What is Cultural Relativism ?

First I should say, as always, that I use blogs to write about things I know nothing about. So let me try to understand what cultural relativism might be.

Basically it begijns with the idea that should not judge other cultures. I think the origen might be with Herder who I try to translate “There must be no comparison. Each nation contains within itself it own happiness” or something like that. Substitute culture for nation and try to understand what he might have meant.

1. According to cultural relativists disrupting a culture is the worst crime.

That is CR might be an absolute ethical doctrine in which the objective moral truth is that no choice within a culture is as bad as an outsider attempting to fight a culture.

This is coherant but it is not relativist and I doubt that anyone believes it.

2. Each of us belongs to a culture somehow and our duty is to act according to it’s mores.

This has the fault of 1 which is that it might be the sum total of objective moral truth but that is not relativism and why would anyone think such a thing. Finally my culture tells me to be open minded and think for myself exploring what I might gain from other traditions. That means I can’t be at type 2 CR without logical contradiction. Finally how are people assigned to cultures.

3. We should choose a culture to obey and obey it.

All the faults of 2 but the last plus how to choose.

4. We can’t prove that one cultures moral principals are better than anothers. Therefore they are all equally valid. This applies equally to all views of right and wrong not just those of a “culture”. It also applies to purely hypothetical moral beliefs that no one has ever held. It is, I think, a confusion of knowledge and truth. From the obvious fact that we can not prove something right or wrong, it is concluded that there is no fact of the matter no moral truth. This obviously doesn’t follow. There is an excluded middle “everything that is true can be proven”. This is definitely false as has been proven (Godel’s theorem). Who ever thought such a silly thing.

Sad to say this is the well known distinction between ontological objectivity and epistimelogica objectiviity.

5. In fact the cause of our beliefs about right and wrong is our upbringing in a culture not God speaking to us or our deducing the catagorical imperative using neutral logic or anything like that.

I certainly agree with this. However, my belief in certain moral principals survives the conviction that I believe them not because they are true and their truth was made manifest to me somehow but because my mother and father thought they were true and they well etc back a million years. So ?

It seems to me that cultural relativism is either a moral imperative like any other except that no one would accept it as the be all of right and wrong or it is a confusion of the concepts “proven” and “true”

42 thoughts on “What is Cultural Relativism ?

  1. This is a marvelous post. As though you would make John Rawls multi-cutural. Much to think apart and most impressive and no grumbles :)

  2. Several readings, and I like this even more and will write on several ideas you have given me. Boldly written. Terrific, Robert.

  3. Thank you for this important response to thinking about anthropology, Robert. No doubt nationalism is also prime example of cultural relativism. Interesting ideas!

  4. “Truth on one side of the Pyrenees, error on the other”. — Pascal

    I find this topic exasperating. One both sides it always seems to be argued philosophically, in a cultural and historical vacuum. As often with ahistorical arguments, the argument tends either to go around in circles forever, or else stop short in some sort of dogmatism.

    As far as I know the phrase came from anthropology, and was a quick answer to people who asked “Why should we bother studying these peoples who are poor, dirty, promiscuous, lazy, illiterate, and murderous.” Shouldn’t we either educate and convert them, or else just kill or imprison them?

    At stage two anthropologists tended to advocate for their peoples, finding in them virtues which were not immediately evident to others. Relativism also became a methodological principle enforced during the training of grad students.

    Behind that, at the end of the religious wars (Peace of Westphalia, etc.) everyone came to agree that there should be no more attempts to extend Catholicism or Protestantism internationally by force. Princes were still allowed to enforce othodoxy internally, but starting with Holland many nations also established internal tolerance. With the establishment of the UN, this principle was extended to the whole world. (This point is important, because none of the many great empires of history accepted it in any way).

    Then liberalism and secularization extended the role of tolerance internally in Western nations. Internationalism, federalism, limited government, private property, and individual rights all involve formal recognition and enforcement of a considerable degree of relativism. The power of moralists to use of the state to enforce their moral principles is severely limited by these principles, and in fact the moral/legal distinction is in many respects a product of secularization.

    The internationalist respect for borders has always been only partial, and likewise secular respect for individual freedom. In fact, as you said absolute philosophical relativism is impossible. But non-interference will still often justified on relativist grounds.

    So relativism per se is a weak working principle that doesn’t always work. There’s a bit of truth in it, in that moral judgement has little meaning without an enforcement mechanism, so that when Genghis Khan appears on the horizon, completely assured of his rightness as he was — he was a universalist, not a relativist, and believed he had been called by God — knowing that he was wrong, or proving it, meant little unless he could be defeated. Because in history, triumphant evil often has aged to good.

