Ethical Cultural Relativism Essay

I will begin with defining Ethical Cultural Relativism. Ethical Cultural Relativism is an ethical theory that denies the existence of universal moral truths. It claims that right and wrong must be defined variously, based on differences in cultural norms and ideas. It specifically states moral right and wrong are “relative to” one’s society and time in history, not absolute across time and cultures (Pen,19) Ethical Cultural Relativist believes in three major ideas. The first idea is, “there is no higher truth in ethics above and beyond cultural habit and social customs”. In other words, ethics is invented not discovered.

The second idea is, “morality is nothing more than a social invention that suppresses a group’s value system, and this value system can vary over time and place”. In other words, there is no one true value system and ethical objection is wrong. The third and last idea is, “ethical truth is culturally relative. ” In other words, what is really true in one culture is really true for it, but it may be false in other cultures. The first thing an Ethical Cultural Relativist would say is, all cultures are different not right or wrong. If one culture believes in slavery it would not be right nor wrong it would just be different.

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That particular culture would act in that manner because of where and how they grew up. Maybe throughout time the idea of slavery for the culture would change, but for now it does not matter because an Ethical Cultural Relativist cannot judge them since they believe there is no ultimate morality. After someone understands the idea of no ultimate morality, I would go on and explain another example of how an Ethical Cultural Relativist would view other cultures. The second way an Ethical Cultural Relativist would view another culture is by being tolerant.

An Ethical Cultural Relativist would say, since there is no ultimate morality everyone should respect and be tolerant to others. One cannot judge them even if you do not care for what they are doing so just accept them and be open-minded to their ideas and soon you might accept those ideas yourself. Once the person understands this idea of tolerance, I would mention it is an idea of controversy where many people destroy the idea of Ethical Cultural Relativism, but first before arguing against Ethical Cultural Relativism, I will discuss Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a religious tradition practised in Africa and India.

I will discuss the religious practice of Femal Genital Mutilation (FGM) and further discuss my argument against the ethical cultural relativist’s view of allowing such tradition. The first argument for Ethical Cultural Relativism is the argument from disagreement. The argument from disagreement states that there has been no agreement cross culturally through time past and space concerning what is really right and wrong, it follows that there is really no objective right and wrong or no moral “truth” to individual cultures.

In other words, this idea states that since there is no right or wrong there is no answer to what is right and wrong. According to Ethical Cultural Relativist’s everything is relative including disagreement so moral truth is relative to an individual’s culture. This idea states that everyone has to be right when they are following their own culture’s beliefs. As long as you are not disobeying your cultures beliefs then you are doing nothing wrong and no one should judge you. This idea is the main backbone of Ethical Cultural Relativism, but it does have at least one flaw in it.

The problem is in the argument itself. One can believe there has been no agreement cross culturally through time past and space concerning what is really right or wrong, but we do not have to believe the second part. The second part states, there is no objective right and wrong so moral truths are representative of individual cultures. Anthropologists believe the first part, but some do not believe the second part in regards to how each culture grows individually. This means some Ethical Cultural Relativists do not always believe in their own arguments. The second argument is the argument from acquisition.

This argument states that people acquire their moral beliefs from particular cultural environments through obstruction, award, and punishments. In other words, it says moral beliefs are true relative to particular cultural environments in which they were acquired or learned and they are not necessarily true outside their environment. Ethical Cultural Relativist’s believe morality is relative to certain places and cultures on earth. Ethical Cultural Relativist’s also believe there is no objective right or wrong across cultures but there is right and wrong relative to cultures.

Although this argument from acquisition is true today, in some regards, there is still a flaw. The arguments flaw lies in universal beliefs. According to most everyone on earth 2+2=4. Since this belief is known worldwide we have to ask Ethical Cultural Relativist’s how this came to be if every belief is relative to one’s own culture. If this math belief is true then why aren’t some moral truths of one culture believed in other cultures making them more superior to another idea or belief? An Ethical Cultural Relativist’s answer to this is, some worldwide beliefs happen by chance.

