In ethical philosophy, natural law is the set of principles founded on those things that are held to be constant and fixed characteristics of human nature that serve as the basis for evaluating conduct and civil law. This set of principles is seen to be universally applicable and fundamentally unchanging. However, the meaning of nature is relative owing to the ambiguity of the word. As such, natural law may be seen as a general fact or an ideal to which humans aspire. The doctrine of natural law was first elaborated by ancient Greek philosophers.
According to Heraclitus, natural law is a common wisdom which permeates the entire universe. All human laws are sustained by a single entity, the divine. According to Aristotle, justice is one such law since it has an equal validity everywhere and does not depend on our acceptance of it. A systematic natural law theory was constructed by the Stoics. Stoicism hold that the entire cosmos is ordered rationally by an active principle diversely referred to as God, fate or mind. Every individual nature constitutes a section of the cosmos. A virtuous living means to live in correspondence with nature, and according to correct reason.
A wise individual often embrace rational life and eradicate passion since emotions and passion are viewed as irrational movement of the soul. According to Cicero, a right reason which is in accordance with nature is a true law. Its application is universal, immutable and eternal. By its commands, it summons to duty and by its prohibitions, it averts from wrongdoing. Cultural relativism Cultural relativism is the position that truth is relative and that all beliefs are similarly valid. The truth according to cultural relativists is dependent upon the circumstance, environment and individual.
The proponents of this theory believe that all political, aesthetic, ethical and religious beliefs are entirely relative to the individual within a particular cultural identity. As such, they believe that ethics is dependent upon social construct, that the rightness or wrongness of an action is based on a particular situation and that truth has no objective standard. As such, the universality talked of by the natural law theorists is often dismissed by cultural relativists. According to relativists, any individual can have his own interpretation of the truth.
Particularism Moral particularism holds that of all moral principles, none can be defensible. Moral thought, according to particularists, does not involve the application of moral principles to situations and that a person of principle is not necessarily a morally perfect individual (Gert, 1998). However, there are more sensitive versions of moral particularism. So far, the strongest defensible explanation holds that as much as there might be some moral principles, the reasonableness of moral judgment and thought is not dependent upon the suitable provision of them.
A perfectly moral judge will require something more than just a hold on the relevant range of principles and the capacity to put them into application. Moral principles are support mechanism not required by a morally sensitive individual and actually, the use of such support may result in a moral error (Audi, 1998). Like the generalists, particularists believe that a perfectly moral individual is one who considers all moral reasons present in the situation. However, they do not offer a coinciding picture of what it means to consider all options present in the situation.
Their perspective is one which views moral reasons to operate which are similar to the ways other reasons function. Moral thought does not possess a distinctive structure even though morality may be differentiated by its subject matter. If one is to form a view of what it means to have complete sensitivity to the reasons, there is need to visualize the functioning of moral reasons. Insistence on variability is the base of particularism. Generalists inherently demand sameness in the form that a similar and one consideration functions per every situation, a view that the particularists deem unnecessary.
A particular feature may make one moral difference in a specific situations and a conflicting difference in another. Features possess variable relevance. The relevance of a feature and the role it plays in a new case will be sensitive to other features of that particular situation. This is the result of the basic particularist doctrine which is referred to as holism of reasons. This is the doctrine that a reason in one situation may not be a reason at all in another. Within the realm of ethics, a feature which renders an action better can render another worse and still make no difference at all to a third.
Particularists assume that this doctrine is true for all reasons such that its moral reason application is a subset of a wider component (Garfield, 2000). There is need to express the point about variability of reasons as either absolute or contributory depending on the interpretation of principles upon which they are aimed at. An invariant overall reason is specified by absolute principles. Absolute principles also specify a particular feature or an integration of features which is successful in making an action right or wrong everywhere they are present.
Contradictory principles are however different from the absolute principles. They claim to specify features that often make similar contribution regardless of the context. As such, actions become right or wrong in numerous ways. In considering the circumstances that S1, S2, S3, S4 and P, their view of morality appears to be different. However, this can be explained with reference to cultural relativism, natural law particularism. According to P, every student had a moral choice to heed to his instructions.
However, individuals view things differently. Every individual also desire to do what is right. Under the circumstances, the students had a duty to carry out the test and answer them in the most appropriate way. They could confirm the answers. This involves two aspects; a student would naturally desire to pass examinations. Again they desire to adhere to P’s instruction. The desire to pass the test motivated S1 to correct his answers even after instructions from the P. his argument is that P will not be in a position to know his action.
On the other hand, S2and S3 feel morally obligated to adhere to P’s instruction. As such, rightness or wrongness of the action rests on whether one conforms to P’s instruction or not. The basis of judgment is thus alteration of answers after confirmation. S3 feels S1’s actions are wrong and thus feel it is his responsibility to report to P. however, he had a choice to ignore S1 just like S2 did. S1 can be termed a particularist. The way he conceive of moral deliberation is different from the way the other individuals conceive of the same.
He has no attempt to reconcile his principles with the situation but he attempts to work out what is important then and how it is important. When two particularists are involved in a dispute, they are not quite reduced to how one perceives the situation. There are other ways that each defends their interpretation of the situation. One way of comprehending how S1 understood P is through an abbreviated argument which when stated reads ‘that cheating in exams is always wrong; therefore his action is wrong’.
This introduces a silent appeal to either contributory or absolute principle according to an individual’s interpretation of ‘wrong’. The suggestion is that what is at hand is an inference with premises and conclusion which is an unlikely way for S1 to see things. Particularism is more often than not likely to think of ‘cheating in exams is wrong’ as meaning the same as ‘altering answers is cheating and wrong for that reason’. Moral principles are based on what an individual take moral terms to mean. S2 and S3 followed the method methods of P, holding that what is good is what P requires.
However, S1 based the selection of his moral principles on his personal feelings, independent objective truth or on a general social convention, motivated by the desire for better grades. A major problem is that individuals still disagree on moral terms which offer difficulty in arguing about morality. For instance, one may claim that it was immoral for S3 to report S1 to P since his actions did not affect another person in any way. On the other hand, one may claim that S3 exhibits the characteristics of a morally just individual since he not only adhered to the rules as set by P but also took the initiative to report S1’s wrongdoing.
As such, analysis of the circumstances becomes difficult since the motivational factors which lead an individual to carry out a particular action are varied and hence there is some relativism with regard to moral considerations.
Audi, R. , (1998) ‘Moderate Intuitionism and the Epistemology of Moral Judgment’, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice vol. 1, 15-44, esp. pp. 36-41. Garfield, J. , (2000) ‘Particularity and Principle: The Structure of Moral Knowledge’ in Hooker and Little (2000), pp. 178-204. Gert B. , (1998) Morality: Its Nature and Justification. New York: Oxford University Press