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Challenge of Cultural Relativism

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2.1 How Different Cultures Have Different Moral Codes

• Observed fact: different cultures have different moral codes

o different things taboos and obligatory

o even opposing things as the Darius anecdote illustrates

 among the Greeks

 one is morally obliged to cremate the dead

 one is morally forbidden to eat them

 among the Callatians

 one is morally obliged to eat the dead

 one is morally forbidden to burn them

2.2 Cultural Relativism

• Relativist Conclusion drawn from facts like these

o There is no objective (absolute universal) morality -- no morality per se; rather just

 Ancient Greek morality

 Callatian morality

 traditional Eskimo morality

 modern American morality (such as it is . . . )

 etc.

o "X is Good" is an incomplete expression meaning

 "X is good in culture Y" or

 "in our culture we approve of X"

o Morality differs in every society and is a convenient term for socially approved habits. (Ruth Benedict)

2.3 The Cultural Differences Argument

• The Argument

1. Different cultures have different moral codes

2. So, there is no objective right or wrong, no objective good or evil

 universally holds for all cultures

 holds absolutely, regardless of what anyone believes

• Criticism: the argument is unsound: conclusion doesn't follow from the factual premise

o as shown by parity of reason argument, substituting belief

1. Ancients believed the earth was flat & we believe it's spherical or "round".

2. Therefore, the earth has no objective shape.

1. flat for the ancients

2. round for us

3. but the earth is really round -- the ancients were just wrong

o In general it does not follow from the fact of subjective disagreement that there is no objective fact of the matter being disagreed about.

2.4 The Consequences of Taking Cultural Relativism Seriously

• Reductio argument

o Provisionally assume X . . . if CR were true

o Draw out the consequences . . . this would follow

o Show that the consequences are absurd . . . but that's absurd (obviously false)

o Conclude not X . . . so CR can't be true.

• Absurdities following from the assumption of CR

o We could no longer say that the customs of other societies are morally inferior to our own: criticism (or praise) of another culture's practices could never be warranted: they would have to be judged by their own standards and, as such, would be beyond reproach. E.g..,

 the treatment of women in some Muslim lands & China

 the continuing practice of slavery in some places in north Africa,

 etc.

o We could decide whether actions are right or wrong just by consulting the standards of our society.

 a. e.g., the abolitionists would be easily shown to be flatly wrong to condemn slavery as immoral since -- according to the standards of their ante-bellum culture -- there was nothing wrong with it.

 would-be moral reformers are automatically mistaken & every society would of necessity be infallible in its moral convictions (though it might fail to live up to them) since

 morality

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