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Ethics and Relativism & Animal Rights

Part 1

Ethics and Relativism

What challenges does relativism presents to various ethical and religious viewpoints. For this, we consider a specific moral question--circumcision--which might make it difficult to accept the relativist's response.

Part 2

Animal Rights

Do human beings have any obligations to animals in terms of their treatment? If it is wrong to treat animals cruelly, why is it not wrong to eat them? A discussion on how humans might find a balance between treating animals ethically while also raising them for food and dietary sustenance.

Solution Preview

For this problem, we are going to discuss the two parts of the problem in detail, which should allow us to condense the primary points for an argument and support them with the relevant text/reading material.

Part 1 - Moral Question.

Note: You may discuss the following subject--as it is a current and hotly debated topic in the mainstream--and support it with the relevant positive ethical theory in your text that best fits the nature of the subject.

Moral issue: Circumcision of infants and children.

Within the context of certain cultures, it is acceptable to permanently alter the genitals of an individual, who despite being a member--not by choice--of that culture, is in no position to express consent towards accepting such permanent change, or rejecting such a permanent form of identity branding. These sort of customary scenarios often beg the question of what comes first, the individual's rights and identity, or their cultural standing/viability as members of a group at a stage in life when such allegiances cannot even be actively declared or made by the individual concerned. Not to mention, these procedures also come with mortality risks to the individuals in question and while different cultures have different perspectives on rights and rituals, the basic sanctity of the individual's right to choice and a chance at life are seen as cornerstones of a civilized society.

A relativist might argue that this as an ethnocentric viewpoint and that outsiders have no right to impose their moral viewpoint upon others; that it is of esoteric cultural relevance and value to the group in question to subject their members to such procedures. However, extreme forms of such criticism remove the ability for society to actively engage and challenge customs that might not be appropriate in the context of an evolving society. Such rights and dignity at the individual level are becoming universal across a gamut of cultures and illustrate a form of cultural evolution that other cultures should observe, especially when customs and rituals pose a threat to the fundamental existence and dignity of the individual concerned.

An example to consider would be the issues faced by infants, who under their parents cultural dictum, are forced to undergo risky procedures that result in permanent body part alterations or worse, and ...

Solution Summary

Discussion 1:

When dealing with cultural differences and social evolution, we are often confronted with relativist criticisms of ethnocentrism; that our cultural bias might be at play when we criticise the practices of other cultures. However, this can't always be universally applied to all forms of cultural criticism, especially in the context of individual rights and social change as well as cultural norms that might post active risk for the individual. A good currently debated example of this topic would be the subject of circumcision, which when discussed at length, reveals serious issues faced by relativist arguments in support of the the practice.

Discussion 2:

As civilization continues its development and evolution, we are seeing major shifts in dietary patterns as well as our attitude towards animals with a far deeper and greater awareness and concern for their welfare. It is often a dilemma for those confronted by the topic whether or not concern for how animals are raised should give way to an outright end to the consumption of animals. However, this subject also treads on the topic of human evolution and dietary requirements, which when factored appropriately, reveal both a need for some basic level of animal products in the human diet as well as care for the welfare and method of animal husbandry as it holds a bearing on the quality of the food products as well as the large scale repercussions from the unsustainable nature of present-day factory farming practices.