    Most contemporary relativists seem to be anarchist pacifists who believe in no imposed order at all. Some seem to be aesthetes who are only interested in the entertainment value of the culture (art, music, costumes, cuisine, jewelry, festivals, myth, etc. etc.) without any interest in how the culture actually treats its members.

    I think that the relativist tendency toward tolerance and non-violence is in general a good thing even though relativism can’t be philosophically argued. Some of the anti-relativist principles I see being argued seem to justify or require going to war anytime injustice is perceived anywhere, which is particularly bothersome when the amoral opportunism of the Bush Administration’s actual policies is factored in.

  5. Long, too.

    I have never, ever succeeded in getting a philosopher-type even to acknowledge my point. It ruins their dog-and-pony-show, I think, as does Waldmann’s post here.

    This is one of my many pet ideas.

  6. Thanks John for the very interesting comment.
    I think you point out, as I tried to point out, the irony that relativism proclaims universal values like “Internationalism, federalism, limited government, private property, and individual rights”
    which “all involve formal recognition and enforcement of a considerable degree of relativism.”

    I personally am a moral absolutist. For example, I believe that tolerance is objectively better than intollerance and strongly believe in limited government and individual rights (note the omissions).

    The ultra irony is that, at the moment, debates at say the UN concern Western ideological hegemony which turns out to be proclaiming the universal priciples of Democracy, legal equality “limited government, private property, and individual rights” ”

    I am thinking of the debate about women in 1993 (bit out of date) in which the US led position was denounced as excessively universalists by Moslem nations and the Pope.

  7. That is one of the odder moments in history came when Pope John Paul II denounced un-named people (aka the Clinton Administration) for trying to impose their values on the world.

    He was speaking as the supreme Pontif of the One True Catholic and Opportunistically Culturally Relativist Church.

  8. Well I’m afraid I’m impressed neither by Robert’s article nor by John Emerson’s comments. The reason why ‘philosopher types’ don’t acknowledge whatever ‘point’ you think you are making might well be a politeness or a matter of personal manners. They might well be fully capable of responding to you but whether you have the ears for their argument is another matter.
    At least Robert admits to using the blog to post on things he ‘knows nothing about’. (a la Plato’s Apology of Socrates)…

    I do think Robert makes a worthwhile point at 4. about distinguishing ontological and epistomological objectivity, though I would frame the point as follows..

    We might distinguish questions of fact (e.g. “which way will John vote at the next election?”) from questions of value (e.g. “is Blair’s outlook better than Brown’s?) by noting that the answers to factual questions may be true or false, but that the answers to value questions must always depend on and presuppose a point of view or value. Answers to factual questions do not presuppose a point of view or value – they presuppose the categories of true and false and must be framed in those terms (either we are correct in predicting that John will vote for X or, if he votes for Y we will have been shown to be incorrect).

    The importance of this [logical] distinction between fact and value is that we can admit a sort of ‘relativism’ for values but are commited to a ‘universalism’ for facts. Knowledge pertains to facts and factual questions (including factual questions about values e.g. “how does John prioritise x, y & z?) but it doesn’t apply directly to values as such – as has been noted, there is an inherent absurdity about any notion of The Moral Truth which is supposed to be independent of any value presuppositions. I would be very surprised (and disturbed) to find a philosopher who would openly deny this categorical distinction between fact and value.

    However, values are not entirely divorced from the world of facts since it is our values that help us to make sense of the world and our place in it, and since the world is factual, our belief in whatever values we have, assuming it is a sincere belief, must necessarily ‘aim’ at the truth – even if that is a relativistic ‘truth as far as we are concerned’. One cannot choose to believe in something one already knows to be false – that’s just not a coherent idea – and so what one ‘believes in’ must also be what one ‘believes to be true’, or what best makes sense of the world and one’s place in it. Yet, our categorical distinction between facts and values means that, though our beliefs in certain values may of necessity be ‘aimed’ toward truth, they cannot logically admit of true knowledge as such – since ‘true knowledge’ belongs to the world of facts. People will believe in values that happen to make the most sense to them in their circumstance (assuming they are sincere) and so we can admit that the ‘truth’ of such beliefs is relativistic rather than universal – facts on the other hand do not depend on ‘whatever makes sense to the person/culture’ – facts are facts and that’s it.

