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Cultural Relativism

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Autor:   •  April 20, 2017  •  Research Paper  •  1,201 Words (5 Pages)  •  350 Views

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Jazib Memon

Professor Jenson

Philosophy 1301


Cultural Relativism

        As we look at this immense world of this modern era, we can find millions of unique cultures with each having different beliefs and different moral codes. With this many cultures, it won’t come as a surprise if some cultures were to have a strange yet strong belief of certain actions which might be considered as taboo in another culture. If that is the case, do we as human beings have the universal right to judge these cultures as ethically or morally wrong? Or should we respect their beliefs and accept it as a mere cultural difference? When it comes to moral and ethical dilemma between contradicting cultures, there is always a grey patch that can sometimes make it hard to resolve issues that might be acceptable in one culture and be considered sinful in the other. Cultural Relativism is the core belief that all beliefs, customs, and ethics are relevant and to some extent, virtuous to the individual within his or her own culture. In other words, right and wrong are cultural-specific. What might be considered moral in one culture or society, maybe be considered immoral in the other, and, since no standards of morality exists, no one has the right to judge another cultures’ customs and traditions, but if we cannot judge those acts, does it make it morally right if they were to threaten living beings?  James Rachels, an American philosopher and an ethics specialist, wrote an ethical textbook titled ‘The Elements of Moral Philosophy’ in which he criticized the concept of cultural relativism. He argued that the claims made by cultural relativists are inconsistent and rather bizarre when taken into context. I side with Rachels as I believe that cultural relativism is morally weak and ethically outdated. It is a fallacious and catastrophic ideology as it tries to defend inhumanity and insanity by giving implications that there is no objective good or evil, only individual ethics.

        Cultural Relativism can only keep peace for so long before people are threatened and are forced to act. As cultural relativism states, we should respect other cultural practices and beliefs regardless of how immoral and hateful it might seem to us, but, in life or death situations, we must infringe the cultural relativism laws in order to protect human rights and human life. Rachels provides an argument for Cultural Relativism by highlighting a premise, and fabricating a conclusion in accordance to the premise. His premise states that ‘different cultures have different moral codes’ while concluding it by saying that ‘therefore, there is no objective truth.’

        Rachels’ premise displays that different cultures have unique and different moral codes which they believe in and practice it with full understanding. However, cultures differ with respect to what is deemed morally acceptable. Rachels illustrates this with the Greeks and the Callatians both of which had different rules and perspectives to what is considered morally acceptable in their respective societies. Greeks believed that it was wrong to dead and it was morally right to burn them. Callatians had an opposite understanding of the same clause as they believed it was right to eat the dead and was sinful to burn them. As per this logic, eating dead is neither objectively right or objectively wrong. It is merely a matter opinion which differs from culture to culture as each culture regards the others’ practice as abhorrent and repugnant. Other examples include: polygamy, it is considered a moral outrage in the United States, but is common and advisable in many Muslim cultures and countries. Same goes for marrying within the family, as in Islamic cultures, it is deemed normal and acceptable to marry with cousins but is considered a disgusting and horrifying act in many other cultures. Burning the dead is a long-living tradition in Hinduism but is seemed sinful in other cultures, as in Islamic and Christian traditions, the dead are buried in the ground. Female circumcision is condemned in the western countries but is widely practiced and acceptable in many African countries. Historically, cultures have had verified views about the shape, size, and motion of this planet, in its relation to astronomy. One might have different opinions on these examples but CER laws state that different cultures have different moral codes thus everything that is deemed as sinful and abominable in one culture might be acceptable in the other, and thus, there is no moral or objective truth to any of the above exmaples.


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