In Week One, we looked at the view of Ruth Benedict (discussed in Chapter 3 of Rosenstand’s The Moral of the Story) a 20th-century anthropologist, who says that, “Normality…is culturally defined,” and “the concept of the normal is properly a variant of the concept of [the] good” (Benedict [from “Anthropology and the Abnormal (1934),]” qtd. in Rosenstand, p. 153, 7e). Benedict is saying that what any culture or society deems to be a good, right, or correct action and morally good, or at least morally appropriate, behavior will in fact be such in relation to the belief system and practices of that culture or society. This leaves the door open for a wide variety of ways of life, of ethical codes, of individual behavior to be acknowledged not only as acceptable, but also as morally good.
By contrast, Christina Hoff Sommers argues that there are basic human virtues that are not relative to time, place, circumstance or situation. Sommers writes, “It is wrong to mistreat a child, to humiliate someone, to torment an animal. To think only of yourself, to steal, to lie, to break promises, And on the positive side: it is right to be considerate and respectful of others, to be charitable and generous.” (Sommers, qtd. in Rosenstand, p. 486, 7e). Just after this passage, Rosenstand asks whether Sommers is right: “Can we just pronounce the virtues of decency, civility, honesty, and so forth the ultimate values without any further discussion?….For many, what Sommers is doing is just old-fashioned moralizing…” (p. 489). What does Rosenstand mean by “moralizing”? Explain your understanding of Sommers’s repudiation of moral and ethical relativism. Is her view convincing enough to make a relativist change her stripes? How does Sommers’s view connect up with virtue ethics? [Note: You can get a quick survey of Sommers’s viewpoint in brief video commentaries here