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Folk Moral Relativism


  • We are most grateful to Brad Cokelet, Jamie Dreier, Gilbert Harman, Eric Mandelbaum, Shaun Nichols, Jonas Olson, Mark Phelan, Jonathan Phillips, Ángel Pinillos, Jesse Prinz and David Wong for helpful discussions and comments on this paper.

Hagop Sarkissian, Department of Philosophy, City University of New York, Baruch College, Box B5/295, One Bernard Baruch Way, New York, NY, 10010, USA.


It has often been suggested that people's ordinary understanding of morality involves a belief in objective moral truths and a rejection of moral relativism. The results of six studies call this claim into question. Participants did offer apparently objectivist moral intuitions when considering individuals from their own culture, but they offered increasingly relativist intuitions considering individuals from increasingly different cultures or ways of life. The authors hypothesize that people do not have a fixed commitment to moral objectivism but instead tend to adopt different views depending on the degree to which they consider radically different perspectives on moral questions.