Meta Ethical Cultural Relativism Essay

976 words - 4 pages

Meta-Ethical Cultural Relativism


The thesis of meta-ethical cultural relativism is the philosophical viewpoint that there are no absolute moral truths, only truths relative to the cultural context in which they exist. From this it is therefore presumed that what one society considers to be morally right, another society may consider to be morally wrong, therefore, moral right's and wrongs are only relative to a particular society. Thus cultural relativism implies that what is 'good' is what is 'socially approved' in a given culture. Two arguments in favour of cultural relativism are the 'Cultural Differences argument' and the 'Argument from the virtue of tolerance', the following essay will look at and evaluate both of these arguments.

The cultural differences argument goes like this; 'Different cultures have different moral codes, thus there is no one correct set of moral claims, only those that conform to the major set of beliefs within the given culture'.
Firstly I am going to look at James Rachel's (in 'The Elements of Moral Philosophy', Ch.2) analysis of this argument, and secondly I would lie to give my assessment of the argument.

Rachel's argues that this argument is not logical, as the conclusion does not follow from the factual premise. The premise makes an assertion about differences in moral beliefs. The conclusion makes an assertion about the nature of moral facts or truths. In general, he argues, one cannot assume anything about what is or is not true about the world, from premises about beliefs about the world. A culture may believe that the earth is flat, but believing so doesn't make it so (nor does belief that the earth is round make it so). Nor does disagreement over the shape of the earth imply that there is no definite shape. This criticism is not presuming that the premise on which the cultural differences argument is based on is false, rather that the truth of the premise cannot guarantee the truth of the conclusion.

Rachel's claim that physical facts are independent of beliefs about those facts is not justified. We never have access to the physical world apart from, or independent of, some scientific or conceptual framework. There is no "view from nowhere" which we can use to determine whether our judgements about the world are true or not. Moral facts are similar. In both cases the truth or falsity of a claim can only be evaluated against the background of some conceptual framework or another. It is in this respect I believe that Rachel's argument can be criticised.

I would like to add a personal criticism to the cultural differences argument. The argument presumes that a moral action within a given society is correct as long as the society condones the act. I believe that this presumption is faulted given that, as history has often shown us, certain societies have been forced, or manipulated into, condoning and carrying out certain acts on behalf of the...

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