Ethical relativism holds events as neither moral nor immoral based on the events themselves. In determining the morality of an event, an ethical relativist considers the event from the perspective of those it involves. Events thus become right or wrong based on the feelings of those involved in the event. The lottery provides a perfect example of an event that may be considered either ethical or unethical depending on different perspectives. From the viewpoint of an ethical relativist, the lottery can be defended as ethical due to the support it gains across the area. As some of the members of the community report, the lottery is a tradition that has been ongoing for years across several villages. Each of the villages set dates for the lottery and no one shows any apprehension concerning its impact on the society. As such, it could be argued that none of the villagers perceive the activity to be unethical on the onset. This makes it an allowable, moral and ethical activity among the villagers hence acceptable.
The consideration of the lottery as a tradition among the villages makes it an essential part of nature that cannot be considered unethical. For instance, Old Man Warner reports that he had participated in the lottery for the seventy seventh time that year. From the previous discussions held by old man Warner, there was more harm in doing away with the lottery than there was in having one. This implies that the people of the villages who participated in the lottery considered it a crucial part of their culture for some reason and that it was always conducted in June for some reason. Whatever this reason might be, the fact that all the people in the villages accepted the lottery to be held and actually participated in it is sufficient to consider it ethical among the villages. The villagers even prepare in advance for the lottery. The collection of stones into a pile by the children and the silence of the parents in relation to the children’s activities indicate that the final part of the lottery was accepted as the norm and an inevitable end. This goes in line with social ethical relativism in that the societal norms are considered ethical and one can only decide what is right or wrong based on the society in whose context the activity in question appears.
From the initial introduction made to the lottery, it is clear that the event was considered just as any other social event in the village such as the square dances and the programs for Halloween. With time, it had become such an indelible part of tradition that the people accepted and appreciated it as that. For the society, this was the norm and part of their cultural practices. Further evidence of this is observed from the fact that despite the box being old and chattered in some places, the people were unwilling to replace it due to the significance that pieces of the first box had in the present lottery box.
The complaints by Mrs. Hutchinson that ‘it is not fair’ do not refer to the event itself. On the contrary, Mrs. Hutchinson seemed excited about the entire lottery thing and would not have missed it in spite of having arrived late. Her complaints are that her husband had not been given sufficient time to choose the piece of paper as the family head. This argument can be deduced to mean that from her perspective, the lottery is a tradition that has to be conducted regardless of the consequences. Her only problem is that during this time, the ballot falls on her. In this case, neither individual nor social ethical relativism is applicable since the act of stoning is not considered immoral by anyone.
Moreover, the fact that it is only the actual victim who complains about the unfairness of the balloting process implies that all the villagers involved perceive the process to have been fair. The Hutchinson family has more than one individual and the cry against unfairness could have been heard from all the family members. However, not even Mr. Hutchinson himself is heard complaining that he had not been given a fair chance at the ballots. This means that besides Mrs. Hutchinson, the entire society agrees that the selection procedure had been fair and that the eventual outcome had been unavoidable. Ethical relativism only holds an even unethical if the society considers it so hence even the balloting process is ethical based on the ethical relativism approach.
Ethical relativism thus appears to have a strong place in ‘The Lottery’ by social as well as individual relativism. However, an ethical relativist may find a reason to go against the lottery since in spite of being a tradition; there are some aspects of its conduct that have been changed to suit the times. Similarly, some of the villages have since abandoned the practice, potentially due to lack of understanding of the rationale behind the practice. Even old man Warner does not understand the reason behind the conduct as shown through his report that there has always been a lottery. This means that whatever customs and traditions may uphold, it is possible to change them. The fact that other villages in the same society have changed shows that it is no longer a mandatory societal norm.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. (1948).