I have chosen to write about why cultural universals pose a problem for moral relativism in this paper. I will begin by defining cultural universals (CU). Then, I will cite examples of such theory and continue by applying them to situations In which these slmllarltles can be seen. Next, I will discuss how we can convince ourselves that a given standard of behavior Is In fact a cultural universal. I will then define moral relatlvlsm as well as provide examples of cultural differences that are often cited in regards of moral relativism.
Lastly, I will explain how the existence of cultural niversals undermines moral relativism.
James Rachels believes that there are some moral rules that are common throughout differing cultures that is necessary in order to make society function properly (Rachels, 23). We should view social customs then in terms of whether or not those moral rules cultural practices benefit or hurt the people that are being affected by It (Rachels, 26). In his paper, “A Defense of Ethical Objectivism,” Louis PoJman provides us with his diversity thesis (PoJman, 39).
The diversity thesis simply acknowledges the fact that different societies have dfferent moral codes (PoJman, 9).
For example, In some cultures cows are thought to be sacred and not to be touched (Rachels, 21) where In many other cultures this practice would seem strange and they would continue to kill cows for their meat. However, if someone were to examine these two cultures they would find that it is their beliefs that differ and not their values; the cultures in which place high importance on cows may believe that after death their loved ones return inhabiting a cows body which reflects other cultures honoring their dead (Rachels, 21).
All cultures have respect for some form of eity; Jewish men wear a yarmulke as a way to show their reverence to God when worshiping whereas Christian men remove everything from the head before they go into places of worship (Pojman, 40). We can conclude then that a standard of behavior Is In fact a cultural universal. This concept Is supported by the Ideas that all cultures place Importance on a certain set of morals although their practices for observing these morals depend on the culture in which they are raised.
All cultures value trustworthiness and honesty; if lying were to made into a socially acceptable habit then no one would be able to listen to others. Everything that was said to them could in fact be lies which would then cause them to isolate themselves from society ultimately causing dissolution of the culture they are living within (Rachels, 23). John Ladd believes that there are no moral norms within a society, these ‘norms’ vary throughout communities and therefore no one set of rules can be applied to all society at any time (PoJman, 38).
For example, the Callatlans ate the bodies of their dead while Greeks practiced cremation methods. William Graham Sumner believes that morals are Innate to Individuals Just as learning to speak, walk and take our first breathes (Rachels, 24). Therefore, there is no objective way to view right and wrong (PoJman, 39). Sumner states that if cultural relativism is true than there must be certain facts that must be widely acknowledged. No longer would we be able to Judge other societies’ customs to be morally inferior to our own (Rachels, 19).
We could no longer criticize others for their moral beliefs; freedom of speech is guaranteed to all American born citizens however those people who are living in China are under total dictatorship and can’t freely express themselves. Society as a whole could not condemn these practices while practicing moral relativism as it goes against one of he main points stressed within the theory itself. If cultural relativism were employed it would prevent us from Judging and questioning our own countrys policies as well as preventing us to pass Judgment upon other cultures (Rachels, 19).
In order to determine whether a particular action is right or wrong an individual needs only to review the standards of the society in question. Rachels cites an example of an Indian resident questioning the morality of her countrys caste system, a policy of hierarchal order (20). The woman must think in terms of her society’s culture in order to figure out whether or not something is moral or not. Cultural universals pose a problem for moral relativism for many reasons.
Moral relativism teaches us that there is no absolute way of Judging the morality of a particular situation. The fact that different cultures exist throughout the world reiterates the idea that those people who live within these smaller communities are influenced by the opinions of the larger group on what is moral versus immoral. Cultural universals tell us that stealing and killing is morally wrong wherever it should occur; however, each society has their own culture and based on their past history they have different opinions on each of these practices.
For example, the Eskimos practiced infanticide, a practice which allowed them to kill the infants who were too sickly to survive in the harsh climates. Rachels introduces us to Knud Rasmussen, an explorer. Rasmussen stated that he had met a woman who killed half of the children she bore; in todays American society we would find this action atrocious and despicable. However, at the time the Eskimo’s were practicing this method they believed that they were doing the babies a favor almost and that they were morally correct.
Food was scarce and the weather posed many difficulties for hese families to survive; therefore in order for the majority to survive they would only be able to keep the stronger infants as a way to ensure their long-term survival as a means to help the general society in the future. Cultural universals’ goes against moral relativism. Cultural universals could not exist as long as moral relativism is in existence. The morality of a situation depends upon where an individual is raised; the possibility of all cultures agreeing on the morality of a subject is slim to none.