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. In other words, “right” and “wrong” are culture-specific; what is considered moral in one society may be considered immoral in another, and, since no universal standard of morality exists, no one has the right to judge another society’s customs.
The world today consists of an incalculable number of societies. Each society varies significantly in the different elements of culture. Culture is one&apos;s designed way of living based on erudite customs, knowledge, material items, and behavior. Within every society today lives an ethnocentric attitude. The belief that ones own culture is superior to that of another&apos;s. However, it is important to develop a sense of cultural relativism in today&apos;s society, considering that there are so many benefits to understanding different cultures. Ethnocentrism is quite different than that of cultural relativism.
We would have to stop condemning other societies merely because they are different. Tolerance towards slavery, anti Semitism, hatred towards ethnic groups, or minorities, kiddy porn, sex slave trade---if we took the cultural relativism seriously we would have to regard these behaviors as immune from criticism. 2. In Colonial America slavery was OK, women were not allowed to vote or own property, primogeniture was practiced, etc and therefore these things were right. This position requires that we accept moral codes as proper and can not be improved. 3. Progress implies doing things better, but cultural relativism rejects making judgments about past eras. Reform movements such as rights to women and minorities that implies modern society is better is a judgment that is impossible to make.
The UN, is the global task force that has been delegated the responsibility of ensuring human rights are protected. The U.N. Charter identifies one of the organization’s primary objectives as “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” The U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women condemns FGM as an act of violence against women and states that countries “should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition, or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.” When it comes to FGM the strongest push against the act has come from the West, where female circumcisions are publicly practiced. The Western world defines what is morally acceptable. Thus, societies that practice actions that are ‘immoral’ lose sovereignty over their cultural practices. The cultural relativist will argue that such action is reprehensible because it is ethnocentric and fails to acknowledge the reason behind the practice. For many women, this practice is the only way for them to obtain acceptance as women in their cultures. The universalist; however, will argue that the UN and other global organizations are justified in their condemnation of the practice moral authority because they constitute the world community’s consensus regarding ethical behavior between governments and their citizens. How does one determine what social issues should be treated under the rules of universalism as opposed to cultural relativism?
Cultural Relativism & Ethnocentrism
In Bolivia, 14-year-old girls can legally get
married. In China, men have to wait until
In America, eye contact suggests that you are
paying attention and interested in what a
person has to say. Yet, in other cultures, eye
contact can be considered rude and a challenge
What is cultural relativism?
is the view that all beliefs, customs, and ethics are
relative to the individual within his own social context.
In other words, “right” and
“wrong” are culture-specific
“Different cultures have different moral
codes” often is used as a key to
understanding morality. Proponents
argue that there is not as universal truth
in ethics; there are only the various
cultural codes and nothing more. The
customs of different societies is all that
Ethnocentrism is quite
different than that of
Ethnocentrism is the
view that one
group is somehow
superior to all others.
A common idiom is “tunnel vision.” In this
context, ethnocentrism is the view that a
particular ethnic group’s system of beliefs and
values is morally superior to all others
Discrimination plays a direct role in
the ethnocentric belief.
During the exploration
period the discrimination
against blacks by whites
was a major controversial
In England many
believed that the darker
a person is the "dirtier
and impure" they are.
Some people believed
that some races were not
even races. Instead they
were considered animals
and not humans.
The Cultural Differences Argument
• Theory on the nature of morality
Argument from facts about differences between
cultural outlooks to making conclusions about
the status of morality.
1. Different cultures have different moral codes
2. Therefore, there are no objective truth in
morality. Right and wrong are only matters of
opinion, and opinions vary from culture to
Consequences of Accepting Cultural
1. We could no longer say that custom of other
societies are morally inferior to others.
2. We could decide whether actions are right or
wrong just by consulting the standards of our
3. The idea of moral progress is called into
1996, a 17 year old girl from
Togo a West African country
arrived in the US and asked
for asylum to avoid “
excision”, a practice referred
to as “female circumcision”
or “female genital
mutilation”. According to
the WHO, the practice is
widespread in 26 African
countries and 2 million girls
are excised each year.
Reaction in the New York
Times, encouraged the idea
that excision was a barbaric
practice and should be
Young girls often look forward to this because it
a acceptance into adulthood. It is an accepted
practice in many villages.
Consequences of excision
painful, results in permanent loss of sexual
pleasure, hemorrhage, tetanus, septicemia,
death, chronic infections, hinder walking,
Apparent no social benefits, not a matter of
Human Rights & Cultural Relativism
Mutilation poses a
significant health risk to
women. It can lead to
damage, among other
subject to this practice
are being oppressed by
men seeking to reinforce
their dominance over
Is excision, harmful or helpful?
Cultural Relativist would
conclude that excision has
been practiced for centuries
and we should not intervene
and change ancient ways
“The only absolute truth is change, and death is the only way to
stop change. Life is a series of judgments on changing
situations, and no ideal, no belief fits every solution. Yet humans
need to believe in something beyond themselves. Perhaps all
intelligences do. If we do not act on higher motivations, then we
can justify any action, no matter how horrible, as necessary for
our survival. We are endlessly caught between the need for high
moral absolutes—which will fail enough that any absolute can
be demonstrated as false—and our tendency for individual
judgments to degenerate into self-gratifying and unethical
narcissism. Trying to force absolutes on others results in death
and destruction, yet failing to act beyond one's self also leads to
death and destruction, generally a lot sooner.”
L.E. Modesitt Jr. The Parafaith War