A Critique Of Cultural Relativism Essay Research

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A Critique Of Cultural Relativism Essay, Research Paper A critique of cultural relativism In his article “Cultural relativism and cultural values”, Melville Herkovits defines the principle of cultural relativism as “judgements are based on experience, and experience is interpreted by each individual in terms of his own enculturation” (26). This is the basic premise of cultural relativism, that beliefs, values, and morals are all based on one’s culture. Therefore, since morality is based on society and different societies have different views of right and wrong, there can be no moral absolutes. Since there are no absolutes, under this view of cultural relativism all moral views determined by one’s culture are deemed true whether they conflict or not. Upon first

glance, relativism seems like a very appropriate concept of morality in the world. It is clear to see that there are differences of what is acceptable and unacceptable in different societies across the world. Growing up in Western culture I have grown a fondness for meat, especially steak. It is a momentous occasion when I can go out or fix a nice, juicy steak for a meal, the bigger the better. This is not a problem in my culture, save those few health conscience people who say I will die by heart disease, but I don’t consider them part of my society anyway. However, if I were raised in an eastern, Hindu, culture these dietary practices would be considered wrong. My act of eating cow would be considered a moral atrocity. From examples like these and many others around the world

we can see a good case for different cultures having different moral views, but is that really the case? I believe that at a surface level cultural relativism holds some merit, however if we look deeper into the issue we can find a flawed, and inaccurate theory for the way that the world should work. Some of the biggest arguments given in defense of cultural relativism are the many different practices of different cultures from around the world. Melville J. Herskovits gives examples of a West African culture of Dahomey, which practice polygamy. He also states different religious traditions of different cultures such as African societies that incorporate possession of an individual by a god to be the supreme religious experience. In an exert from his book Ethics: Discovering Right

and Wrong, Louis P. Pojman describes an Eskimo culture that, “allow their elderly to die by starvation,” (33). These are all strong examples, but do they actually support the idea that these cultures have different moral values? In the examples given by Herskovits about religious traditions being different this is true, there are various religious practices in various cultures that have dissimilar habits. These however are religious practices and not moral concepts. One church chooses to worship their god using a full orchestra and robed choir, while another chooses to simply have a piano and a singer. Do these churches have different moral principles, or are they merely choosing different expressions of worship? With Pojman’s example of the practice of a harsh euthanasia

by the Eskimos, he goes further to explain that it is not the moral principle that causes the Eskimos to leave their elderly to starve, but the harsh environment. In the harsh environment of the arctic it is not considered a “good” action, but a necessary one in order for the survival of the whole tribe. Were the tribes to live in a tropical or temperate environment where food is not so scarce this brand of euthanasia would not be practiced. If we also look closer into the example given in the beginning of this paper we can see that the immorality of eating beef is not based on moral principles, but different beliefs. The example of a Hindu culture, (taken from a very intelligent professor of mine) being outraged at the Western practice of eating cow meat is based on the