    As far as politics goes, the kind of relativism that the fact-value distinction allows has absolutely no ethical implications at all. Whether one agreed or disagreed with the invasion of Iraq or any other ‘imposition’ of one culture on another has nothing to do with the nature of values and cultures and ethical ‘knowledge’ and everything to do with one’s own private opinion and feeling on the matter.

    I would finally take issue with John Emerson’s little diatribe against ‘anti-relativist principles’. Since our values (or if you prefer our ‘outlooks’) necessarily aim at the truth in order to best make sense of the world, we are all (at least those of us who are sincere) ‘anti-relativist’ in the sense that we will not allow others to do unto us things we believe to be wrong. Yet acting on our values (e.g. I ‘value’ my family and will not knowingly allow you to violate them) may at times be constrained by practical considerations. The French for example may have believed the US-UK invasion of Iraq was ethically wrong (not my use of the term ‘believed’ rather than ‘knew’) but they lacked the capacity to act on that belief and use force to prevent the invasion.

    I hope I haven’t sounded too patronising to put people off reading my comment!

  9. Most contemporary relativists seem to be anarchist pacifists who believe in no imposed order at all. Some seem to be aesthetes who are only interested in the entertainment value of the culture (art, music, costumes, cuisine, jewelry, festivals, myth, etc. etc.) without any interest in how the culture actually treats its members.

    Is my slave a member of my culture?
    But if you want to rate cultures by how they treat their members, how do you measure that? Is universal health care better than unspoiled nature?
    It seems to me the way to measure cultures would be by their potential achievements in a scientific or material meaning.

  10. Allan Bloom does a pretty good run down on cultural relativism in “The Closing of the American Mind.” The short of it being: cultural relativism holds that all cultures are equally virtuous, but such a claim goes against all those cultures that think they are the best. so like it or not, by being a cultural relativist you are being anti- some cultures. His litmus test is: “If you were a soldier in the British empire in India, and the natives were going to burn alive a widow whose husband just died (which was the culture back then) would you try to stop them?” The better way to go is not to claim that cultures are equally virtuous, but to claim that there may be other cultures that have better ideas about human life than you do. This idea is the foundation of Western thought all the way back to the Greeks. If Hindus treat animals with more respect, then we all should become more Hindu; if the Americans have the best constitution, then our constitution should be more American; if Jews are more critical toward established protocol, then we should be more Jewish; if Muslims give more aid to the poor, then we should become more Islamic. etc etc. The idea being that we should be attached to a “culture of the right” and not to various unscrutinized and predetermined protocol.

  11. The idea being that we should be attached to a “culture of the right” and not to various unscrutinized and predetermined protocol.

    How do you know right from wrong?

  12. “How do you know right from wrong?”

    That’s the whole point, you don’t. the seed of self-criticism that’s embedded from the thought that “there may be other cultures that have better ideas about human life than you do” opens you up to persuasion, and reasoning up from the most primitive moral blocks that garner any kind of consensus.

  13. “How do you know right from wrong?”

    That’s the whole point, you don’t. the seed of self-criticism that’s embedded from the thought that “there may be other cultures that have better ideas about human life than you do” opens you up to persuasion, and reasoning up from the most primitive moral blocks that garner any kind of consensus.

  14. Hi, David. Hi, Mike. Mike, please be impolite. I am.

    If relativism has been legally institutionalized and is being legally enforced, where does an absolutist go from there? How does an absolutist deal with the fact that absolutism, if general, has been found to lead to enormous and terrible wars, whereas relativism (Dutch “anythingism”) seems to lead to civilized societies?

    Shouldn’t it be relevant that the list of anti-relativist peoples and individuals, such as Genghis Khan, who went so far as to actually act upon their universalism and maximize its scope, includes a large number of doubtful actors? Even scratching Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan off the list, the Spanish Habsburgs, Gustavus Adolphus, Oliver Cromwell, and Cotton Mather all seem like bad examples to most today. Perhaps a little dose of relativism would have improved them.

    It really goes beyond the impracticality of purist moral action. It’s the fact that legally we are often obliged to tolerate actions which we think are wrong, and as a rule do so, not because of the practicalities, but because we honor the obligation.

    Even the Abolitionist determination to end slavery, one which most today would support, was so terrible in its ultimate costs that Oliver Wendell Homes and many others ended up essentially renouncing ethical action at the political level. (Source: Menand).

