The Death Penalty and the Idea of Conventional Ethical Relativism

The Death Penalty and the Idea of Conventional Ethical Relativism


The idea of conventional ethical relativism recognizes that morality is relative to the norms and values of a particular culture. Every society has a way of perceiving things that can either differ or concur to another. Developed by Louis Pojman and James Fieser, the idea creates a deeper understanding of how human race view the issues concerning morality and ethics (Pojman & Fieser 2016). Some people will ascribe to certain principles in life while others will not. Louis Pojman and James Fieser indicate that the way people discover right or wrong is different and it is necessary to encourage a tolerant attitude towards these perspectives.

The theory explains what happens globally regarding the death penalty law. Over 31 out of the 50 states in the United States of America embrace death penalty. The difference in number shows clearly that not all the states ascribe to the death penalty law. It indicates that the states view the matter differently as explained under ethical relativism theory. Indeed, the issue of the death penalty remains relative in the US given that there are states that support its implementation while others are reluctant towards its enforcement. This paper provides a comprehensive discussion of the death penalty law practiced in some states of the US-based on Louis Pojman and James Fieser’s theory of conventional ethical relativism.



Conventional Ethical Relativism

As noted, the theory of ethical relativism gives a rational explanation why some states embrace death penalty while others have not adopted the practice. The death penalty is an issue that has elicited a mixed reaction and high-powered debates since its introduction (Hood & Hoyle 2014). Opinion has remained divided over the matter with some people objecting its implementation while others see nothing wrong with the move. Individuals on both sides have strong reasons to support their respective points. For instance, those in favor of the death penalty law affirm that it is a sure way of reducing capital offenses in the society. They believe that such severe punishments will minimise the extent of heinous crimes. They also indicate that it is not fair for one to kill another and then receive a lenient sentence (Hood & Hoyle 2014). Their rationale is that one should be ready to pay for his or her actions. Criminals subject people to torture and suffering, and it is only fair if they face the same. They dispute the reasoning that death penalty denies people the fundamental human right to life saying that there is no point granting or defending the life of an individual who does not value that of another.

Those opposing the adoption of death penalty equally cite numerous reasons. First, they indicate that death penalty infringes on the fundamental right to life that is granted by the constitution. They hold that no citizen or life should be lost in whatever circumstance (Walker 2008). They affirm that two rights do not make a right in that you should not kill someone because he has committed a particular crime. Their argument is based on the constitutional principle that the life of every citizen is sacred whether living or dead. The constitution also values every citizen whether criminal or not. Everyone is protected under the law equally. Another point they put forward is that some actions are triggered by environmental and human lapses that one may not have control over. Thus, one can be subjected to death for an unintentional mistake (Walker 2008). Those opposing the law affirm the rule of law that promotes fairness and indicates that it is fair to provide another chance to a criminal.

The ethical relativism theory can justify the different standpoints by the states in the US. Relativism holds that all the viewpoints are valid in equal measure depending on how one perceives things (Pojman & Fieser 2016). It also creates awareness that individuals will always determine what to believe, actual and relative to them. The theory gives a theoretical perspective that truth varies for different people. According to the propounders, the theory holds that what is considered to be morally and ethically right in one community may not be the same in another, and this is the case in the US. Some states feel that the death penalty should apply while others disagree (MacKinnon& Fiala 2016). The theory of relativism affirms that almost every individual has a relativist slogan. The notable slogans include what is right for you may not apply to me, what is wrong or right for my culture may not apply to you and that no moral principles are acceptable or valid to all in all places and at all times (Pojman & Fieser 2016).

The same way that everyone has heard a relativist slogan and that everyone does not agree on one thing at the same time is the same way the US states have different opinions on the death penalty. Those opposing the idea think that the supporters are seeing things wrong and in a skewed manner and vice versa. Likewise, the same way cultural practices are not acceptable to all, similarly death penalty is not unanimously accepted in the US (Pojman & Fieser, 2016). Therefore, no state should be victimized for accepting or rejecting the law. The viewpoints should be respected whether wrong or right because of the dynamics of life. Morals cannot be forced on people, but it is the people to see sense in certain things or actions.

To be safe and avoid the differences between the supporters and critics of the death penalty, people must embrace a subjective view on the matter. People should appreciate that the truth about death penalty clause is relative to individuals. They should also approach the subject with no moral absolutes such as morally right or wrong (MacKinnon& Fiala 2016). This way, people will embrace and tolerate each other when debating the issue. The states that have legalized the death penalty and those that have not will engage with each other constructively to see sense to either authorize or operate without its adoption. The approach will eliminate the grandstanding and hostility between the critics and supporters of the law. Once people understand that varied viewpoints, they will appreciate the states that have legalized the law and those that have not.


Pojman and James Fieser’s conventional ethical relativism theory facilitates the understanding of the different viewpoints that people have in the society. Notably, the theory helps in understanding that moral principles and moral values are not absolute. For instance, it helps us to realize that there is no crime committed by the states that have legalized the death penalty and those that have not. The ones that have legalized it believe they are right including those that have not. Culture has a strong influence on the varied perspective of people. What is important and must be emphasized is that the views are equally valid and only constructive discussions can be undertaken to change them. Therefore, the differences among the US states on the issue of death penalty prove the ethical relativism theory.






Works Cited

Hood, Roger, & Carolyn, Hoyle. (2014). The death penalty: A worldwide perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MacKinnon, Barbara, & Andrew, Fiala. (2016). Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues. New York: Cengage Learning

Pojman, Louis p, & James, Fieser. (2016). Cengage Advantage Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. New York: Cengage Learning.

Walker, Ida. (2008). The death penalty. Edina, Minn: ABDO Pub. Co.