The case for cultural diversity
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The Case for Cultural Diversity. Or, The Case for and against Ethical Relativism. What is morality about?. Importance!. Good / Bad (value). Right / Wrong (conduct). Obligatory / Forbidden (conduct). Virtue. Punishment. Duty. Honor. Vice. Reward. Fairness. Praise. Justice. Blame.

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The Case for Cultural Diversity

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The case for cultural diversity

The Case for Cultural Diversity

Or, The Case for and against Ethical Relativism


What is morality about

What is morality about?

Importance!

Good / Bad (value)

Right / Wrong (conduct)

Obligatory / Forbidden (conduct)

Virtue

Punishment

Duty

Honor

Vice

Reward

Fairness

Praise

Justice

Blame

Merit

So on…

Desert

Cruelty

Forgiveness

Mercy

Kindness

Vengeance


What is the case for cultural diversity

What is "The Case" for Cultural Diversity?

On the top of page 13 the Book says

  • “cultures are diverse” is

  • “[s]upported by overwhelming evidence from anthropology and ethnography,” and that

  • “This is indisputable.”

    Since nothing more is said about diversity, but the remainder of the chapter deals with Cultural Relativism, the title of chapter one seems wrong or a typo.


What is the case for ethical cultural relativism

What is "The Case" for Ethical-Cultural Relativism?

What is Ethical-Cultural Relativism (ECR)?:

Ethical-Cultural Relativism =df Moral rules are valid only for the society in which they emerge (or are adopted?), and it is the society’s approval or disapproval that makes something right or wrong, respectively.

ECR is a theory of morality that developed as Anthropologists noted the diversity of moral practices around the world. Text books suggested (and many still do) that disagreement about morality around the world shows that no one was right or wrong in their moral views … moral views are “cultural.”


What is the case for ethical cultural relativism1

What is "The Case" for Ethical-Cultural Relativism?

Were those anthropologists correct?

Does disagreement about right and wrong imply Ethical-Cultural Relativism?

What, in general, does disagreement imply?


What is disagreement

What is Disagreement?

What is disagreement?

  • Disagreement =df two or more people assert incompatible things, at the same time and in the same respect, of one and the same object(s)

    If I say “I like chocolate” and you say, “I don’t. I like vanilla,” do we disagree?

    In one sense of ‘disagree’, yes: the sense in which we fail to have the same taste.

    But in another sense we do not disagree: I have accurately described one thing (my likes), you another thing (your likes) … (neither of us need be wrong): we have not at the same time disagreed in the same respect (my claim was in respect to my tastes, yours to your tastes)


What is disagreement1

What is Disagreement?

If I were to say, however, that

“Alaska is landlocked,”

and you were to say,

“No, it is not landlocked; it has a border on the sea,”

we would disagree in a way in which one of us must be wrong: we have said of one thing, Alaska, that it has and does not have some feature at the same time and in the same respect

So, if cultures disagree in this latter sense, one must be wrong, both cannot be right


What do cultures disagree about

What Do Cultures Disagree About?

Is killing always wrong? Some cultures think so, while others sanction killing

  • those born on Wednesday

  • those who dishonor their family

  • of wives by their husband for whatever reason he sees fit

  • those who kill others

    Suicide might be

  • condemned

  • thought to uphold honor

  • be regarded as nothing important

    Is such disagreement in moral practice genuine disagreement? It would appear so.


What if ecr is true

What if ECR is True?

Since it appears that cultures do have genuine moral disagreements, let’s suppose that Ethical-Cultural Relativism is correct. What follows?

Can the UN, say, legitimately tell a given culture they are wrong in some moral matter and must change?


What if ecr is true continued

What if ECR is True? (continued)

If we say ‘no’, the UN cannot tell other cultures what to do, we lose the UN (what point would the UN serve if it couldn’t be right about how others should behave?).

If we say ‘yes’, the UN can tell other cultures what to do, then UN authority is determined by a vote and by power … the UN becomes a bullying institution.


Criticism 1 culture society seems an arbitrary source of value

Criticism 1 - Culture / Society seems an Arbitrary Source of Value

What is special about cultures / societies?

  • Why not make the relevant social group conferring value a club?

  • Why not make it the family?

  • Why not make it a gang?

Ethical-Cultural Relativism = Moral rules are valid only for the society in which they emerge, and it is the society’s approval or disapproval that makes something right or wrong, respectively.


Criticism 2 approval is arbitrary

Criticism 2 – Approval is Arbitrary

In principle, it is possible to approve of anything:

Lighting children on fire for fun.

Rape

Murder

Torture

Etc.

Ethical-Cultural Relativism =df Moral rules are valid only for the society in which they emerge (or are adopted?), and it is the society’s approval or disapproval that makes something right or wrong, respectively.


Criticism 3 agreement abounds

Criticism 3 – Agreement Abounds

Ethical-Cultural Relativism =df Moral rules are valid only for the society in which they emerge (or are adopted?), and it is the society’s approval or disapproval that makes something right or wrong, respectively.

ECR arose as a response to the discovery of deep disagreement among cultures and no non-arbitrary way to prefer one culture’s moral rules to another’s.

Disagreement among moral rules, however, often hides underlying agreement among moral principles.

