Problems with Ethnic and Cultural Relativism

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This chapter focuses on ways to deal with moral difference, the lessons learned from anthropological studies, and problems with Ethical relativism. The reaction of moral differences varies from person to person as well as how they approach it. The four ways people approach these differences that the chapter states are nihilism, skepticism, and subjectivism. Nihilism is the belief that there is no morally right or wrong whereas skepticism is believing that we cannot know if any moral truths exist. Subjectivism is the idea that moral views vary from person to person and that one’s moral views might seem accurate to them but not to another individual

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Ethical relativism refers to the belief that we should not be quick to judge because each culture has it’s own set of morals and we should not interfere because in their eyes, it is right. Following ethical relativism, are soft and hard universalism. Soft universalism alludes to the theory that in spite of all cultural moral differences, there are moral grounds that we can all agree that are part of our human nature.The main goal of soft universalism is to find this common ground in a sea of opinions, beliefs, and morals.

One example the text states of this is the difference between how the Greeks dispose of a dead relative’s body and how the Indian Callatians do it. The Greeks burn their deceased relatives and the Callatians eat them. They are both completely different rituals but they both have the common denominator as to why they do it; to honor the dead. In contrast to soft universalism, hard universalism refers to the idea that there is only one set of morals that everyone must either think is right or wrong.

During the nineteenth century, anthropologists set out to discover the different ways of non western lives. They discovered an overwhelming amount of cultural differences. One of the many difference were that women in a particular culture believed that men did not impregnate women but rather conceive their offsprings on their own with the help of spirits. Another discovery was that the South Sea Islanders did not have to wear clothes, work as much, and have as much as they please sex without judgement. Anthropologist have learned that some cultures have either an amazing lifestyle such as the South Sea Islanders or an inhumane and sinful one.

This leads us to the six problems with ethical relativism. The first one the text explains is to not criticize nor praise a culture’s morals. We cannot assume that just because one set of morals works for a particular culture, it will work for another. When a line is drawn between a culture’s morals and evading human rights, it breaks the idea of ethical relativism. Another problem is that usually the majority agrees on what is morally right, but who exactly is the majority? Who decided what is socially acceptable. Also, how can there be cultural relativism, if there is no clear definition of a culture. What makes a culture?

I don’t believe that ethical relativism is a valid belief. The reasoning behind that statement is that we shouldn’t have to dismiss extreme brutality that cultures base their lives on such as murder, female genital mutilation, or inhuman punishments just because they believe that it is right in their eyes. From the four approaches to moral differences that the text states, I believe that I fall into the subjectivism category because from my experience, I know that what I consider to be “rude” actions, others don’t see anything wrong by these actions. I am the type of person to say please and thank everyone for their help or services such as when ordering a meal and if I don’t, I feel as if I disrespected the other person.

So it came as a shock to me when I worked at subway the amount of people that ordered their sandwich without a single please or thank you. Of course, itI does not necessarily mean they were being rude to me, they just don’t agree with the same morals as I do. Some people might see it as it is my job so I have to do it regardless of whether the thank me, which is right but in my eyes, those people are rude customers. I do believe that every culture’s morals have in a common ground that we share but we interpret it differently. This has a lot to do with acculturation because if an individual is brought up to believe that women are inferior to men, their mindset is stuck to that idea thus leading to the mistreating of women. I think that America is just as bad as the most inhumane culture ever discovered.

We use something called metaethics to make our actions seem more justifiable. When a man is sentenced to death by injection for killing, we are no better than the killer but we use metaethics and assurance to make it seem less cynical. Instead of murder, we say euthanasia. Euthanasia is the painless killing of a terminally ill person but murder can be just as painless. Where is the line drawn between euthanasia and murder? Is it because a euthanasia is usually completed by a doctor or a health official? If that is the case, then female circumcision should not be frowned upon now since most regions have have made it available to get the procedure done in a hospital but we will still look at it as a wrong because it does not have any health benefits but is merely another way for men to be empowering over women.

I believe that if apply something to one culture, it should be applied to another culture. With that statement, I should be free to categorize myself as a hard universalist. I do believe that at the end of the day there a set of morals that everyone on Earth should follow. The question that is posed to this is who shall be the one to find or set these rules?

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Problems with Ethnic and Cultural Relativism. (2021, Dec 30). Retrieved June 26, 2022 , from
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