Some ethical theories are teleological - what is right or wrong depends on the end or outcome of an action - for utlitarians, pleasure, happiness or 'the greatest good'; for Aristotle, 'Eudaimonia'. Other theories are deontological - doing what is right means doing your duty or following the rules - for Kant, the categorical imperative; in Natural Law, the secondary precepts. It is easy to think of teleological theories as relativist and deontological theories as absolutist, but it it not that simple. Apart from Kantian Ethics (thoroughly absolutist and deontological) and Situation Ethics (clearly relativist and teleological), ethics seems …show more content…
This must not be confused with cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is a very weak moral theory that says things are right and wrong relative to our culture. The theory is easily refuted.
Situation Ethics says that what is right and wrong is relative to the situation. In other words, if you asked "Is it wrong to abort a foetus?" I would ask "Under what circumstances?" Clearly the outcome of my actions is of central importance here. Rules may be useful, but you may need to ignore the rules in order to do the right (loving) thing - the thing that is in the best interests of the people affected.
Theories that can be either absolutist or relativist
When Bentham came up with his Hedonic Calculus, he had developed a theory that allowed you to work out what was right or wrong in any given situation. Euthanasia might lead to the greatest happiness for one person and yet lead to greater unhappiness in another situation. What is right or wrong is relative to the situation, it is whatever has the best consequences (teleological).
Mill, and many since, have adapted Bentham's 'act' utlitarianism,