This answer is not very strong when trying to convince someone that Ethical Cultural Relativism is true and is the only thing to believe. Another idea presented by an Ethical Cultural Relativist is the idea of tolerance. Tolerance is defined as a social, cultural, and religious term applied to the collective and individual practice of not persecuting those who may believe, behave or act in ways of which one may not approve (Oxford Dictionary). If an Ethical Cultural Relativist believes in tolerance, then they must be very confused.

To be an Ethical Cultural Relativist you have to believe everyone is different and there is no culture that is greater than any other culture. If you believe in tolerance you are saying one’s beliefs are better, but you will not persecute anyone else even though they are wrong. You cannot be an Ethical Cultural Relativist and believe in tolerance at the same time. If one did believe in Ethical Cultural Relativism and tolerance they would be saying everyone’s beliefs are different than everyone else’s, but my moral beliefs and ideas are better then yours since I am tolerant of you.

These two ideas contradict each other so one cannot be an Ethical Cultural Relativist and be tolerant at the same time, since that would involve believing in an ultimate morality which an Ethical Cultural Relativist does not believe in. Overall, an Ethical Cultural Relativist can believe in difference but once they say they believe in tolerance there arguments are destroyed. To prove Ethical Cultural Relativism is false one must show arguments that make it a false theory. There are roughly eight arguments to go against Ethical Cultural Relativism.

The first says Ethical Cultural Relativism cannot support tolerance as a moral virtue, so a multi-culturist is wrong in so far that she advocates it. One cannot believe in tolerance and Ethical Cultural Relativism at the same time, since tolerance is being willing to put up with another person even though they are doing something wrong, yet an Ethical Cultural Relativist does not believe one’s cultures and ideas should be considered wrong. The second objection is, if Ethical Cultural Relativism is true then nothing done in history has been wrong, it was just different.

This is hard to believe considering an Ethical Cultural Relativist would have to say the Jewish concentration camps were just different not wrong. An Ethical Cultural Relativist would also say the events of 9/11 were not wrong; the people that flew the airplanes into the towers just had different ideas. This idea is hard to believe since most people think the concentration camps and 9/11 were evil. The third objection is, one cannot say moral progress in human history is good. An Ethical Cultural Relativist would believe the abandonment of slavery is change in a culture but not moral progress.

The fourth objection is there must be some universal moral virtues. One example is truth telling. For a social system to function everyone must tell the truth or the society will not grow. An Ethical Cultural Relativist cannot explain this universal moral virtue of truth telling since an Ethical Cultural Relativist has no way to explain how all cultures come up with one similar moral belief. The fifth objection is morality is a social construct. If morality is a social construct then morality is arbitrary to morality being made, therefore it is arbitrary.

In other words, morality is made by humans so it must be made at random. There is no rime or reason why a certain culture creates certain moral virtues to follow, it is just a culture believing/saying what they in particular believe is right and wrong. The sixth objection is morality is a means to being happy. If happiness is objective than morality must be objective in most people’s opinions. In other words, since everyone has their own opinion of happiness then everyone must have their own opinion of what morality is. The seventh objection is, societies disagree about what is right and wrong.

If Ethical Cultural Relativism were true then societies and individuals would behave differently because of beliefs, but everyone would get along since everyone would be different. If Ethical Cultural Relativism were true, there could not be any fighting since everyone would view each other as different not right or wrong. The last and final objection has to do with judging other people and cultures. Everyone can say someone is taller than another person; these societies are more educated then these, but why judge these things and not moral values.

Ethical Cultural Relativism believes in judging some ideas and values but not others, so many ask why can they judge something’s when they should be open to everyone’s ideas? Overall, these eight objections truly do show many people that Ethical Cultural Relativism has its flaws so it cannot be a true theory. If the person were to ask why certain societies have broad differences in behavior one could explain it fairly easily. When someone is born into a culture they usually accept the given “family” values and when they grow older they can, if they wish, change those values.

Although they change these values they usually always fit in with societies norms. Although they accept these values their behavior can be different. The reason why the behavior is different is because of the environment. One’s environment can have a huge impact on their behavior. For example, if one person were to grow up in China they would be using chopsticks to eat. If one grew up in Africa one might be using their hands to eat, while in other places such as the United State’s and Europe most people use silverware.

