Cultural Relativism

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|Cultural Moral Relativism. Do We All Agree? | |Essay #1 Pratheep | |Sivabaalan 100266114 | |11/18/2009 | |James Connelly | I find Rachel’s arguments against the view of Cultural Moral Relativism persuasive and very convincing. Believers of Cultural Relativism have influenced the notion that cultural moral codes are culture bound.

After explicating and assessing Cultural Relativism views and Rachels arguments, it is clear that there are discrepancies and inconsistencies in the views that favor Cultural Relativism. Rachels introduces a number of considerations that reject Cultural Relativism. Cultural Relativism tells us that there is no such thing as universal truth in ethics, and what does exist is the customs of different societies. Furthermore, we cannot judge a custom of another society or our own as right or wrong. Cultural Relativism simplifies its facts by employing an argument, known as the ‘Cultural Differences’ argument. ) Different cultures have different moral codes 2) Therefore, there is no objective “truth” in morality. Right and wrong are only matters of opinion, and opinions vary from culture to culture (Rachels, p18) Rachels identifies that argument as being unsound, thus an invalid argument altogether. Rachels explains that the conclusion does not follow the premise. Rachels explains that the argument’s premise concerns what people believe, and the conclusion concerns what really is the case. I agree with Rachels reasoning on the argument, the premise is motivated by observations, and not the facts and the conclusion suggests what is true.

Therefore, the argument cannot be considered as a strong view for cultural relativism since the conclusion does not logically follow the premise; an unsound argument. Rachels attempts to provide stronger claims to reject Cultural Relativism through a method known as reduction ad absurbum. One of the main points that Cultural Relativism stresses is that “We can no longer say that customs of other societies are morally inferior to our own”. Rachels disagrees with this notion in contrast with less compassionate practices in other societies.

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Rachels brings up examples, such as the oppression of the Chinese Government upon its citizens. Cultural Relativism denies us to condemn such actions because we cannot judge practices in another society to our own. I believe Rachel has a good point on how far is too far, when it comes to customs in other societies. Situations and practices like excursion, slavery, stoning and etc raises questions on how tolerate can people be on inhuman practices. Another proposition that Cultural Relativism brings up is that “We could no longer criticize the code of our own society”.

Rachel criticizes this statement by suggesting that people do not believe our society’s code is perfect, but Cultural Relativism disallows us to think of ways why our society can be better. I agree that our society’s moral code is not prefect and there are a number of reasons that suggests this. For example, animal testing and killings of specific dog breeds are questionable in our society’s moral codes. Furthermore, in our society we have different views on the topic of abortion, where people feel it is right and wrong.

Like many societies and our own, we are prone to question our own moral codes and customs. Lastly, “The idea of moral progress would be called into doubt”, is the last statement Cultural Relativism conveys. The statement contradicts many of Cultural Relativism views it expressed. Rachels example of women rights can be seen as progress, yet it also means that the old ways, before the movement, are now being replace by new and improved ways. Cultural Relativism does view women rights changes as progress; however it forbids us from thinking that this is making our society better.

Thus, cultural relativism views on progress makes this argument contradictory. The five tenets of Cultural Relativism undergo further explication as Rachel notes further criticism. The first claim, “different societies have different moral codes”, holds some truth, however fails to explain that there are universal values that all societies do share. Values such as truth telling, prohibition of murder and caring for the young are conceived by all societies. The only difference is the factual beliefs, not their values. I agree with Rachel, that there are some values that cultures do share.

The second tenet, “The moral code of a society determines what is right within that society; that is, if the moral code of a society says that a certain action is right, then that action is right, at within that society”. Rachel assesses and explains that there is a vast difference in what a society believes and what is really true. Practices, like excision, can be very wrong and suggests does it really promote or hinder human well being. I believe it hinders a human well being, excision is a painful procedure that abolishes sexual pleasure for the individual.

Scarring and tendencies to contract disease(s) are most probable in the long run. Cultural relativism believes that society’s morals of a culture can never be wrong. However, Rachels believes that we can see that societies are in need of moral improvement. I agree with Rachels statements, there is room for societies to understand and learn that mistakes can be made even in cultural customs. The third tenet, “There is no objective standard that can be used to judge one society’s code as better than another’s. There are no moral truths that hold for all people at all times”.

Rachels strongly disagrees with this tenet in cases of stoning, slavery and excision. Rachels says, “it always matters whether a practice promotes or hinder the welfare of the people affected by it”(Rachels, p28). People affected by such barbaric practices do not seem to improve the quality of their lives nor their happiness. The forth tenet, “The moral code of our own society has no special status; it is but one among many”. Rachels points out that Cultural Relativism says, “it is merely one among many”(Rachels, p28) which directs an ‘open question’. A code in particular can be one of the best or one of the worse.

This opens up an entirely new discussion that there are customs that are questioned to being right or wrong. The fifth tenet, “It is arrogant for us to judge other cultures. We should always be tolerate of them”. Rachels raises truth in this statement, we are often arrogant when we criticize other cultures, and tolerance is a good thing. Nevertheless, Rachels notes, we shouldn’t tolerate everything, human societies have done horrible things. Tolerance can only go so far, to a point where intervention is crucial. This claim is inconsistent with the second claim, ‘that right and wrong are determined by the norms of a society’.

There are instants that norms of a society favor intolerance, for example the Nazi army invading Poland. Cultural Relativism teaches us not to criticize the Nazis for being intolerant if all they’re doing is following their own moral codes. However, cultural relativism also tells us that the norms of a culture are bound within the culture itself. Since the norms are bound in Polish society, invasion and manslaughter are not part of their norms. Work Cited: Rachels, James and Stuart Rachels. (2009). The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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Cultural Relativism. (2018, Jan 28). Retrieved from

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