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Cultural Relativism

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Title: The Case for Cultural Diversity Author: Steve Aspenson Last modified by: Steve Aspenson Created Date: 11/2/2007 7:56:17 PM Document presentation format – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Cultural Relativism


1
Cultural Relativism
  • Moral Objectivism
  • Subjective Relativism
  • Cultural Relativism
  • Emotivism

2
What is morality about?
Importance!
  • Good / Bad (value)

Right / Wrong (conduct)
Obligatory / Forbidden (conduct)
Virtue
Punishment
Duty
Honor
Reward
Vice
Fairness
Praise
Justice
Blame
Merit
So on
Desert
Cruelty
Mercy
Forgiveness
Kindness
Vengeance
3
4 Theories from Chapter 2
  • Read about these 4 theories in your handout from
    Doing Ethics, Chapter 2.
  • You should be able to answer questions regarding
  • Objectivism some moral norms are valid for
    everyone
  • Cultural Relativism an action is morally right
    if ones culture approves of it
  • Subjective Relativism an act is morally right
    if one approves of it
  • Emotivism moral utterances are neither true nor
    false, but are only expressions of emotions or
    attitudes
  • In this PowerPoint we will focus on just one,
    Cultural Relativism

4
What is Cultural Relativism?
  • What is Cultural Relativism (CR)?
  • Cultural Relativism df Moral rules are valid
    only for the society in which they emerge (or are
    adopted?), and it is the societys approval or
    disapproval that makes something right or wrong,
    respectively.
  • CR is a theory of morality that developed as
    Anthropologists noted the diversity of moral
    practices around the world. Text books suggested
    (and many still do) that disagreement about
    morality around the world shows that no one is
    right or wrong in their moral views moral views
    are cultural.

5
What is Cultural Relativism?
  • Were those anthropologists correct?
  • Does disagreement about right and wrong imply
    Cultural Relativism?
  • What, in general, does disagreement imply?

6
What Disagreement Implies
  • What is disagreement?
  • Disagreement df two or more people assert
    incompatible things, at the same time and in the
    same respect, of one and the same object(s)
  • If I say I like chocolate and you say, I
    dont. I like vanilla, do we disagree?
  • In one sense of disagree, yes the sense in
    which we fail to have the same taste.
  • But in another sense we do not disagree I have
    accurately described one thing (my likes), you
    another thing (your likes) (neither of us need
    be wrong) we have not at the same time disagreed
    in the same respect (my claim was in respect to
    my tastes, yours to your tastes)

7
What Disagreement Implies
  • If I were to say, however, that
  • Alaska is landlocked,
  • and you were to say,
  • No, it is not landlocked it has a border on the
    sea,
  • we would disagree in a way in which at least one
    of us must be wrong we have said of one thing,
    Alaska, that it has and does not have some
    feature at the same time and in the same respect
  • So, if cultures disagree in this latter sense,
    both may be wrong, or perhaps just one is wrong,
    but both cannot be right

8
What do cultures disagree about?
  • Is killing always wrong? Some cultures think so,
    while others sanction killing
  • those born on Wednesday
  • those who dishonor their family
  • of wives by their husband for whatever reason he
    sees fit
  • those who kill others
  • Suicide might be
  • condemned
  • thought to uphold honor
  • be regarded as nothing important
  • Is such disagreement in moral practice genuine
    disagreement? It would appear so.

9
What follows from CR?
  • Since it appears that cultures do have genuine
    moral disagreements, lets suppose that Cultural
    Relativism is correct. What follows?
  • Can the UN, say, legitimately tell a given
    culture they are wrong in some moral matter and
    must change?

10
What follows from CR? (continued)
  • If we say no, the UN cannot tell other cultures
    what to do, we lose the UN (what point would the
    UN serve if it couldnt be right about how others
    should behave?).
  • If we say yes, the UN can tell other cultures
    what to do, then UN authority is determined by a
    vote and by power the UN becomes a bullying
    institution.

11
Criticism 1 - Culture / Society seems an
Arbitrary Source of Value
Ethical-Cultural Relativism Moral rules are
valid only for the society in which they emerge,
and it is the societys approval or disapproval
that makes something right or wrong, respectively.
  • What is special about cultures / societies?
  • Why not make the relevant social group conferring
    value a club?
  • Why not make it the family?
  • Why not make it a gang?

12
Criticism 2 Approval is Arbitrary
Ethical-Cultural Relativism df Moral rules are
valid only for the society in which they emerge
(or are adopted?), and it is the societys
approval or disapproval that makes something
right or wrong, respectively.
  • In principle, it is possible to approve of
    anything
  • Lighting children on fire for fun.
  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Torture
  • Etc.