    In a secular society ethics, where not recognized by law, tends to be relegated to the “purely personal” level, which is the way relativists talk about a lot of ethics. You can choose your behavior according to ethics (up to a point), nd choose your friends according to ethics, but your right to act upon your ethical principles is very constrained. Ethics per se (as opposed to prudence and law) tends to become the fifth wheel not attached to the other working parts.

    And the more so, academic discussions of ethics. I have overheard many discussions of various questions informed by academic ethics, and I have never seen any fruit. As a rule the discussions quickly were diverted to metaethical deadends, and the consequentialists and deonticists got into it one more time.

    I guess I should say that what I’ve said is not of, but about, the ethical discourse I see happening.

  15. As I’ve commented recently on another site, it’s strange how people abstract from experience in order to redefine it and then try to impose their simplifications on sloppy experience.
    Those who imposed modernity on subject cultures have done so for self serving reasons and therefore with deeply unbalanced results. The mdern state of iraq is one example, Rwanda another. Iran under the Shah? india and Pakistan? To ignore psychological and historical context is to turn the discussion into a parlour game.
    My comment on nationalism was similarly to question what is meant by relativism. If it is considered liberal or left wing, what has been the primary signpost of its opposite? That the life of a man, woman, or child in India should be worth less to me than that of a man, woman, or child in the US? That’s not the subject of this discussion but it’s a fact.

    And facts describe values more than words do.

    The war and the election in Iraq may end well for the Iraqi people, but not because the White House has any interest in their well being, either in terms of your difinitions of relativism or universalism. If that were the case, there would have not been 30 years of support for the regime of Saddam Hussein, or for the Shah, or for Saudi Arabia.

    No one is a moral absoultist. You would expend more of your energy to help save your own mother than you would mine. ‘Proximity’ affects all social relations.

    I am not a strong relativist except in the sense that I am a practical one: I take it as a truism that power corrupts (as it has.)
    Other than that the only ideal I value is curiosity. How do I maximize my own curiosity? I do so, among other ways, by maximizing the curiosity of others. But can curiosity be imposed? No.

  16. Mike you have made a logical jump from
    truth to “true knowledge”.

    “by noting that the answers to factual questions may be true or false, but that the answers to value questions must …” where I elide the words with … but they must be meant to be something other than “true or false” then you write “our beliefs in certain values may of necessity be ‘aimed’ toward truth, they cannot logically admit of true knowledge as such”

    Somehow “true and false” has turned into “true knowledge”. You assume and do not in anyway defend the claim that the sets of claims which are true or false is the same as the set of claims which we can know to be true or know to be false.

    By doing so you assert (without argument) that a word (known) can safely be substituted for another (true). We agree that claims that something is right can not be known. You conclude that they cannot “be true or false”. Similarly you feel you can use “cannot logically admit of true knowledge
    ” in your argument after contrasting moral claims with claims that “may be true or false”.

    The identification of claims which may be true and claims which may be “true knowledge” requires a complete rejection of the distinction between ontological and epistemlogical objectivity. Yet in the very same comment you write “I do think Robert makes a worthwhile point at 4. about distinguishing ontological and epistomological objectivity, “.

    To be patronising is fine. To be patronising and logically inconsistent is not so ideal.

    I will include an effort to say something constructive about

    p.s.

    I would argue further that there must be something wrong with an argument which requires the phrase “true knowledge” since the word “true” is clearly redundant. The English word knowledge implies truth. We can not know something which is not true (this is not true of the Italian word “sapere” which is most nearly translated as “to know”). The word “true” in “true knowledge” is not distinguishing that kind of knowledge from “false knowledge”. I think it is there to poetically recall the word true in “may be true or false, but that the answers to value questions must”. I suppose it might be there to indicate that you are speaking about knowledge proper, that is, knowledge strictly speaking.

  17. That’s the whole point, you don’t. the seed of self-criticism that’s embedded from the thought that “there may be other cultures that have better ideas about human life than you do” opens you up to persuasion, and reasoning up from the most primitive moral blocks that garner any kind of consensus.

    You are describing a cultural feature, namely love of innovation and adaption. But where’s cultural relativism? If what you take is determined by your own culture, you are not seeing values as relative.

  18. “You are describing a cultural feature, namely love of innovation and adaption.”

    Not really. In what I’m describing, you change your outlook only by persuasion when you’re convinced it’s more right, not because of some desire to come up with something “new” as a love of innovation would imply. Being morally “innovative” and “adaptive” would put you on a slippery slope, and it’s not what I’m describing at all.

    “If what you take is determined by your own culture, you are not seeing values as relative.”

