Moral relativism Steven Lukes

In Moral Relativism of Steven Lukes, he writes about the right description of the meaning of words as important. He gives examples ( p. 74 ) of acts which are different.  In A Daoist theory of Chinese thought Chad Hansen writes about the importance of the right ming (names) in moral conversation.


image:  Door Wouter Engler – Eigen werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A blackface in USA is regarded as  morally wrong.  In the Netherlands the ‘Zwarte Piet’ with a black face by some people  is regarded as wrong. Discussion is about if both black faces are the same phenomenon and thus both wrong, or if they are very different
Is this morally sensitive en emotional discussion an example of moral relativism or moral universalism?
Or do the different opinions about this black face … point to the distinction between a shared moral principle and divergent factual believes. (Lukes p. 80)?
(we share a moral principle on racism but our views on facts about both phenomena are different)

If we want to change an habit on moral grounds, is naming and shaming the right and effective way to change that habit? Naming and shaming causes strong counter reactions, and very often no cooperation or change of habits at all. (Except maybe between parents and children, superiors and underlings )

Is the word (noun) culture a useful category? Inside a culture differences are as great as outside cultures, personal and family cultures differ from the group cultures and the national cultures they ‘belong’ to. The name ‘Muslim culture’ is clear and useful as long as we do not look into the culture. I know too much different Muslims, that makes it  really impossible to see a common Muslim culture in all these very different people.

Culture is a category with the Platonic disease, we do believe something as a culture exists because the name ‘culture’ exists.



2 thoughts on “Moral relativism Steven Lukes

  1. Culture as a set of rules on what is right/wrong, ugly/beautiful, where the world and humans come from and will go after death, etc.

    All these sets are indisputable there IMHO.
    Some stuff is sharing amongst hundreds of millions of humans, some only agreed upon in a small group.

    Culture exists IMHO. ‘Culture’ is the word (noun) we use to address these sets.

  2. Ha Ron, dank voor je reaktie. Lukes shows the uselessness of this meaning of culture, because it is impossible to draw a line around a culture, it is possible to split a ‘culture’ into an infinite set of ‘sub-cultures’ Like the Dutch culture of around 1700. Every region of the Netherlands had a culture, every Gilde/group of craftsmen had a culture. Farmers, villages, cities, social classes, youth and elderly people. Immigrants, etc.

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