13
Criticism 3 Agreement Abounds
Ethical-Cultural Relativism df Moral rules are
valid only for the society in which they emerge
(or are adopted?), and it is the societys
approval or disapproval that makes something
right or wrong, respectively.
  • ECR arose as a response to the discovery of deep
    disagreement among cultures and no non-arbitrary
    way to prefer one cultures moral rules to
    anothers.
  • Disagreement among moral rules, however, often
    hides underlying agreement among moral
    principles.
  • We Westerners have the rule Dont kill your
    parents
  • Some Eskimos and some Greenlanders have the rule
    Kill your parents prior to their becoming feeble
    (the reason being, in the afterlife they will
    need their vigor and strength to live well)
  • While we disagree with their rule
  • Kill parents prior to their becoming feeble
  • We agree with their principle
  • Honor your parents

14
Criticism 3 Agreement Abounds
  • The difference between rules can be explained by
    differences of opinion about non-moral but
    morally relevant facts.
  • What are non-moral but morally relevant facts?
  • A non-moral but morally relevant fact is a fact
    that can make a difference for whether something
    is right or wrong.
  • Allison had cereal this morning (typically a
    non-moral, morally irrelevant fact, unless she
    was eating cereal she had promised to leave for
    her sister, say in which case it becomes a
    non-moral but morally relevant fact)
  • Allison tripped me on purpose (typically a
    non-moral but morally relevant fact, unless she
    and I are playing a game of trip me, trip you,
    in which case it becomes a non-moral and morally
    irrelevant fact)

15
Criticism 3 Agreement Abounds
  • So much moral disagreement among cultures could
    be illusory, and actually be disagreement about
    non-moral but morally relevant facts. For
    example,
  • If we believed in an afterlife that required a
    strong soul when leaving this life, we might
    agree completely with the culture that practices
    parent killing
  • If we believed that enemies wed killed in battle
    could haunt and kill us unless we ate their
    hearts, we might eat them just as some
    headhunters do

16
Criticism 3 Agreement Abounds
  • Disagreement could also be about the relative
    values of standard moral properties
  • Pleasure
  • Aesthetic appreciation
  • Personal affection
  • Self-Determination
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Integrity
  • Honor
  • Or about whether a given property is a moral
    property at all
  • Causing pleasure, or pleasure ???
  • Aesthetic appreciation

17
Criticism 3- Agreement Abounds
  • So Criticism 3 has 3 conclusions
  • Moral disagreement between cultures may be
  • explained by divergent rules that still derive
    from a common principle (e.g., honor your
    parents), or
  • due to difference of opinion about non-moral but
    morally relevant facts (e.g., spirits can hurt
    you), or
  • about the relative values of standard moral
    properties (e.g., honor is better than pleasure)
  • Only this is a genuine moral disagreement

18
Criticism 4 - ECR Makes Moral Advance
Definitionally Impossible
Ethical-Cultural Relativism Moral rules are
valid only for the society in which they emerge,
and it is the societys approval or disapproval
that makes something right or wrong, respectively.
  • If only societys norms make actions right or
    wrong, then trying to improve society makes no
    sense (look again at the definition of ECR).
  • Every violation of a current rule is wrong.
  • The end of slavery was no advance.
  • The end of the holocaust was no advance.

19
Criticism 5 - On ECR, Moral Disagreement within a
Culture Removes All Morality and Immorality
Ethical-Cultural Relativism Moral rules are
valid only for the society in which they emerge,
and it is the societys approval or disapproval
that makes something right or wrong, respectively.
  • What constitutes right action when there is no
    consensus?
  • Without consensus, child murder, rape, torture of
    innocent people, as well as kindness, love, and
    friendship all are neither good nor bad one
    is as good as another

20
Criticism 6 Paradoxically, Inconsistent
Cultures can be Morally Flawless
Ethical-Cultural Relativism df Moral rules are
valid only for the society in which they emerge
(or are adopted?), and it is the societys
approval or disapproval that makes something
right or wrong, respectively.
  • On ECR, we are forced to accept inconsistent
    cultures a culture might value its own
    advantage, even if it involves inconsistency.
  • Suppose we take cultural diversity to imply a
    need for tolerancetolerance of a culture with
    slavery, for instanceand they say
  • Right! Dont be intolerant!
  • Then, however, they punish a neighboring culture
    for, say, its practice of infanticide. The
    slavery culture is intolerant while expecting
    others to tolerate it.
  • Can we criticize the slavery culture at least for
    inconsistency? No, if ECR is true. Consistency
    is something we value. If they dont value it, it
    has no value for them. We must simply accept them.

21
Criticism 7 Disagreement Means Nothing
Regarding Matters of Fact
Ethical-Cultural Relativism df Moral rules are
valid only for the society in which they emerge
(or are adopted?), and it is the societys
approval or disapproval that makes something
right or wrong, respectively.
  • Since disagreement implies only one view is
    wrong, individuals in each culture have every
    right to believe theyre right, unless proven to
    be wrong
  • There may be true universal moral standards and
    some cultures just mistakenly disagree with them
  • The US had slavery
  • South Africa had apartheid
  • Nazis had their final solution
  • Is it surprising that cultures make moral
    mistakes?

22
Virtues of ECR?
Ethical-Cultural Relativism df Moral rules are
valid only for the society in which they emerge
(or are adopted?), and it is the societys
approval or disapproval that makes something
right or wrong, respectively.
  • Brannigan ends his discussion of ECR with a list
    of what he calls its virtues
  • Its claim that cultures are diverse is
    indisputable
  • It reminds us that our own views may be
    expressions of uncritically accepted traditions
  • It encourages toleration that aids in learning
  • Is this final virtue correct? Does ECR
    encourage toleration, or does it embolden
    cultures to stick to their way of life when
    others tell them they are wrong? If the world
    told the Nazis they were morally right (by
    definition!), so long as they all approve of
    themselves and their actions, would that have
    made them more tolerant of Jews?
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