For the ethical monist, we can establish a shared norm or value rather simply: one of these values or norms must be true – absolutely, finally, and universally – and hence any different value or norm can only be false. Again, if we had nothing to do with one another, this might be a workable solution: but in today’s world, it is more or less impossible to live in such splendid isolation. And so, if the ethical monist has his way, we must choose which norm or value is right and which is thereby wrong. This approach seems to condemn us to intolerance and conflict – not very useful either for genuine understanding of the Other as Other5 or for efforts to avoid cultural imperialism, much less warfare.
The ethical pluralist, finally, hopes to avoid such intolerance and conflict by way of arguing that both cultures share a notion of “privacy,” but this notion is understood and practiced in different ways – ways that are directly shaped by each culture’s distinctive traditions and assumptions. Ethical pluralism thus argues for a middle ground between relativism and monism. Yes, norms and values vary from culture to culture – but, contra monism, this does not necessarily mean that only one cultural norm can be right and the other wrong: both can be correct as instances of different interpretations of a shared norm. Contra relativism, because varying cultural norms may thus instantiate a shared norm, cultural variations of this sort do not necessarily mean that there are no universally legitimate values or norms. Rather, the pluralist can argue that in this way privacy – however widely understood and practiced in diverse cultures and times – indeed appears to be a human universal.
More recently, Hongladarom has argued for a similar pluralistic approach to the irreducible differences between Buddhists (again, who regard the self as a pernicious illusion) and Confucians (who believe in some form of the self as a reality) vis-à-vis the basic ethical norm of respect: both can agree that “an individual person is [to be] respected and protected when she enters the online environment”. To be sure, not all of our ethical differences will be resolved through pluralism: again, the contrast between the EU and China on this point may well be simply irresolvable. But, given that ethical pluralism works in at least some cases, including the case of privacy, whenever we encounter strong differences in cultural norms and practices, we cannot simply assume that our options for dealing with them are either ethical relativism or ethical monism.