I am able to understand that there is a irreconcilable difference between considering morality as an absolute and considering it being relative to individuals and groups.

However, if I take the point of view of a moral relativist, considering that groups and individual hold different valid moral point of views, I can only consider this morality difference to originate from their essential difference, should that be genes or education or experience. So, our morality is essentially tied with our existence and only entirely valid for ourselves.

Unless I'm mistaken, this contradicts the idea that morality can be debated to reach consensus, unless we share the same essence.

Doesn't this mean that ethics are vain, a belief among other beliefs, and morality is non-existent?

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    Here is you line of argument: X is relative to Y, ...therefore X is non-existent. Do you see the problem? In relativity, time is relative to a frame of reference, should we conclude that time is also non-existent? And consensus is reached not based on "moral essence" but on how people in a group agree to act to advance their ends, which may differ. It involves give and take and is shaped historically, not derived from something pre-existent. – Conifold Jan 14 at 20:31

Suppose every individual has it's own moral code which is used to differentiate right from wrong. Debating the moral codes would still make sense if no one is fully aware of their own moral code.

Let's say someone provides you with 10 scenarios and asks you to make the "moral choice" on each scenario. Now let's suppose you are certain that you got 7 scenarios right according to your own moral code. You answered 2 of the remaining scenarios and are somewhat certain that you got it "right". You don't pick an option for the last scenario because you have no idea what is right and what is wrong.

In theory there could be a (relative) moral code that is capable of providing right choices for all the scenarios, but since you are not fully aware of it, you struggle to find your answers. Debating the last scenario makes perfect sense as you don't have a solution right now and need new insights. Debating the 2 you were not completely certain about makes sense as you might change your mind and come up with a solution which might fit your inner moral code better. If you are not going to change your mind about the other 7 scenarios, debating can still make sense as you might change someone elses mind and help them to better understand their own moral code.

So I'd say that ethics are not in vain and while a consensus of a full moral code can never be reached (per definition as it wouldn't be relative otherwise), the debates can still help someone understand their own morality better.

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Moral relativism means there is no absolute but it does not mean moral points of view cannot be debated. When they are debated it generally turns out that one view is better than the other and progress can be made, just as in this discussion here.

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  • Progress... towards what ? – Arthur Hv Jan 14 at 11:54
  • Better points of view. – Chris Degnen Jan 14 at 11:56
  • The notion of better in a world with relative ethics is to be defined either, better to who or to what notion ? If we mean common ground or more universal, I should ask if the more universal ethics is the universal goal in moral relativism? – Arthur Hv Jan 14 at 12:00
  • Yes, for sure, better ethical points of view tend to the universal, but the 'relative' qualification enables escape from the imposition of an absolute best. There are problems like holism vs. anthropocentrism of course: what may be best for humans considered in isolation may differ from the holistic best. – Chris Degnen Jan 14 at 12:33

It doesn't mean that morality is non-existent, but it does mean that there are no absolute moral truths. The closest we come to absolute morals are the social rules which tend to emanate from realities about our human nature and societies - don't murder, don't steal, don't commit adultery etc.

So when asking 'is [x] moral', the question should really be 'am I willing to face the consequences of doing [x]' Some moralistic social norms arise which can affect the consequences of our behavior, but ultimately we're free to do whatever we want.

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