  • We Westerners have the rule: Don’t kill your parents

  • Some Eskimos and some Greenlanders have the rule: Kill your parents prior to their becoming feeble (the reason being, in the afterlife they will need their vigor and strength to live well)

While we disagree with their rule

  • Kill parents prior to their becoming feeble

    We agree with their principle

  • Honor your parents


Criticism 3 agreement abounds1

Criticism 3 –Agreement Abounds

The difference between rules can be explained by differences of opinion about non-moral but morally relevant facts.

What are non-moral but morally relevant facts?

A non-moral but morally relevant fact is a fact that can make a difference for whether something is right or wrong.

  • Allison had cereal this morning (typically a non-moral, morally irrelevant fact, unless she was eating cereal she had promised to leave for her sister, say … in which case it becomes a non-moral but morally relevant fact)

  • Allison tripped me on purpose (typically a non-moral but morally relevant fact, unless she and I are playing a game of ‘trip me, trip you’, in which case it becomes a non-moral and morally irrelevant fact)


The case for cultural diversity

Criticism 3 – Agreement Abounds

So much moral disagreement among cultures could be illusory, and actually be disagreement about non-moral but morally relevant facts. For example,

  • If we believed in an afterlife that required a strong soul when leaving this life, we might agree completely with the culture that practices parent killing

  • If we believed that enemies we’d killed in battle could haunt and kill us unless we ate their hearts, we might eat them just as some headhunters do


Criticism 3 agreement abounds2

Criticism 3 – Agreement Abounds

Disagreement could also be about the relative values of standard moral properties

  • Pleasure

  • Aesthetic appreciation

  • Personal affection

  • Self-Determination

  • Kindness

  • Generosity

  • Integrity

  • Honor

Or about whether a given property is a moral property at all

  • Causing pleasure, or pleasure ???

  • Aesthetic appreciation


Criticism 3 agreement abounds3

Criticism 3- Agreement Abounds

So Criticism 2 has two parts: moral disagreement between cultures may be due to difference of opinion about …

  • non-moral but morally relevant facts, or

  • the relative values of standard moral properties

    *Only the latter is a genuine moral disagreement


Criticism 4 ecr makes moral advance definitionally impossible

Criticism 4 - ECR Makes Moral Advance Definitionally Impossible

If only society’s norms make actions right or wrong, then trying to improve society makes no sense (look again at the definition of ECR).

  • Every violation of a current rule is wrong.

  • The end of slavery was no advance.

  • The end of the holocaust was no advance.

Ethical-Cultural Relativism = Moral rules are valid only for the society in which they emerge, and it is the society’s approval or disapproval that makes something right or wrong, respectively.


Criticism 5 on ecr moral disagreement within a culture removes all morality and immorality

Criticism 5 - On ECR, Moral Disagreement within a Culture Removes All Morality and Immorality

What constitutes right action when there is no consensus?

  • Without consensus, child murder, rape, torture of innocent people, as well as kindness, love, and friendship … all are neither good nor bad … one is as good as another

Ethical-Cultural Relativism = Moral rules are valid only for the society in which they emerge, and it is the society’s approval or disapproval that makes something right or wrong, respectively.


Criticism 6 paradoxically inconsistent cultures can be morally flawless

Criticism 6 – Paradoxically, Inconsistent Cultures can be Morally Flawless

Ethical-Cultural Relativism =df Moral rules are valid only for the society in which they emerge (or are adopted?), and it is the society’s approval or disapproval that makes something right or wrong, respectively.

On ECR, we are forced to accept inconsistent cultures: a culture might value its own advantage, even if it involves inconsistency.

Suppose we take cultural diversity to imply a need for tolerance—tolerance of a culture with slavery, for instance—and they say

“Right! Don’t be intolerant!”

Then, however, they punish a neighboring culture for, say, its practice of infanticide. The slavery culture is intolerant while expecting others to tolerate it.

Can we criticize the slavery culture at least for inconsistency? No, if ECR is true. Consistency is something we value. If they don’t value it, it has no value for them. We must simply accept them.


Criticism 7 disagreement means nothing regarding matters of fact

Criticism 7 – Disagreement Means Nothing Regarding Matters of Fact

Since disagreement implies only one view is wrong, individuals in each culture have every right to believe they’re right, unless proven to be wrong:

There may be true universal moral standards and some cultures just mistakenly disagree with them…

  • The US had slavery

  • South Africa had apartheid

  • Nazis had their ‘final solution’

    Is it surprising that cultures make moral mistakes?

Ethical-Cultural Relativism =df Moral rules are valid only for the society in which they emerge (or are adopted?), and it is the society’s approval or disapproval that makes something right or wrong, respectively.


Virtues of ecr

Virtues of ECR?

Ethical-Cultural Relativism =df Moral rules are valid only for the society in which they emerge (or are adopted?), and it is the society’s approval or disapproval that makes something right or wrong, respectively.

Brannigan ends his discussion of ECR with a list of what he calls its virtues:

  • Its claim that cultures are diverse is indisputable

  • It reminds us that our own views may be expressions of uncritically accepted traditions

  • It encourages toleration that aids in learning

    Is this final “virtue” correct? Does ECR encourage toleration, or does it embolden cultures to stick to their way of life when others tell them they are wrong? If the world told the Nazis they were morally right (by definition!), so long as they all approve of themselves and their actions, would that have made them more tolerant of Jews?


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