Cultural Relativism And Moral Values Essay

Cultural Relativism And Moral Values Essay

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Cultural relativism is the term given to the idea that there are no universal moral values that apply to all mankind and that every culture has its own set of moral principles. This set of principles varies from culture to culture, and it is extremely rare, if not totally impossible, to find a moral principle that is followed by all cultures. For example, the idea of arranged marriages, which is the concept of two families marrying their son and daughter even though they don’t particularly know each other, is fairly common in Indian culture but non-existent in American culture. Cultural relativism is the opposite of moral objectivism, which states that there is a set of universal moral values that should be followed by all people of all cultures at all times.
Ethical relativism, on the other hand, deals more specifically with the issue of morality, and states that the moral rightness or wrongness of one’s actions is different in every culture and can also vary from individual to individual, rather than there being a set of universal moral values that would apply to everyone. For example, polygamy is widely accepted in Islamic culture, but is gravely looked down upon as immoral in other cultures. Despite the common factor in both cultural and ethical relativism that there is no set of universal moral values, it is possible for an individual to be culturally relative without being an ethical relativist. This is possible as I could have a view that a particular culture is just simply mistaken in their moral beliefs, and they cannot abide by certain universally valid principles. For example, as a Hindu I may believe that cows are sacred and not eat beef, but do not necessarily find it “immoral” or “wrong” that people from other cultur...


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... For example, the violence against the Jews by the Nazi party is morally wrong and despised despite what the moral beliefs of the Nazi culture were.

In order to determine the morality of a culture’s practices, without being an innate part of that culture, we can always ask if the practice is being advantageous or disadvantageous to the members of the culture. For example, the apartheid in South Africa was doing more harm than good and this fact was an objective reason to label this practice immoral. This standard of morality seems to transcend cultural variances.

Even if the concept of ethical relativism is false, as I believe it is, it plays an important role in teaching us that different cultures have different moral principles, as well as questioning the reasons for our own principles and the underlying reasons for different cultures to have varying moral codes.

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