Self-Evident Intuitions

Westermarck writes, “…a theory which leads to an examination of the psychological and historical origin of people’s moral opinions should be more useful than a theory which postulates moral truths enunciated by self-evident intuitions that are unchangeable”. Agree or disagree and give your reasons.

Westermarck’s position is based in relativism, and is not seeking to find an objective truth, but rather the reasons for morality. His pursuit of finding what is the root cause of ethics is noble, and I think that it has some merit when it comes to philosophical thinking. By looking at the historical origins of why people think how they do morally, we can identify the reasoning for it. One excellent point made by Westermarck is that “Could it be brought home to people that there is no absolute standard in morality, they would perhaps be on the one hand more tolerant and on the other more critical in their judgments.” (Baghramian).

While I can see the merit in having more critical thinking about ethics and taking a look at how culture has formed morality, I think that Westermarck could take this idea a different route. From the utilitarian point of view, I believe the analysis of the root of morality could be used to rather find objective truths as opposed to being a criticism of the psychological and historical causes of morality. For instance, why do most cultures consider murder wrong? It could be argued that from a birds eye view. This action does not benefit society, and could thus be considered immoral. In essence, I disagree with his viewpoint that we should reject the notions of historical morality, and should embrace and analyses the differences instead, to find an objective cause for them in an effort to further refine what we know for the greater good.

Work Cited

Baghramian, Maria and Carter, J. Adam, “Relativism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),