The question of whether cultural relativism has any true validityresults in many different opinions and arguments among individuals. Culturalrelativism is the consideration for a culture’s customs and beliefs from thepoint of view of another culture. The idea of cultural relativism is supportedby the fact that a person should not judge another culture for its moralvalues. However, James Rachels regards this idea as inaccurate by analyzing andproviding explanations as to why the principle of morality is unbiased.
Asfollows, I will clarify Rachels’ argument by providing an example of anothercountry’s customs and traditions that we as Americans may find morally wrong.Furthermore, I will give two instances where other countries may have foundAmerican society immoral as well. Both of these instances describe thefoundation of what the cultural relativism argument is built upon. As expressed inRachels’ argument, many countries around the world practice traditions thatAmericans would think are horrific. For example, a small town in Indonesia hasa common practice where villagers dig up dead people within the community andreturn them to their original residence. In this society, digging up andreturning the dead is a symbol of reuniting the deceased with their familysettlement.
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To the typical American, the act of carrying a corpse anywherebesides a funeral would be appalling. This is because Americans are culturallyinclined to bury people who have died and leave them in the ground to rest andbe at peace. According to cultural relativism, an individual is not allowed tojudge a culture for what they believe is right. Why can’t they judge?? In other words, if a person believes in cultural relativism,they cannot say that the act of exhuming the bodies of the dead is wrong, andthey would have to support these decisions.
Based on culturalrelativism, an American citizen cannot attack the choices that their societydecides to make. For instance, almost one-hundred years ago, the United Statesexperienced The Great Depression. This was a dreadful time for the countrysince the stock market completely collapsed and the rate of unemploymentdrastically increased.
United States’ citizens recognize this as one of theworst events in American history. If a United States’ citizen believes incultural relativism, they cannot judge the downfall of the United Stateseconomy and criticize how the government handled the situation. Another exampleis the Ku Klux Klan and how they created extreme terror throughout the country.This group was based on white predominance and was founded in the 19th century. People who support the premise of cultural relativismwould neither encourage nor prevent the nefarious activities that occur withinthe Klu Klux Klan. If cultural relativism is valid, then those who accept itcannot view these two occurrences as wrong. Therefore, people who support thenotion of cultural relativism are unable to make changes that will better theAmerican society.
To summarize, theconcept of Rachels’ argument was discussed through examples of what anothercountry does that we may find morally wrong and vice versa. One of the mainpoints that Rachels tries to get across is that a person is considered ignorantif they do not understand that ethics vary between each culture. Althoughcultural relativism may appear appealing to some, it would be extremelydifficult for a culture to improve without realizing their faults. This theoryindicates that a culture is able to act immorally and wrongfully without anycriticism.
This is due to the accepting nature embedded within culturalrelativism that results in a passive environment where none have the jurisdictionto indicate what is wrong with society.