Truth Is Culturally Relative Essay

1910 words - 8 pages

The quality of being true is related to something clear, without any uncertainty. This is perfectly summarized by the Greek word for truth is ἀλήθεια (alétheia), from the privative prefix ἀ- (a-), meaning 'not', and -λήθε (-lethe), 'oblivion', which, as Martin Heidegger (2001) explained by analysing its etymology, refers to "the state of not being hidden". Truth is a cross issue, that embraces everything related to humans, from the most ordinary aspect of daily life, to the most deep religious thought. The need to find what is true is part of the human nature, but as the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1965) stated, that same nature, which gave us the need of knowledge, at the same time ...view middle of the document...

Therefore, there are different opinions for different men, whose value, according to the Greek philosopher, can be measured by their benefit to the society (Schiappa, 2003). After the sophists, Absolutism prevailed until the arrival of Empiricism, a theory developed by the English philosopher John Locke, and then supported by David Hume and Gianbattista Vico. Empiricism re-evaluate the role of sensory experience, derived from sensitive apprehension of objects other than ourselves, as the only determinant of real knowledge (Quine, 1951). About this Vico stated, verum et factum convertuntum, meaning that, as it is explained by Hayward (1990), what is true and what is made are convertible, or more precisely that "the rule and the criterion of truth is to have made it." (Vico, cited in Hayward 1990: 163). A new contribution to Relativism came from Heidegger, who wrote Being and Time, in which he recognized as impossible the attempt to associate objective features to the concept of Being, in fact, the German philosopher assumed that "the appearance of a thing and the thing itself are interconnected, and moreover, are one and the same." (Koskela, 2012: 117). Moving from this philosophical tradition, in the early 20th century, in a social context that took for granted the European or Western superiority on primitive cultures, Franz Boas introduced the principle Cultural Relativism, applying the anthropological analysis to the philosophical concept, and opening the doors to modern Relativism. Boas held that culture is the major force that shapes the way man thinks, and that all humans see the world through the lens of their own culture, and judge it according to their own culturally acquired norms (Zenchenter, 1997). Therefore, cultural relativists interpret culture as a veil that cover truth and makes impossible to man to know its real essence, in fact, as Ruth Benedict (1934: 2) said, "no man ever look at the world with pristine eyes. He sees it edited by a definite set of customs and institutions and ways of thinking."
W. H. R. Rivers brought Relativism on field, by leading some of the earliest fieldwork in anthropology on cross-cultural perception (Strodtbeck, 1964). With his researches, which focused on the possibility that members of different cultures might present differences in perceptual acuity, he opened the doors to many other social scientists, who argued that the way man perceives the world is influenced by language, and that a change in the vocabulary used leads to a change in the perception of things (Strodtbeck, 1964). We may believe that there are some absolute truths, such as what we feel through our senses, or that an object is what it is, and cannot be perceived differently from other people. Although, the results of an increasing number of fieldworks, are proving that the interactions between culture, language and thought are far more complex (Strodtbeck, 1964). As Maturana (1987: 245) said, "certainty is not a proof of...

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