Question 1 To explain the distinction between Descriptive and Normative Statements one first has to understand the difference between Descriptive and Normative Ethics. Descriptive ethics primarily describes people’s moral beliefs, claims and behaviors. This form of ethics is studied primarily by psychologist, sociologist and anthropologist. With Normative ethics we deal with the attempt to discover what actions are in fact right or wrong, good or bad and what it takes to be a moral or immoral person.
This area of ethics is studied more by philosophers and theologist. To simplify, Descriptive statements are statements about what is; while Normative statements are statements about what ought to be. When we describe what people believe about right and wrong and good and evil, or how they actually behave when they have to make a moral decision, we are practicing descriptive ethics. That being said, the line between both forms of the previously mentioned types of ethics is easily blurred.
Many use normative statements when trying to describe, or more often, persuade others into seeing their point of view on what they would do in a particular situation had they been the one calling the shots, ie “ cutting off someone’s hand for stealing is wrong ”. A claim of which, when you are far removed from the actual situation and that type of upbringing, you cannot actually make.
With the use of normative statements it is easy to find oneself playing judge on whatever topic is being discussed and we have to be mindful in our choice of words and actions so that we do not offend or bring into question a cultures moral fiber before understanding the entirety of their background. A helpful foundation when digging deeper into distinction between Descriptive and Normative statements is the subject of Moral and Cultural relativism. To start, we need to know what the common factor is in these two types’ theories, and that common factor is the word relativism. So what does relativism actually mean?
Relativism states that there are no absolute values at all and that all values are relative or in relation to time, place, persons, and situation. Adding different cultures into the mix we can now have a better understanding that Cultural relativism means from culture to culture there are no absolute moral truths. In fact, the moral beliefs and attitudes of human beings are manifested by their surroundings and cultural environment. Moral relativism simply means that different cultures have different moral standards and that it is incorrect to assume that the same moral or ethical frameworks are always in play in all cultural circumstances.
Just because cultures differ in what is right and wrong does not mean that a particular belief of any culture is in fact right or wrong. The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484 – 420 BC) observed that each society regards its own belief system and way of doing things as better than all others. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), believed that morals should be constructed actively, making them relative to who we are and what we, as individuals, consider to be true, equal, good and bad, etc. nstead of reacting to moral laws made by a certain group of individuals in power. In conclusion, there is no right or wrong answer concerning the questions these theories and statements propose. We as a society strive to better our culture thru loyalty to our way of life much like other cultures across the globe. To say we have the definitive answer in what is right or wrong is like playing God to a world we had no hand in designing. Question 2 When taking on the topic of Morality we have to first open our minds to what morality actually means.
If one was to walk around and ask a hundred different people what morality is or means to them, that person would more than likely get a hundred different responses ranging in all kinds of directions. Why is that? The fact is we live in a very diverse world. In one day a handful of people can encounter thousands of different individual experiences between them. The complexity and effects of those experiences on each individual is a mathematical equation that cannot be computed by simply saying he/she acts that way because they are from a certain area of the world, a particular type of household or some form of religion.
Ethics or Morality for that matter is an area of study that constantly has to change and evolve because of the constant evolution of human beings. Laws and religions can never entirely encompass all good and bad actions because laws and religions very from city to city, county to county and across the globe. The word Law is a term which does not have a universally accepted definition. However, one definition is that laws are a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior.
By this definition we can already see why the study of ethics and laws should not be intertwined. The smoking gun in this claim is the statement, “guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior”. We see that the words social institutions are used. A social institution is nothing more than a group of likeminded individuals who sat down and decided what they feel would be best for their particular culture or environment.
If we look back at cultural relativism we know that all cultures have different moral standards and ideas on what constitutes right and wrong. Laws are simply reactions to incidents that occurred in some point in time which caused a society or culture to react negatively to its outcome. As that point in time passes whether it be days or years a laws ability to remain steadfast can be called into question by that same culture. A good example is the new found tolerance for marijuana in our culture and its growing acceptance for legalization.
We have to relate these changes or demands for change to the constant change in human beings because of the sum total of experiences they have encountered as a culture over a period of time. Whether all of a society or culture agrees or disagrees with what is right or wrong, men/women of note will always more than likely bend to the will of the society or culture in which they govern. This is why laws alone can never be the one answer to right and wrong. Religion is an organized collection of belief systems, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.
With regards to religion it is impossible claim it has the ability to answer all questions in determining right from wrong because there are countless forms of religions all with different beliefs. When really looking at idea of different religions governing right from wrong, it parallels to what laws are and how they are formed. All religions have violated the very rules they claim in order to convert others to believe what they believe. The common phrase “Thou shalt not kill” which is one of the most widely accepted truths across several different religions is founded on the very principle it condemns.
All religions have killed thousands in attempts to establish themselves as the one true and right religion. It is in fact a struggle we still deal with today thru terrorism and other social issues. Religion is best kept as a personal moral compass and not as a rule book on what is good and what is bad for a society or culture. We will be judged individually and held accountable for our actions and decisions we have made in our lives. Or will we? At least that is what religion teaches us to believe.