Cultural Relativism Author 01 / 11 / 2011 November 1, 2011 CULTURAL RELATIVISM Cultural Relativism is “the idea that the cultural traits are best understood when viewed within the cultural context of which they are a part” (Ferraro et al 2010). It deals with the “nature of morality” (Satyanarayana 2010) implying that every belief, custom, practice, tradition, moral and ethics is relative to the cultural context they are observed and followed in…
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The customs, for example practiced by many cultures and religions such as infanticide, human sacrifice or self-mutation are considered right in those particular cultures and religions, while at the same time they are abhorred in other societies. In cultural relativism there is considered no concept of universal truths. The relativists claim that since every culture has its own distinct and diverse moral and ethical codes therefore there cannot be any universal standards to judge anything other than to consider it in the context of that particular culture. As in the case of abortion, which is highly abhorred and considered illegal in many countries, is considered completely legal and an act of birth control in Japan and many such countries. The idea of cultural relativism advocates the idea that everything is valid and right in its cultural context. This means that there is nothing truly right and wrong or moral and amoral, rather there is only different cultural aspects which may or may not validate an act or practice. The anthropologists, who contradict the idea of cultural relativism, consider the ethical subjectivism more appropriate in term of morality of actions. Ethical subjectivism implies that whatever an individual does or feels is right as far as he considers it right. This means that one thing that is morally justified for one person may not be so for another person. In other words the concept of right and wrong on a culture basis shrinks to an individual basis. For example extra marital relations or open marriage may be considered right for some while it will not be a justified act for others (Rae, 2009). There is another term of situational ethics generally applied by anthropologists which implies that morality is situation based. This term is introduced by Joseph Fletcher, advocating that all morality is relevant to the particular situation in which an individual finds himself. The most cited example of situational ethics is that of a woman imprisoned in Nazi camp. She asked a guard to make her pregnant so that she could be released and meet her family (Rae, 2009). All these terms of cultural relativism, ethical subjectivism or situational ethics are valid in their own context, yet they can’t all be correct. If we truly follow ethical subjectivism, it would mean that there is no concept of society or culture but individual choices. This would only alienate individuals from one another. If everything has to be justified according to individual choices and preferences than no one will think of the consequences of their actions, rather there will only prevail selfishness and biased natures. To accept the individuality and diversity of different cultures and to give space and freedom of practice is essential, but to accept all the aspects of a particular religion or culture whether they are right or wrong is definitely not essential. Respecting cultures does not mean we respect their inhumane practices as well. Every culture teaches the basic doctrines of humanity and justice and they should be appreciated for whatever is good and humane in them. Yet there can’
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