Cultural Standards Are All That We Have
Our world is a melting pot of different cultures, each one unique in its own respect. Who we are, and what we generally believe to be true or right is a product of what our society values. Because our way of living is what we were raised to believe as “right”, it is often hard to except the fact that others live differently. In reality, different cultures have different moral codes. The belief in the objectivity and universality of moral truth is an unachievable ideal standard, and holds no practical value.
It is irrefutable that some values vary from culture to culture. As one travels the world, they will inevitably see diverging moral standards in many areas, such as wearing clothes, funerary practices, and abortion. For example, in Mainland China abortion is recognized as an important tool to help curb population growth. In the Republic of Ireland, on the other hand, abortions are not readily available, even when the life of the mother is at risk. (Internet ) Obviously, ethics vary in different societies, and it would be naïve not to acknowledge this. Beliefs of different societies cannot be said to be “correct” or “incorrect”, because those judgments would imply that there is a universal standard of right and wrong. But a universal standard of right and wrong is not only difficult to articulate from an objective standpoint, it is theoretically bankrupt. Any individual who attempts to formulate an objective set of values will always fail, because the prism through which they analyze the world will inevitably be marred by their own experiences and perspectives. Therefore, moral standards are actually cultural standards, and nothing more.
Cultural Relativism posits that there are no universal ethical truths, only various cultural codes. Cultural relativism is a theory about the nature of morality. (489) One proposition of this theory states that, “it is mere arrogance for us to try to judge the conduct of other peoples. We should adopt an attitude of tolerance toward the practices of other cultures.” (489) This is an important concept because it has a great deal of practical value. The social and political spheres in which we interact everyday are replete with prejudices that can only be challenged and defeated by open minds. Our cultures have trained us to think a certain way, and we must remember to be fair in judging when our beliefs are challenged. On the surface, the social customs of cultures different than ours may seem inherently immoral. However, in most cases these customs can be justified by an examination of their historical context and cultural significance. For example, the Callatians, a tribe of Indians, customarily eat the bodies of their dead fathers. (488) According to our cultural standards, this act would be fundamentally immoral. Because we were raised to believe that burying the dead, or cremating them is the only right thing to do, we would view this act on behalf of the...