hi..started writing this essay on cultural relativism but not sure whether everything looks good..will appreciate any feedback..many thanks
Cultural relativism is the idea that different cultures have different moral codes. What one group might accept as morally correct might be abhorrent to another and vice versa To this end, author James Rachels explains that a “universal truth in ethics...is a myth” and this is because morals and ethics are entirely culturally based. In order to deem one system “right” or “wrong” there would need to be an “independent standard...by which they may be judged” but no such system can exist without taking on some cultural bias. One advantage to cultural relativism could be a more open-minded attitude to cultures that differ from our own. If it was generally understood that no one culture’s ethical code was correct, only different, it might help bridge longstanding disagreements between different peoples.
There are however, a few exceptions to this. If one group believes that the sun revolves around the earth, that does not inherently make it true. There is scientific evidence that the earth actually revolves around the sun. That being said, just because something might be true does not necessarily mean everyone needs to know about it or accept it. On that same vein, there are definitely some drawbacks to cultural relativism. The Eskimos for example, did not believe that infanticide was morally wrong. In their culture, keeping a manageable population was very important. That’s not to say that Eskimos just murdered babies left and right. Eskimo mothers could only look after one baby every four years so if she had more, that was an issue. Adopting out babies to infertile tribe members was always the first resort but being a nomadic people with few resources, infanticide was the only way that the tribe as a whole could survive. Even so, many in Western cultures would see this as morally evil.
Rachels goes on to explain more problems with taking cultural relativism seriously. The first would be that no one would be able to criticize or claim to be superior to another culture. While this might seem like an advantage in acceptance and diplomacy, in reality this would mean that no one could criticize practices such as genocide or slavery. In addition, cultural relativism dictates that morality comes from a culture’s views at the time. Most people believe that society can be improved in some way, but in a world where cultural relativism is law, criticizing your own society would be forbidden.
Further on in the article, Rachels mentions that different customs do not equate to different values, When it comes to lying, there is no culture on earth that holds no value in telling the truth. We know this because if everyone lied all the time, communication would be extremely difficult, if not impossible and communication is an essential part of any society. Taking this point a little further, murder could never be an accepted form of ethics in a society. If everyone was free to murder whom they liked at any time, no one could feel secure. People would avoid contact with others as much as possible and thus, once again society would collapse.
To conclude, cultural relativism has merit in theory, but not necessarily in practice. It is invaluable to understand that just because another society does something that differs from your own, doesn’t mean that they are wrong. However, it is also important to recognize that a line has to be drawn when it comes to acts such as racism, mass murder, and slavery. Additionally, as Rachels points out, humans in general have a very similar set of values despite coming from sometimes vastly different cultural backgrounds. While the execution of those values might differ, there exists a set of morals shared by every society today that without which, humanity as a whole would cease to exist.
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