Relativism

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The year was 1943. Hundreds of Jewish people were being marched into the gas chambers in accordance with Adolf Hitler's orders. In the two years that followed, millions of Jews were killed and only a fraction survived the painful ordeals at the Nazi German prison camps. However, all of the chaos ended as World War II came to a close: the American and British soldiers had won and Hitler's Third Reich was no more. A certain ethical position would state that the anti-sematic Nazi German culture was neither right nor wrong in its actions. In fact, it is this view of the cultural relativist that assumes all actions considered right in a culture to be good for that culture alone. Moreover, the relativist claims that these actions cannot be judged according to their ethical correctness because there is no absolute standard by which they could be compared. In the above case, this position would not allow for the American and British soldiers to interfere with the Nazis; the relativist would claim that the Allies were wrong in fighting the Germans due to a cultural disagreement. In truth, it is the relativist position which has both negative logical and practical consequences, and negligible benefits. The first logical consequence of relativism is that the believer must contradict himself in order to uphold his belief. The view states that all ethics are relative while putting forth the idea that no absolute standard of rightness exists. If this is the case, then what is cultural relativism relative to? From a purely logical point of view, this idea is absurd, for in assuming that something is relative one must first have some absolute by which it is judged. Let the reader consider this example to reinforce the point. A young woman is five feet tall, and her older friend is six feet tall. The younger female considers herself short because she looks at her friend and sees that she is taller than her. It would be illogical to say that the first woman is short if she were the only female in existence; if this were the case then there would not be anyone for her to be relative to in height. However, this logical fallacy is what the relativist assumes by stating that there is no standard of rightness for relativity. Quite simply, the cultural relativist is stating that he is relative to an absolute which ... ... middle of paper ... ...at there cannot be any moral progress in a culture per-say. As discussed, the negligible benefits of cultural relativism such as tolerance, lacking of an absolute standard, and an open mind can only be applied to a limited range of instances. As previously shown, extreme relativism "in its vulgar and unregenerate form7" leads to stagnation of cultural morals and passive acceptance of ethical injustice. Of course, just as in any ethical theory, there are some things to be learned from it. One of these is the idea of not being too critical of other cultures. Also, the theory shows the importance of not becoming so culturalcentric that one looses the ability to learn from other socities. In truth, if more cultures tempered their tolerance with wisdom, then many of the evils that plague us could be effectively eliminated. --- End Notes 1. Rachels, James. "The Challenge of Cultural Relativism." Reason and Responsibility. Ed. Joel Feinberg. p. 454. 2. Rachels, p. 454. 3. Rachels, p. 454. 4. Rachels, p. 455. 5. Rachels, p. 455. 6. Rachels, p. 457. 7. Williams, Bernard. "Relativism." Reason and Responsibility. Ed. Joel Feinberg. p. 451.
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