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Cultural Relativism. Moral Objectivism Subjective Relativism Cultural Relativism Emotivism. What is morality about?. Importance!. Good / Bad (value). Right / Wrong (conduct). Obligatory / Forbidden (conduct). Virtue. Punishment. Duty. Honor. Vice. Reward. Fairness. Praise.

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cultural relativism

Cultural Relativism

Moral Objectivism

Subjective Relativism

Cultural Relativism

Emotivism

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

4 theories from chapter 2
4 Theories from Chapter 2

Read about these 4 theories in your handout from Doing Ethics, Chapter 2.

You should be able to answer questions regarding:

  • Objectivism = some moral norms are valid for everyone
  • Cultural Relativism = an action is morally right if one’s culture approves of it
  • Subjective Relativism = an act is morally right if one approves of it
  • Emotivism = moral utterances are neither true nor false, but are only expressions of emotions or attitudes

In this PowerPoint we will focus on just one, Cultural Relativism

what is cultural relativism
What is Cultural Relativism?

What is Cultural Relativism (CR)?:

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.

CR 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 is right or wrong in their moral views … moral views are “cultural.”

what is cultural relativism1
What is Cultural Relativism?

Were those anthropologists correct?

Does disagreement about right and wrong imply Cultural Relativism?

What, in general, does disagreement imply?

what disagreement implies
What Disagreement Implies

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 disagreement implies1
What Disagreement Implies

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 at least 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, both may be wrong, or perhaps just one is wrong, but 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 follows from cr
What follows from CR?

Since it appears that cultures do have genuine moral disagreements, let’s suppose that 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 follows from cr continued
What follows from CR? (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

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.

In principle, it is possible to approve of anything:

Lighting children on fire for fun.

Rape

Murder

Torture

Etc.

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)
slide15

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 3 has 3 conclusions:

Moral disagreement between cultures may be

  • explained by divergent rules that still derive from a common principle (e.g., honor your parents), or
  • due to difference of opinion about non-moral but morally relevant facts (e.g., spirits can hurt you), or
  • about the relative values of standard moral properties (e.g., honor is better than pleasure)*

*Only this 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?