Although forks, knives, and chopsticks do not change behavior that much, it can still account for some behavioral differences across cultures (eating at restaurants etc). Another example of environment changing one’s behavior is where one grew up. If someone grew up in the inner-city they would behave differently then someone growing up in the suburbs. The person in the inner-city would have “street smarts,” a different attitude/outlook on life, a broad range of friends, and they would learn specific things in school.

Someone who lived in the suburbs would probably have more “book smarts,” probably have a good outlook on life, one class and color of friends, and they would be living fairly well. When these two people are compared, their moral values might be the same but their attitudes and behavior would be different form each other. Even though they may have grown up ten miles from each other, their lives and morals would be completely different. Overall, the values and beliefs could be the same for both people, but their behavior would be different because of the difference in their environment.

Ethical Cultural Relativism is one theory of ethics. Although many people, especially anthropologists, believe in this theory there are several flaws. Although the arguments for Ethical Cultural Relativism are somewhat strong, the arguments against it are much stronger and more convincing. To be a true Ethical Cultural Relativist one must accept everyone and view people as different, yet they cannot be tolerant. This is difficult to do in today’s world especially since there are wars and past historical events that one must accept as different, not right or wrong.

Although Ethical Cultural Relativism is disproved through these facts, they are correct in saying that values across the world differ, but they forget to mention, behavior and ideas do to. Even though someone from the same area has the same values, their beliefs are completely different because of the environment. An Ethical Cultural Relativist has a hard time explaining why societies and cultures so close together disagree when they should be open-minded, but they forget to realize environments play a large part in someone’s growth.

Although cultural values across the world differ, an Ethical Cultural Relativist has to accept everyone which is hard to do considering all of the objections and thoughts against their theory. Vanessa Torres 2-28-05 Ethics Ethical Cultural Relativism I will begin with defining Ethical Cultural Relativism. Ethical Cultural Relativism is an ethical theory that denies the existence of universal moral truths. It claims that right and wrong must be defined variously, based on differences in cultural norms and ideas.

It specifically states moral right and wrong are “relative to” one’s society and time in history, not absolute across time and cultures (Pen,19) Ethical Cultural Relativist believes in three major ideas. The first idea is, “there is no higher truth in ethics above and beyond cultural habit and social customs”. In other words, ethics is invented not discovered. The second idea is, “morality is nothing more than a social invention that suppresses a group’s value system, and this value system can vary over time and place”.

In other words, there is no one true value system and ethical objection is wrong. The third and last idea is, “ethical truth is culturally relative. ” In other words, what is really true in one culture is really true for it, but it may be false in other cultures. The first thing an Ethical Cultural Relativist would say is, all cultures are different not right or wrong. If one culture believes in slavery it would not be right nor wrong it would just be different. That particular culture would act in that manner because of where and how they grew up.

Maybe throughout time the idea of slavery for the culture would change, but for now it does not matter because an Ethical Cultural Relativist cannot judge them since they believe there is no ultimate morality. After someone understands the idea of no ultimate morality, I would go on and explain another example of how an Ethical Cultural Relativist would view other cultures. The second way an Ethical Cultural Relativist would view another culture is by being tolerant. An Ethical Cultural Relativist would say, since there is no ultimate morality everyone should respect and be tolerant to others.

One cannot judge them even if you do not care for what they are doing so just accept them and be open-minded to their ideas and soon you might accept those ideas yourself. Once the person understands this idea of tolerance, I would mention it is an idea of controversy where many people destroy the idea of Ethical Cultural Relativism, but first before arguing against Ethical Cultural Relativism, I will discuss Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a religious tradition practised in Africa and India.

I will discuss the religious practice of Femal Genital Mutilation (FGM) and further discuss my argument against the ethical cultural relativist’s view of allowing such tradition. The first argument for Ethical Cultural Relativism is the argument from disagreement. The argument from disagreement states that there has been no agreement cross culturally through time past and space concerning what is really right and wrong, it follows that there is really no objective right and wrong or no moral “truth” to individual cultures. In other words, this idea states that since there is no right or wrong there is no answer to what is right and wrong.

