Many people nowadays assert that the moral sense is completely subjective, that there are no absolute ethical values, that it's all purely a matter of opinion.
Opponents of this view have raised a number of objections.
1. We tend to judge actions by our own moral code, and we can also find ourselves judging one moral code to be better than another, as for example, someone might say that the Buddhist morality is better than the Israelite one.
The relativist would reply that when we do this, we are comparing those moral codes with our subjective on, and then judging the one which is most similar to our own subjective code to be superior.
2. If no moral code is superior to another, it is logically impossible to speak of a moral progress or a moral decline. Yet many people do actually speak in those terms.
3. Again, if there is no superiority in one code over another, and therefore no such thing as moral progress, then there is no point in moral effort.
Relativists might reply that a person should strive to be true to their own moral code. But this still begs the question as to why anyone should bother to do so.
4. The logical outcome of ethical relativism is that no one person is better than any other, since there would be no absolute standard to judge them against. Thus a murderer could not be regarded as morally worse than anyone else, since one code would be as good as any other.
The ethical relativist might reply that this is not a fair inference from their theory. They deny the existence of an absolute universal code of morals, but they accept that there may be a code of moral standards that apply to a limited group of people, although there are still problems with this reply, in that there appear to be no adequate criteria for defining the limits of such groups, and also no particular reason why the group should contain more than one person.
The philosopher says that there is indeed an absolute standard of moral behaviour, although how it has come to us, or where it originated, are questions which are still being strongly debated. The fact of the absolute standard is something that can be seen every day, when people talk about what someone else did or said, or what they themselves did, in a certain situation. Time and time again, an appeal will be made to some or other moral precept, which the speaker invariably expects there listeners to know about and share their opinion about.
Certainly there are differences, but these are usually very minor ones, and by and large, there is general agreement that this or that action is right or wrong. This cannot just be explained away as the code of a particular country or race. The practice is accepted worldwide, as, for example, when a country invades another country, there is general acceptance of the view that such an action is wrong if the motive is to seize power in the invaded country, but right if the motive is to help the invaded country remain free from oppression.
So the standard appealed to is a universal one. As to whether it is absolute as well as universal may still be open to question, but the difference between the two could be said to be too subtle to be of any value in practice.