Tthree Different Practices

Again, the ethical relativist argues that these three different practices show that there are no values or norms shared universally across cultures. For the ethical pluralist, however, these three practices stand as three diverse interpretations, applications, and/or judgments as to how to apply a single norm – namely, the health and well-being of the community – in three very different environments and cultures. So, at least the relatively affluent in the US can afford the health insurance that will provide kidney dialysis without age limit; but, even in a relatively wealthy nation such as the UK, failure to set limits on subsidized treatments would (at the time) have bankrupted the National Health Service. Finally, in the unforgiving environments of the Kabloona, the well-being of the community would be jeopardized if scarce resources were diverted to caring for those who no longer could contribute to the community. Hence, such care is literally not affordable by the community – nor, apparently, is it expected by the individual. The practices of each of these communities clearly differ. But, for the ethical pluralist, these different practices rest upon a basic agreement on the well-being of the community as a shared norm or value. Each practice, simply, represents a distinctive interpretation of that norm; the diverse contexts of these communities require each of them to interpret and apply that norm differently.

The ethical pluralist can hence agree with the ethical relativist that (a) we do observe diverse practices as we move through different cultures and times, and that (b) we should tolerate these differences – rather than condemn them straight out, as the ethical absolutist is forced to do – at least insofar as we can understand them to be different interpretations of a shared norm or value. But the ethical pluralist, unlike the ethical relativist, does not thereby tolerate any and all practices. (Recall: such tolerance entails for the ethical relativist a serious logical contradiction.) Rather, if a practice – for example, genocide – clearly violates a basic norm or value (in this case, the well- being of the community, at least as understood as an inclusive human community rather than an exclusive tribal community), then the ethical pluralist can condemn such a practice as immoral.

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