According to Ethical Cultural Relativist’s everything is relative including disagreement so moral truth is relative to an individual’s culture. This idea states that everyone has to be right when they are following their own culture’s beliefs. As long as you are not disobeying your cultures beliefs then you are doing nothing wrong and no one should judge you. This idea is the main backbone of Ethical Cultural Relativism, but it does have at least one flaw in it. The problem is in the argument itself.

One can believe there has been no agreement cross culturally through time past and space concerning what is really right or wrong, but we do not ave to believe the second part. The second part states, there is no objective right and wrong so moral truths are representative of individual cultures. Anthropologists believe the first part, but some do not believe the second part in regards to how each culture grows individually. This means some Ethical Cultural Relativists do not always believe in their own arguments. The second argument is the argument from acquisition. This argument states that people acquire their moral beliefs from particular cultural environments through obstruction, award, and punishments.

In other words, it says moral beliefs are true relative to particular cultural environments in which they were acquired or learned and they are not necessarily true outside their environment. Ethical Cultural Relativist’s believe morality is relative to certain places and cultures on earth. Ethical Cultural Relativist’s also believe there is no objective right or wrong across cultures but there is right and wrong relative to cultures. Although this argument from acquisition is true today, in some regards, there is still a flaw. The arguments flaw lies in universal beliefs. According to most everyone on earth 2+2=4.

Since this belief is known worldwide we have to ask Ethical Cultural Relativist’s how this came to be if every belief is relative to one’s own culture. If this math belief is true then why aren’t some moral truths of one culture believed in other cultures making them more superior to another idea or belief? An Ethical Cultural Relativist’s answer to this is, some worldwide beliefs happen by chance. This answer is not very strong when trying to convince someone that Ethical Cultural Relativism is true and is the only thing to believe. Another idea presented by an Ethical Cultural Relativist is the idea of tolerance.

Tolerance is defined as a social, cultural, and religious term applied to the collective and individual practice of not persecuting those who may believe, behave or act in ways of which one may not approve (Oxford Dictionary). If an Ethical Cultural Relativist believes in tolerance, then they must be very confused. To be an Ethical Cultural Relativist you have to believe everyone is different and there is no culture that is greater than any other culture. If you believe in tolerance you are saying one’s beliefs are better, but you will not persecute anyone else even though they are wrong.

You cannot be an Ethical Cultural Relativist and believe in tolerance at the same time. If one did believe in Ethical Cultural Relativism and tolerance they would be saying everyone’s beliefs are different than everyone else’s, but my moral beliefs and ideas are better then yours since I am tolerant of you. These two ideas contradict each other so one cannot be an Ethical Cultural Relativist and be tolerant at the same time, since that would involve believing in an ultimate morality which an Ethical Cultural Relativist does not believe in.

Overall, an Ethical Cultural Relativist can believe in difference but once they say they believe in tolerance there arguments are destroyed. To prove Ethical Cultural Relativism is false one must show arguments that make it a false theory. There are roughly eight arguments to go against Ethical Cultural Relativism. The first says Ethical Cultural Relativism cannot support tolerance as a moral virtue, so a multi-culturist is wrong in so far that she advocates it.

One cannot believe in tolerance and Ethical Cultural Relativism at the same time, since tolerance is being willing to put up with another person even though they are doing something wrong, yet an Ethical Cultural Relativist does not believe one’s cultures and ideas should be considered wrong. The second objection is, if Ethical Cultural Relativism is true then nothing done in history has been wrong, it was just different. This is hard to believe considering an Ethical Cultural Relativist would have to say the Jewish concentration camps were just different not wrong.

An Ethical Cultural Relativist would also say the events of 9/11 were not wrong; the people that flew the airplanes into the towers just had different ideas. This idea is hard to believe since most people think the concentration camps and 9/11 were evil. The third objection is, one cannot say moral progress in human history is good. An Ethical Cultural Relativist would believe the abandonment of slavery is change in a culture but not moral progress. The fourth objection is there must be some universal moral virtues. One example is truth telling. For a social system to function everyone must tell the truth or the society will not grow.