    I’m not sure I follow, when did I say what you take is determined by your own culture? What I’m talking about is the search for higher moral ground, and in order to reach such a ground one may need to study other cultures in order to see if they have any better intuitions about what is right. This is relativist in the sense that you do not distinguish between cultures in your search.

  19. “One cannot choose to believe in something one already knows to be false – that’s just not a coherent idea -”

    Mike, I don’t suppose you get out of the house much, but for that reason alone, you should try reading a novel or two. You might learn something; people make these sorts of choices all the time. I’m assuming that you are trying to ‘best make sense of the world’ but perhaps that’s not the case.

    Art duplicates and documents the way decisions are made in the world. Philosophy seems content to describe the reasons people give for their actions. Again: actions define values. And people lie to themselves and others. As for the distinction between ontological and epistemelogical objectivity: if you want to stick to parlour games there can be none. And both are a fantasy.

  20. I’m not sure I follow, when did I say what you take is determined by your own culture?

    You take what is better. What is better you must judge. Which criteria but your culture’s could you use? The selction is important, not the source.

  21. Yeah and maybe you need something else too se. When I read a novel I know that it is a novel, a work of fiction. I do not believe that it is actually a true historical account BECAUSE I know it is a work of fiction. I may find novels and films ‘believable’ or ‘realistic’ but that is a whole order of difference away from believing it to be literally real or true.

  22. “Which criteria but your culture’s could you use?”

    You seem to think the individual can be explained in toto by his culture, I find that to be an odd assertion to make. I think it is always an individual who suggests a new moral order, not a whole group of people who suddenly have a stroke of lightening at the same time.

  23. Mike, you miss the point. Novels are descriptive in that they are manifestations of the categories we choose to live by, rather than arguments for categories we would like to pretend we live by.

    Stories are merely the invention of their author and as such are not true. But the language is the product of a community and a time, and the author’s use of that language is both a document and a fact.

    The stories may not be true but that language is.

    That’s probably to complex for you I know. Philosophers are literalists these days. And they read children’s book for fun.

  24. You seem to think the individual can be explained in toto by his culture, I find that to be an odd assertion to make. I think it is always an individual who suggests a new moral order, not a whole group of people who suddenly have a stroke of lightening at the same time.

    Individuals make suggestion all the time. But that doesn’t in itself change a culture.
    To change a culture is the acceptance of new ideas by a group. Culture is by definition a group phenomenon.

  25. ” I think it is always an individual who suggests a new moral order”
    No
    It is an individual who first becomes aware of the new moral order impliciit in his environment, who first recognizes that change is occuring.

    You can’t steer a wave dude.

  26. Seth: Yes I think I did miss your point actually – but perhaps that is because you didn’t bother or didn’t possess the capability to express it clearly.

    Novels (and other art forms) may be successful to the extent that their authors create ‘true’ descriptions which may bring about ‘true’ responses in their audience. One novel may contain characters who are described in such detail (or in certain cases, lack of detail) that the audience can better imagine them than the characters described in some other novel. It is in this sense (efficacy of imagination) that we can speak of truth in the context of our response to art. So although a person knows a novel to be false in terms of corresponding to reality, she may also judge it to be true in terms of the emotional responses she had to the events and characters portrayed. That is to say she could effectively imagine such characters and events and because of this, she could truly become emotionally involved with the novel.

    I wonder whether there is a wider point to be made here.
    Does this make sense in terms of the fact/value distinction? That we think about truth with regard to facts in terms of how well a statement corresponds (or not) with reality, but that we think about truth with regard to values in terms of how well a statement corresponds (or not) to the aims and prospects we have imagined for ourselves?

  27. I’m sorry, but you still read like a technocrat.
    Words are facts, with relationships that change over time. Language describes the present, the tastes and biases of the present regardless of the subject discussed. Words- as facts- describe, demonstrate or manifest values, but not necessarily the values the author intend.

    As I wrote elsewhere:
    “The words in a piece of writing may describe a blue sky and happiness, and the author may even imagine that that is what the piece is about. But the sentence structure, the phrasing, the music of the sounds of the letters strung together as you speak them may spell out dispair. Do you think Milton wanted the Devil to get all the good lines? ”

    This discussion has been about the values contained in people’s ideas, and it has not amounted to much, since ideas as ideas or mental constructs are not supposed to contradict. But in people’s lives they both contradict and coexist. I am interested in people’s ways of dealing with the world, so I am interested both in what they say they mean when they speak- their ideas- and the meaning of their words. These are two different things.

