One of the most relevant topics of the last twenty years has been the struggle between two instinct ideologies of human rights on the domestic scale, universalism, and social relativism. Universalism holds that more “primitive” civilizations would eventually change to take the same structure of force and rights as Western civilizations. Social relativist give the opposite, but similarly rigid position, that the traditional society is unchanging. Much like this question whether the tolerant country should allow intolerance, the argument between universalism and cultural relativism is more intricate than it seems. Relativist say we should be tolerant of beliefs and practices found in other cultures. This is a normative claim. If it applies to everyone,then it is a trans-cultural moral principle, in which case relativism is false. If, on the other hand, relativism is true, then the principle of tolerance does not express a trans-cultural obligation binding on everyone; it merely expressesthe values associated with a particular moral standpoint.
Tolerance is, of course, a central value espoused by modern liberal societies. But according to the relativist own position, members of other societies where tolerance is not viewed so positively have no reason to accept the idea that one ought to be tolerant. So for other societies, the fact that relativism promotes tolerance is not a point in its favor and relativist have no business preaching tolerance to them.But should we not remain tolerant of different cultures? Critics say that it depends on what kind of cultural conflicts are in issue.
Tolerance may be a great term where benign differences between cultures are related, but it does not appear so when, for instance, the country engages in formallysanctioned genocide, even within its own borders, and anyway, these critics say, it is own borders. And anyway, these critics say, it is one mistake to believe that relativism means that we should remain forgiving, because attitudeis objectively better. It is also true that the more tolerant the individual is, the less likely they are to conform to the norms of society. Social relativist does indeed by claiming that ethics is changed by the social mores of the environment. This is, “what is good or wrong is defined by ones attitude or society.”
While social relativism carries more of the support than does personal relativism, the theory still holds a major flaw.Moral relativism the belief that are no moral facts independent of an individuals or cultures beliefs or desires. Depending on the version of relativism, a given moral statement is true only if an individual (in the case of ethical subjectivism) believes to be, or if a culture (in the case of cultural relativism) believes it to be. It is true that people from different cultures have different ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Warburton describes moral relativism as “values held by a particular society at a particular society at a particular time. However, moral relativism, can also be perceived in different ways by different cultures.
In other words, relativist see that moral values are valid only with in some cultural boundaries. For instance, practices regarding clothing and decency. Holmes discusses three forms of ethical relativism: ethical relativism, cultural relativism, and extreme or individual relativism. Ethical relativist agree that there is moral right and wrong, but contend that what is right for one person or culture may be wrong for another. Cultural relativism is a form ofrelativism that claims that moral beliefs and practices vary from culture to culture. They simply note the differences. Should we not be tolerant of other cultures? Critics reply that it depends on what sort of social differences are at issue. Tolerance may seem like a good police where benign differences between cultures are concerned, but it does not seem so when, for example, a society engages in officially approved genocide, even within its own borders.
In any case, critics say, it is a mistake tothink that relativism implies that we should be tolerant, because tolerance is simply another value about which people or societies may disagree. Only an absolutist could say that tolerance is objectively good. However, if we accept the fact that the worlds is a multicultural society then there is no way to know what is right or wrong.Cultural relativism embraces the idea that one particular cultural idea varies from one society or societal subgroup to another; therefore, ethical and moral standards are relative to what a particular society or culture believes to be good or bad, or right or wrong. Cultural relativism is in contrast to ethnocentrism, the common belief that one’s own culture is superior to all others and, therefore all cultures should be judged under the same standards. Now to proceed to Ruth Benedict.
Ruth Benedict was a very important figure in early anthropology and even more so in cultural anthropology. She was one of the first female anthropologist of her time. Her books serve as a referral of humanistic thought in the 20thcentury. Ruth Benedict has helped shape the discipline of anthropology not only in the United States, but also for the rest of the world.Cultural relativism is one of many alternatives within the domain of metaethics, a theory relating to moral judgements and whether they are truth-apt (capable of being true or false). This theory is supported by Ruth Benedict as she argues that normality is relative to culture, to be morally “good” tantamount with normal, so therefore morality is relative to culture.
Personally cultural relativism seems to emphasize conformity and blind obedience to the morals of ones culture. The cultural relativist could, of course, give up her cultural relativism and become what ill call a global relativist, who think that moral correctness is relative to the beliefs dominant in the human species as a whole. Then she could consistently say of those cultures whose beliefs are in the minority that their beliefs are wrong, just as the cultural relativist can and should say that individuals whose moral views conflict with the views dominant in their own culture are wrong.
In Mary Midgley’s, Trying out ones new sword, she clearly discuss from an ethical relativist view which believes if people cannot understand other cultures, they should not judge them. That point of view leads to idea of moral isolationism and that is the conclusion that the world is divided into separate societies with their own systems along with thoughts. That leads to the conclusion Midgley has a clear view of the world that can be easily seen as a positive one to be discussed by others. Should we not be tolerant of other cultures? Critics reply that it depends on what sort of social differences are at issue.
Tolerance may seem like a good policy where benign differences between cultures are concerned, but it does not seem so when, for example, a society engages in officially approved genocide, even within its own borders. Only an absolutist could say that tolerance is objectively good. Advocates of relativism, particularly outside philosophical circles, often cite tolerance as a key normatice reason for becoming a relativist. On this rationale, all ways of life and cultures are worthy of respect in their own terms, and it is a sign ofunacceptable ethnocentrism to presume that we could single out one outlook or point of view as objectively superior to others. Anti-relativist find this normative advocacy of relativism unconvincing for two key kinds of reason.
Relativism comes in many varieties, That is, there are different kinds of things about which we can be relativist. We can be relativist about morality, about knowledge, arts, culture, language and so on. Although, every form of relativism is slightly associated with each other, it is important to distinguish between different forms we can encounter in our daily lives. The most common forms are cultural, moral and epistemological relativism.The reviewer is not in a position to pronounce on the validity of the origins of morality as Mary Midgley presents them. He would suspect that reductionist arguments cannot be quite as crass as she suggest, were its not for the devastating quotations she adduces from some of their academic exponents.
As usual, she writes extremely well and lucidly. It is a deeply humane and attractive book.Yet the culture of no society is marked by the kind of moral disintegration that intra-cultural relativism, if practiced would bring on, for every culture has its own moral code of behavior for the members of its own society, without which no society would be possible. These values, however only have worth and meaning to that society, and cannot be and should be used to measure the morality of another society, but this is within a society.
The Japanese’s customof tsuhijiri which means to “to try out ones new sword on a chance warfarer.” A samurai should first try his sword because of the chance that war will happen. According to Midgley, this is not good because the samurai need to test his swords just to practice. We must not take one life just for the sake of winning in the war and also practicing. Even though it is for the benefit of many people, it is still immoral to let the man be experimented on.This line of attack appears compelling against normative relativism, the view that what goes on withina society should only be judged by the prevailing norms of that society. If that is ones position, then one must hold that in a culture where, say, adulterersare stoned to death, this practice is morally right,since it is justified according to the only norms that matter, those of the society in question.
- ANTHROPOLOGY AND THE ABNORMAL, Ruth Benedict, pgs 1-4; Trying Out One’s New Sword –Mary Midgley, http://courses.washington.edu/mhe402/Articles, pgs 1-7; Weekly Lectures