My big question is where or what is your ethos? I see your good attempts to logically explain your position, but what about ethos? How do you know your view point trumps all others? Or are we all merely authorities unto ourselves?
If we are all to be considered moral relativists, then how do you explain the following? Our culture finds the oppression of women to be abhorrent, right? However, the oppression of women half way around the world is considered to be morally appropriate. If morality is relative, then how do you go about resolving this ambivalence? They think you and I are just about as screwed up for our stance as you and I think they are for theirs. If you’re resolved that societies are governed by the reflection of their individual mores and that rightness and wrongness is determined respectively, then what the hell is the point of anything?
I think this is a reasonable question based on what I had written. And since other people may have had the same question in their minds, I am re-posting my reply here(with a few edits).
I don't believe what is 'right' or 'wrong', is entirely based on our personal, or cultural perspective, rather, more often than not, our biological one.
Consider the example you gave above of women being oppressed. If human's were truly blank slates as some people believe, (but I strongly don't,) then perhaps all that would matter in terms of ethics is a person's personal or cultural perspective.
However, we have our underlying biology, which creates a certain degree of absolutism towards ethics.
Even though some culture's may teach it good to oppress women, because of our biology, people do not like being oppressed.
If female biology were so different than males that oppression gave them immense pleasure and being treated as equals caused deep suffering then oppression of women would probably be a good . However, male and female biology happen to be similar enough that it is beneficial to treat women as the equals they are.
In real life we have cultural standards telling us abuse is bad, that isn't what makes it 'bad'. What makes it 'bad' is our biology which makes physical suffering extremely unpleasant.
Because our biology is flexible in many ways, it allows room for various cultures to impose certain values that, while biologically arbitrary, may still be significant for those individuals and cultures. For us, it may be inappropriate to show up to work wearing robes, but in another country it might be expected.
You could even say it would be 'bad' for me to show up to work wearing robes because in that context it...causes a scene or ..shows a disrespectful attitude or whatever. You wouldn't feel that robe wearing is inherently bad. Or even wearing robes to work is inherently bad. But in THAT context it wasn't a good thing to do.
When I say morality is based on context, the context I am referring to is our biology and to a lesser degree our culture.
( I think there is an entirely different point to be made when it comes to judging the actions of an individual within another culture. If a person has been raised their entire life to believe something is right and they carry that action through to it's reasonable consequence, it may be unfair to see that individual as immoral, even if their particular action are. In addition, because it is difficult to distinguish which of our believes are valid and which are nothing more than cultural artifacts, we should all maintain a certain degree of skepticism towards any of our beliefs or values)
I am unable to imagine something that is 'wrong' regardless of circumstance, or what that would even mean. This would require something to be 'good' even if it had negative consequences. If it had negative consequences, what would make it 'good'?
I believe that what we think of as 'good' or 'bad' could have been otherwise were our biology otherwise.
If we had evolved from dogs, licking strangers butts would probably be a friendly gesture rather than something deeply frowned upon.
I am NOT saying that because we feel biologically inclined towards something it is good. We may feel biologically inclined to... for example, shoot heroin every day once we've tried it, but other negative consequences will arise from this abuse, and these negative consequences will also be based on our biology.
Had we evolved to live full productive, happy, healthy lives while shooting heroin everyday, I'm sure most people would see daily heroin use as a good thing, probably even a holy, sacred and sent from god.
This perspective allows me to see certain things as good or bad based on context without getting caught in the conundrum you propose.