  28. Individuals make suggestions all the time. But that doesn’t in itself change a culture.
    To change a culture is the acceptance of new ideas by a group. Culture is by definition a group phenomenon.

    yes, and? You asked me, “Which criteria would you use but your own culture’s?” I aimed to show that I, as an individual, could have a criteria that differs from the criteria my culture. If that wasn’t possible, we couldn’t have gotten anywhere.

    It is an individual who first becomes aware of the new moral order impliciit in his environment, who first recognizes that change is occuring.

    er, what? So when somebody suggests a new moral order, he is just becoming aware of something that is implicit in his environment? So if in a culture everyone eats meat and no one has heard otherwise, and somebody comes along and says, “hey, I think eating meat is wrong,” he’s just picking up some trend? How is suggesting a new moral order in this case different from with any other idea?

  29. yes, and? You asked me, “Which criteria would you use but your own culture’s?” I aimed to show that I, as an individual, could have a criteria that differs from the criteria my culture. If that wasn’t possible, we couldn’t have gotten anywhere.

    Your own criteria determine your personal behavior. A single person’s behavior is inconsequential to a whole culture. Cultures change by interaction among people. These people as a group will show their culture.

  30. in Defence of Moral Absolutism

    There are many kinds of moral absolutism. No one would defend all of them. I will defend one absolutist claim. I belive that, other things equal, tolerance is better than intolerance. The examples of evil intolerance listed by John Emerson lead to to suspect that he agrees with me. In fact the claim I made is so weak (wother things equal and all) that it seems tautalogical. However it is an absolute claim, a claim about what is right and what is wrong.

    In contrast the following true claims are consistent with relativism “I prefer tolerance to intolerance”, “I like tolerance”, “My parents and school teachers all tried to teach me to be tolerant”, “My culture praises, celebrates and attempts to promote tolerance.” All true but all different from “other things equal, tolerance is better than intolerance” which is a claim about right and wrong not about Robert Waldmann.

    Consider Voltaire who wrote something translated as “I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. I consider this a declaration of, among other things, moral absolutism. Voltaire declared his willingness to fight sincere opponnents of free speach.

    By the way, Roberto Frimigoni (see below) demonstrated his absolute unprincipled cynical ambition by quoting Voltaire when campaigning for the presidence of Lombardy.

  31. Your own criteria determine your personal behavior. A single person’s behavior is inconsequential to a whole culture. Cultures change by interaction among people. These people as a group will show their culture.

    Again, I don’t see what you’re getting at. The question was about being a cultural relativist and you asking me how I know right from wrong. So I don’t know why you respond by giving me a definition of culture.

    I belive that, other things equal, tolerance is better than intolerance.

    I always find this a problematic statement, and Voltaire’s quote doesn’t address its problem. When the statement concerns speech everything’s okay (ie being tolerant of intolerant speech). However, being tolerant of intolerant action is a whole another deal. And there are many times where I’d prefer to be intolerant of intolerant action. So I don’t think it’s much use when one tries to elaborate his position based on tolerance.

  32. Again, I don’t see what you’re getting at. The question was about being a cultural relativist and you asking me how I know right from wrong. So I don’t know why you respond by giving me a definition of culture.

    Because true cultural relativism in that context would require you(pl.) not to take from other cultures what you consider good about them, but what they themselves consider good about their culture.

  33. Because true cultural relativism in that context would require you(pl.) not to take from other cultures what you consider good about them, but what they themselves consider good about their culture

    thats funny, by that account a true culture relativist living in the western world or anywhere else would have to take from other cultures things like having four wives, female circumcision and what not. are you serious? I don’t know anyone else who would claim that this is “true cultural relativism.”

  34. I am serious, with one restriction. Cultural relativism doesn’t require you to take anything from another culture. But if you take, you have to judge what you take by the standards of whom you take from.

    Incidentally I consider cultural relativism very rare and most who claim it to have a hidden agenda.

  35. Incidentally I consider cultural relativism very rare and most who claim it to have a hidden agenda.

    Well, that explains it. With that kind of definition, I think you would have to consider it to be very rare. Many people, however do not use your definition and don’t consider it very rare at all and think that education these days, for better or worse, is centered to a large degree on cultural relativism.

  36. Yes, I do agree. The ideal of cultural relativism is spread quite wide. That doesn’t mean it is practiced though. And are you sure that what is dressed up as cultural relativism isn’t really a rejection of established western culture?
    I would think so. Knowing what you reject is much easier than knowing what you embrace.