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Philosophy 302: Ethics
Charles A. Ellwood, "Ethics Are Culturally Relative"

Abstract: Morals are the ideal aspect of the social and are dependent upon sociology. Ethics is culturally relative to the specific times and conditions of different societies and is dependent on conflict and cooperation in the struggle for survival.

1. According to Ellwood, what is the major factor occasioning war? Why is this so?

2. What have been the major effects of war on social development?

3. How does Ellwood account for the origin of a group code of ethics?

4. What are some of the ways struggle and competition among human beings is manifested?

5. What are the reasons provided in this reading for the view that social progress depends upon conflict and competition? Explain whether you agree with this view.

6. How does Ellwood describe the origin of moral codes?

1. According to Ellwood, what is the major factor occasioning war? Why is this so?

The rise of large groups with a limitation of resources is the major source of war.  Thus, economic conditions are essential aspects of the struggle between groups.

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2. What have been the major effects of war on social development?

Five consequences of war on social development are (1) more efficient organization, (2) the rise of despotic forms of government, (3) the creation of social classes, (4) codes of ethics shaping the fittest groups, and (5) the amassing of larger and larger groups over time.

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3. How does Ellwood account for the origin of a group code of ethics?

The group most efficiently organized is the one with reliable standards of conduct among kinship relations.

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4. What are some of the ways struggle and competition among human beings is manifested?

War, commerce, industry, racial relations, economic origins, factional sub-groups, and social classes are all mentioned.

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5. What are the reasons provided in this reading for the view that social progress depends upon conflict and competition? Explain whether you agree with this view.

Without competition and the resultant natural selection, social groups would not progress because the unfit would not be eliminated and the society would disintegrate.

The argument is dubious because by definition even with natural selection a distribution of "fit" and "unfit" would remain since these terms are relative. No proof is offered that competition improves all aspects of society.  Ellwood seems to assume the necessity of conflict and competition without citing specific support or evidence.

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6. How does Ellwood describe the origin of moral codes?

Moral codes arise naturally from standards of conduct in accordance with the necessities of biological and sociological survival. 

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Recommended Sources

Brock University's Mead Project's "Prolegomena to Social Psychology"Mead Project. Ellwood's four-part introduction first presented in the American Journal of Sociology

The Association's Handbook on Ethical Issues in AnthropologyAmerican Anthropological Association. Readings compiled by Edited by Joan Cassell and Sue-Ellen Jacobby. See especially Murray L. Wax's " Some Issues and Sources on Ethics in Anthropology" for current approaches and sources.

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