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Cultural And Ethical Relativism

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Cultural and ethical relativism are two extensive theories that are used to rationalize the differences amongst cultures in regards to their morals and ethics. Ruth Benedict, a significant American anthropologist from 1887 to 1948, moved from the theories of cultural relativism to the theories of ethical relativism, which brought major criticism to her work and philosophy’s.
Cultural relativism is the view that one is born into a particular culture. Culture in this definition is the sum of peoples’ practices, from birth rituals, to how adolescence is defined, to gender roles. Being born into a particular culture shapes one’s particular worldview. A person cannot fully participate in a culture unless that person has “lived according to its
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Ethical relativism is the view that moral norms are culturally defined. What determines right or wrong, good and evil is shaped by cultural influence. In this view, there is no such thing as universal moral norms. Thus, for example, the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill” from the Hebrew Ten Commandments is based on cultural influences. The prohibition “not to kill” is not a universal moral norm that is inherently embedded in what it means to be human. Ethical relativism rejects the view that human beings are born with instinctive moral concepts such as “don’t kill” or “do not harm”. These norms are encoded, so to speak, in the way a particular culture operates and evolves. Ethical relativism paves the way for the view that moral standards can change over …show more content…
The argument moves from cultural to ethical relativism in the way in which we can think of making judgments. A cultural relativist like Benedict argues that it is not possible for one culture to make substantive judgments about another culture. So for example, it is not possible to judge one culture’s puberty rites from the vantage point of one’s culture. Morality is culturally defined. If one culture’s puberty rites include circumcision of the foreskin (for boys), it is not possible to make judgments about this practice from a culture that does not participate in these practices. In this view, we can see how cultural relativism can move into the realm of ethical relativism. In this framework, moral judgments about another culture are not possible. Since different cultural groups have different moral codes that shape its peoples’ behavior, then one moral code cannot legitimately be a standard for another moral code. In this way, the discussion becomes relevant when Christian Europeans express moral outrage about the practices of Muslims, or when one culture’s definition of moral wrong butts heads with another culture’s

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