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Critically examine cultural relativism as an ethical theory

Normative ethical relativism theory says that the moral rightness and wrongness of actions varies from society to society and that there are no absolute universal moral standards binding on all men at all times. The theory claims that all thinking about the basic principles of morality Ethics is always relative. Each culture establishes the basic values and principles that serve as the foundation for morality.

The theory claims that this is the case now, has always been the case and will always be the case.

Critically examine cultural relativism as an ethical theory

The theory claims not only that different cultures have different views but that it is impossible for there ever to be a single set of ethical principles for the entire world because there are no universal principles that could apply to all peoples of the earth.

The theory holds that all such thinking about ethical principles is just a reflection of the power holders of a particular culture. So, each culture does and always will make its own ethical principles.

Any attempt of those from one culture to apply their principles to other peoples of other cultures is only a political move and an assertion of power. This is a philosophical theory that is NOT well supported by the evidence gathered by cultural anthropologists, nor could critically examine cultural relativism as an ethical theory support a theory about the past and future!

It is a theory that has evidence against it. In this section we will examine this theory and its implications and criticisms. Generally, if you've got time to think about it, you already know the position of society on what you're about to do. If you're a criminal, you also know your position, and you've made some calculations based on likely personal gain, kicks, probability of getting caught, etc.

There really are no moral questions at play. Well, if the alternative is getting all my buddies together to attack and try to kill all your buddies, then as far as the culture and the personal well-being of a bunch of individuals goes, saying "Hey, if you guys really want to risk your lives and the likelihood that those pistols are going to blow up in your own faces instead of firing accurately, go ahead and leave me out of it" makes a lot of sense.

Same action--different times, different "moralities" [i. But critically examine cultural relativism as an ethical theory are anthropological reports of the incredibly effective deterrence obtained by tribes that understood that if a member of tribe A killed a member of tribe B, some member of tribe A—any member except the killer--would be killed by tribe B.

There's not much killing around as a result. You may have to kill an innocent every now and then as a result of this approach to justice, but you have to choose your basis for what you're going to call morality--is it better to have less murder overall, but kill an innocent every now and then, or is it better to have more murder overall and only kill the guilty?

This is, of course, the argument that the pro-capital punishment people make, too, but they don't look at the statistics and psychological studies to check their assumptions about capital punishment as a deterrent. Rohit mentioned a million dogs a year being killed as an example a while back, apparently expecting a purely emotional response.

I prefer cats myself, but have nothing really against dogs. Of course, I have nothing against cows, either.

  1. When he later ordered the bombing in Bosnia and one of the planes bombed the Chinese embassy, several nations, including the Chinese, called that act one of barbarism! Accordingly, each person is destined to interpret events according to the sentiments of his racial group.
  2. Three years after the criticism of the Florida school board action, Hillary Clinton attended an international conference on women in China.
  3. Next, we examine the implications of normative relativism defined as the recognition that normative systems differ according to social setting for third-party intervention. The theory claims that all thinking about the basic principles of morality Ethics is always relative.
  4. Godwin 1756-1836 had a profound sense of egalitarianism.

But millions are killed yearly in this country, and yes, I do eat some of them. I feel some guilt. I feel some guilt when I kill a cockroach, though. But the universe was not designed so that I could absorb energy directly from a star. Even if I didn't eat animals, plants would have to die to keep me going.

It is unfortunate that life depends on things dying, but it does. That is neither good nor evil, though. People have more reasoning power, and indeed, they should apply their reasoning to their killing, but to say that applying this thing called "morality" to killing is truly reasoning is quite questionable.

In most cases, going with what you call morality will keep you safely within the range of cultural acceptance for your specific time and place. Consider four reasons that may account for the phenomenon. Factors contributing to the popularity of the theory of Normative Ethical Relativism 1. It is obvious that moral rules and laws vary from country to country. Many people believe that laws that exist for other people in other countries should not apply to within their own country.

Traditions and customs are different around the world: So to some people it is true that there should not be a universal moral standard binding on all men at all times. The decline of Religion in the Western Hemisphere and in advanced technological societies. As Nietzsche and Dostoevsky have noted, If god is dead than all is permitted. Increased sensitivity to peoples of different cultures and the need to avoid the evils of ethnocenticism.

The desire to be tolerant and to appreciate the values and beauty of a multi-cultural world. The failure for most people to think that there could be a third alternative to moral absolutism associated with religion and cultural relativism. Are all moral duties binding on all people at all times or are moral duties relative to culture?

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Few can think of a third alternative to these two choices. Finding absolutism untenable many simply accept the relativist position. Philosophers have been attempting for centuries to develop that third alternative. He could not accept the mythopoetic thought of his time as the basis for morality and neither could he accept the relativism of Thrasymachus and other Sophists who taught and proclaimed that might makes right and accident makes might. The Sophists believed that each society makes its own rules and there are no universal rules, no gods ruling over all and making rules.