An Ethical Cultural Relativist cannot explain this universal moral virtue of truth telling since an Ethical Cultural Relativist has no way to explain how all cultures come up with one similar moral belief. The fifth objection is morality is a social construct. If morality is a social construct then morality is arbitrary to morality being made, therefore it is arbitrary. In other words, morality is made by humans so it must be made at random. There is no rime or reason why a certain culture creates certain moral virtues to follow, it is just a culture believing/saying what they in particular believe is right and wrong.

The sixth objection is morality is a means to being happy. If happiness is objective than morality must be objective in most people’s opinions. In other words, since everyone has their own opinion of happiness then everyone must have their own opinion of what morality is. The seventh objection is, societies disagree about what is right and wrong. If Ethical Cultural Relativism were true then societies and individuals would behave differently because of beliefs, but everyone would get along since everyone would be different.

If Ethical Cultural Relativism were true, there could not be any fighting since everyone would view each other as different not right or wrong. The last and final objection has to do with judging other people and cultures. Everyone can say someone is taller than another person; these societies are more educated then these, but why judge these things and not moral values. Ethical Cultural Relativism believes in judging some ideas and values but not others, so many ask why can they judge something’s when they should be open to everyone’s ideas?

Overall, these eight objections truly do show many people that Ethical Cultural Relativism has its flaws so it cannot be a true theory. If the person were to ask why certain societies have broad differences in behavior one could explain it fairly easily. When someone is born into a culture they usually accept the given “family” values and when they grow older they can, if they wish, change those values. Although they change these values they usually always fit in with societies norms. Although they accept these values their behavior can be different.

The reason why the behavior is different is because of the environment. One’s environment can have a huge impact on their behavior. For example, if one person were to grow up in China they would be using chopsticks to eat. If one grew up in Africa one might be using their hands to eat, while in other places such as the United State’s and Europe most people use silverware. Although forks, knives, and chopsticks do not change behavior that much, it can still account for some behavioral differences across cultures (eating at restaurants etc).

Another example of environment changing one’s behavior is where one grew up. If someone grew up in the inner-city they would behave differently then someone growing up in the suburbs. The person in the inner-city would have “street smarts,” a different attitude/outlook on life, a broad range of friends, and they would learn specific things in school. Someone who lived in the suburbs would probably have more “book smarts,” probably have a good outlook on life, one class and color of friends, and they would be living fairly well.

When these two people are compared, their moral values might be the same but their attitudes and behavior would be different form each other. Even though they may have grown up ten miles from each other, their lives and morals would be completely different. Overall, the values and beliefs could be the same for both people, but their behavior would be different because of the difference in their environment. Ethical Cultural Relativism is one theory of ethics. Although many people, especially anthropologists, believe in this theory there are several flaws.

Although the arguments for Ethical Cultural Relativism are somewhat strong, the arguments against it are much stronger and more convincing. To be a true Ethical Cultural Relativist one must accept everyone and view people as different, yet they cannot be tolerant. This is difficult to do in today’s world especially since there are wars and past historical events that one must accept as different, not right or wrong. Although Ethical Cultural Relativism is disproved through these facts, they are correct in saying that values across the world differ, but they forget to mention, behavior and ideas do to.

Even though someone from the same area has the same values, their beliefs are completely different because of the environment. An Ethical Cultural Relativist has a hard time explaining why societies and cultures so close together disagree when they should be open-minded, but they forget to realize environments play a large part in someone’s growth. Although cultural values across the world differ, an Ethical Cultural Relativist has to accept everyone which is hard to do considering all of the objections and thoughts against their theory.

Bibliography

Pence, Gregory. A Dictionary of Common Philosophical Terms. New York: McGraw- Hill, 2000.

Rachels, James. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. (4th ed.), Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2003

The Oxford Dictionary. (2nd ed.), New York: Berkeley Publishing, 2001.