and independent from our values or moral beliefs. But what it is arguable is how do we weight one against the other, and how ethical or unethical our actions are.


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