Reply: Ethical Universality and Ethical Relativism

  • Joseph Runzo
Part of the Claremont Studies in the Philosophy of Religion book series (CSPR)


In the epilogue of Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov has a dream of a terrible new plague which affects the mind and will:

Each thought that he alone had the truth … They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify … They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other … The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because everyone proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree. Men met in groups, agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other … All men and all things were involved in destruction.1

Civilised society deconstructs when it loses a perceived universality in values, especially ethical values. For civilisation depends on a vision both of the common good and of the good in common. Yet as the nineteenth century began to evince, and the twentieth century has come to embody, the civilising cohesiveness of a perceived ethical universality is increasingly subject to the stress of relativism.


Child Abuse Ethical Relativism Basic Belief Common Morality Moral Relativism 
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© The Claremont Graduate School 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Runzo

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