This theory has become a very popular part of post modern times. It is a theory that manifests its influences in many parts of the culture. The theme of tolerance and appreciation for other cultures and the inappropriateness of applying one standard from one culture to actions in another culture is in evidence in the arts and in politics.

The majority of the school board were now members of the Christian Coalition, a conservative political action group. The school board voted that all public schools in the county would teach in all grades, as part of social studies, that the United States has a culture superior to that of many others.

This was to be supported by the claims that the United States held the values of freedom and equality most high, was a democracy and provided for the welfare of many in need and a number of other claims. Both President Clinton and his wifeHillary Rodham Clinton, criticized the school board for their intolerance. They both proclaimed that the US does not have a superior culture but that all cultures are equally valued and are to be equally respected.

These proclamations are affirmations of doctrines of the post modern movement and are part of the set of "politically correct" ideas currently popular. Nine months after this event a young citizen of the United States was arrested in Singapore for acts of vandalism.

Michael Fay confessed and was tried and found guilty and sentenced to a canning. At that time many people in the USA were very upset with this situation. President Clinton critically examine cultural relativism as an ethical theory a letter to the president of Singapore and requested that the sentence be changed. President Clinton wrote that the act of caning was barbaric. The president of Singapore was offended by the letter and upheld the custom and laws of that land.

How could President Clinton declare another countries practices or any countries practices as beng barbaric if he believed that all cultures are equally praise worth.

The President was being inconsistent. He also criticized the people of Chine, the governmentfor their barbaric practices with regard to political and religious dissidents. When he later ordered the bombing in Bosnia and one of the planes bombed the Chinese embassy, several nations, including the Chinese, called that act one of barbarism!

Three years after the criticism of the Florida school board action, Hillary Clinton attended an international conference on women in China.

She represented the USA. At that time she condemned the practices of China and India and a number of other countries and used harsh language in doing so.

How was she able to do that if she believed that all cultures are equal in value and no one can judge another? She too was being inconsistent. So, Normative Ethical Relativism is part of the cultural milieu. It is evidenced in the thinking of many and yet at the same time many of those who espouse or accept this theory hold opposing views as well! James Rachels Challenge of Cultural Relativism There are several problems and criticisms of the theory of normative ethical relativism.

According to the theory there are no universal moral criteria, there can be no absolutes not even that of tolerance. Therefore critically examine cultural relativism as an ethical theory supporters of this theory cannot promote the theory with the claim that its acceptance will support tolerance for peoples of other cultures because tolerance is not necessarily a good thing.

It is only a good thing in those cultures where it is promoted. It cannot be promoted for all peoples. There have been and there are cultures in which people are raised to believe that they have a superior culture and a right to use and abuse other people. So for that group of people tolerance is not a good thing.

Normative ethical relativism cannot be used to promote tolerance. It is a poorly thought out and confused notion of tolerance that leads to the theory of Normative Ethical Relativism.

According to the theory of Normative Ethical Relativism each culture has its own ideas about ethics and morality. In each culture the predominant view is correct because it is the predominant view.

There are no principles that could override or take precedence over the predominant view. Thus there can be no criticism of the moral views held by the majority of people in a given society by any minority. This is so because the minority must always be wrong in virtue of the fact that it is the minority view.

Subjectivism/ Cultural Relativism

Yet there have been such criticisms and many have led to moral reforms. Such reform cannot be accounted for by the theory. If the theory applies to peoples of different cultures because they are raised in different social environments then it applies as well to any peoples raised apart form other peoples.

So it would apply within a culture and within a society wherever there are isolated groups. Indeed the theory eventually supports a subjectivism in which each person raised differently from others must make his or her own moral rules and those rules are equal in value and importance as any other set of rules.

In this application of the theory of Normative Ethical Relativism no one has the right to make moral judgments about another person, for each person has the right to have his or her own morals. The Theory of Normative Ethical Relativism runs counter to our ordinary experiences and concept of morality. Even people who claim that they believe that the Theory of Normative Ethical Relativism is correct do make moral judgments concerning the practices of people in other cultures.

For example they do condemn female infanticide and genital mutilation and a number of other practices, even practices that go back many centuries. It appears quite evident that there are certain acts which ordinary people simply regard as being morally wrong no matter who is committing them.

  1. What are the implications for an ethical intercultural practice if we cannot make these assumptions with confidence?
  2. We neither intend to review that literature here nor to offer definitive solutions to any of its philosophical contradictions and puzzles. Therefore the supporters of this theory cannot promote the theory with the claim that its acceptance will support tolerance for peoples of other cultures because tolerance is not necessarily a good thing.
  3. The diversity movement states that its purpose is to eradicate racism and produce tolerance of differences. Godwin 1756-1836 had a profound sense of egalitarianism.