More on Cultural Relativism

Someone asked an excellent question about the difference between cultural relativism and moral relativism. What I referred to as “moral relativism” seems to also be more widely called “ethical relativism.” (Some people still call it moral relativism as well, there’s no agreement even on our terms!) Here is a short statement on ethical relativism that I found on the web.

Note that the authors assert that most ethicists reject ethical relativism (as we talked about in class, my suggestion that moral relativism should be rejected at the individual level while maintaining cultural relativism). They go on to further distinguish between moral beliefs that could be defined as culturally-relative, and others that are not.

But before throwing out ethical relativism, the authors also add:

Ethical relativism reminds us that different societies have different moral beliefs and that our beliefs are deeply influenced by culture. It also encourages us to explore the reasons underlying beliefs that differ from our own, while challenging us to examine our reasons for the beliefs and values we hold.

Again, no easy answers, but the power and reach of culture can undoubtedly be seen in this issue. Later in the term (in the methodology section), we will come back to this issue through a specific case study.