This paper covers the central theme of Moral(Cultural) Relativism. It is essentially the idea that morally acceptableconduct is determined and set by culture. The key factor is that the moralcodes of a certain culture are usually different when compared to another.
Thisis highlighted constantly through the traditions of the Greeks and theCallatians when it comes to death. Another example involves the Eskimos andtheir belief in infanticide. The Cultural Differences Argument is then examinedand applied to certain examples. This is not a sound argument because there isa logical flaw that can be exploited. The argument can then be made to showthat Moral Relativism is false. By examining certain viewpoints and judgements,Cultural Relativism can be proven false. Themain idea of Moral (Cultural) Relativism is that morality is shaped by cultureand that there is no universal truth in ethics. (Rachels p.
21). MoralRelativism holds that actions can be determined to be either right or wrong toa particular cultural code. Attached to this is the fact that there arenumerous cultural codes. Moral Relativism holds that no moral code is superiorto another. At its core, moral relativism explains that we should not judge aculture based on our own standards of what is right or wrong, rather we shouldattempt to understand the practices of other cultures and respect them. Moraljudgements that are true in one culture may be false in another. Therefore, itis impossible for all cultures to agree on a certain action or subject and assuch, there is no universal truth among all cultures.
Throughoutthe text, Rachels illustrates various differences between cultures that supportthe idea of moral relativism. The first cultural difference that is citied byRachels occurs between the Greeks and the Callatians. It involved the way thatthe two cultures handled the bodies of their dead fathers. For the Callatians,it was a custom for them to eat the body of their dead father. For the Greeks,they practiced cremation.
King Darius of ancient Persia then asked the Greeksif they would eat their dead father and asked the Callatians if they would burnthe body. Both the Greeks and the Callatians were shocked and horrified. It wasimpossible for them to imagine. The Greeks thought it was wrong to eat the deadwhile the Callatians believed it was right. This can support moral relativismbecause both cultures have opinions that vary. Anotherexample that Rachels introduces in the text is the culture of the Eskimos.
TheEskimo men had multiple wives and they would share wives with guests. Maleshave access to other men’s wives. Aside from marital practices, infanticide wascommon among the Eskimos. They would kill newborn babies and old people whowere no longer able to contribute to the family.
Female babies tended to bekilled more often than male babies. When comparing the Eskimo culture to theAmerican culture, the Americans believed that infanticide was wrong whereas theEskimos thought it was right. Both arguments about eating the dead bodies andinfanticide show that the customs and traditions of one culture are differentthan another.
Moral Relativism leads us to believe that what is right or wrongsimply depends on an opinion. Rachelsexplains that the Cultural Differences Argument can be used to analyze theconcept of Moral Relativism. This is an argument that can be used to examinethe differences between cultures and lead to an ultimate conclusion aboutmorality within that culture. The Cultural Differences Argument is derived fromthe fact that diverse cultures believe in a set of moral codes that vary whencompared to another culture.
As a result, objective truth in morality isimpossible. Actions or beliefs that are considered morally right or morallywrong are simply an opinion which again varies between cultures. This is thewhat Rachels considers the form of an argument.
The reasoning that Rachels usesas an example is that cannibalism is not right or wrong, it is an opinion thatvaries among culture. The same logic can be applied in the case with theEskimos. They believed infanticide was right while Americans believed it waswrong. The opinions concerning infanticide are simply different among othercultures.
The Cultural Differences Argument can lead to the conclusion thatthere are no universally correct or “right” moral codes or standards that areaccepted. The only right or morally correct standard is the one that isrelative to one’s culture. Rachelscriticizes the Cultural Differences Argument because it has a major logicalflaw. Rachels illustrates that “even if the premise were true, the conclusioncould still possibly be false” (Rachels p.23).
It is revealed that the premiseis what people in various societies believe and the conclusion is what reallyis the case. In other words, the Cultural Differences Argument is invalid basedon the established assertion that since there is no objective truth, it doesnot follow that there is a disagreement about the actual truth of a certainmatter. The main problem with the Cultural Differences Argument is that itleads us to a conclusion based solely on the fact that a disagreement exists.
Ifdifferent cultures have a different view on a certain matter, then we have noright or wrong answer about that matter. The fact that some societies disagreeon a subject does not show that there is no objective truth. A supportingargument would be needed to determine if the conclusion is in fact true. Thisflaw can be illustrated using the belief that some societies think that theEarth is flat while others belief it is spherical. As a result, there is noobjective truth in geography. This example that Rachels uses implies that thebelief of the shape of the Earth is an opinion which varies among separatecultures. If two societies disagree, this does not mean that there is nosubjective truth. Occasionally, some societies might be wrong.
The fact ofdisagreement does not prove that there is no objective truth in morality as awhole. It leads us to believe that if there was moral truth, every member ofevery society must know it. This is obviously not the case for certainsocieties. TheCultural Differences Argument does not establish Cultural Relativism because ofthe logical flaw.
Cultural Relativism can be viewed as false for a variety ofreasons. If Cultural Relativism was true, certain inferences can be drawn. Rachelsexplains that we would have to stop judging other cultures because they aredifferent.
In turn, this would stop the criticism of certain practices such asslavery and anti-Semitism. If Cultural Relativism was true, it would prevent usfrom claiming that these acts are wrong. Society would not be allowed toinfluence and criticize these social practices. Cultural Relativism will viewthese practices as morally right when they are clearly wrong. Secondly, ifCultural Relativism was true, the only way to determine what is right or wrongis to ask within the society.
This will prevent us from criticizing own our ownsociety code. It can lead to the thought that our code is perfect when in factit is not. It can be improved in various ways. Additionally, if CulturalRelativism was true, then moral progress does not exist.
Throughout history,women were mistreated and considered inferior towards men. Overtime, this haschanged to the point where they are now equals. Assuming that CulturalRelativism was correct, we would not be able to determine if new standards arebetter than older ones. It would be a mistake to judge societies in differenttime periods. If Cultural Relativism was true, then social reformers would nothave the power to question the ideas of their own society.
Change would notoccur. Moral progress has been made as a society to improve lifestyles.Cultural Relativism argues that these judgements and improvements are notright. As a result, it is false. Moral Relativism isidea that moral codes are made by the society and that there is no universaltruth.
Every society has its own set of beliefs and no one moral code can beconsidered superior to others. The Cultural Differences Argument makes MoralRelativism invalid. In final analysis, this is why Moral Relativism has beenrejected.