Culture Relativism states that we cannot absolute say what is right and what is wrong because it all depends in the society we live in. James Rachels however. James Rachels summarizes the former theory into one brief statement: “Different cultures have different moral codes.” (Rachels, 18) Ethical relativism. Cultural Relativism. Morality differs in every society, and is a convenient term for socially approved habits. Ruth Benedict, PATTERNS OF CULTURE ().

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Rachels draws the somewhat-incorrect conclusion that if the theory of cultural relativism is accepted, one would no longer rachls able to criticize a different culture for its practices. He vigorously refutes the theory of cultural relativism using example after example, and general rule after general rule, and in many cases, his analysis is persuasive.

There are some characteristics of cultures that are not based upon any universal moral code. His latter example about Earth is an argument over scientific fact, while his former two disposal of the dead and infanticide are arguments over moral code. For instance, if one society believes that relatlvism earth is flat and another that it is spherical, we should not conclude that there is no objective truth about the shape of the earth.

Cultural Relativism

Rachels covers the topics and examples of cultural relativism within the central area of the spectrum, while Benedict covers those at the far ends. Along those same lines, it is imperative that the young of the society be cared for so that they may carry it into the future. Rachels uses that concept to make three conclusions regarding cultural relativism.


Both Rachels and Benedict use a plethora of examples to support their analyses. Click here to sign up.

Cultural Relativism | WYSU

Remember me on this computer. Quoted by Rachels in Shipka and Minton, p. There is no rule that states that moral cultures must abide by such a code, and that any culture that does not is not moral. Each culture has relativim own individual methods to ensure its survival that are not based on any particular tie to the entire human race or its morals, as they are on environmental factors and interactions with other cultures. One of Professor Rachels’ key points is that cultural relativism is based on a faulty argument which he calls the cultural differences argument.

Together, they address the entirety of cultural relativism reoativism what concrete rules lie beneath the everyday actions of members of cultures around the world.

However, Rachels does not subscribe to the theory of cultural relativism. He did not run around killing people at racheps, as may be expected by someone of Western culture. The notion of right is in the folkways. Rather, he was simply a nice guy who liked to work and be helpful. Similarly, Benedict rachdls correct in her conclusions that many aspects of the lives of people within a culture are actually exclusive to that culture. Therefore, it may be arguable that cultural or ethical relativism does not apply to most cultures, only to those on the extremities that Benedict cites.

There, it was customary to respond to a death of a person by killing another person.

James Rachels: The Challenge of Cultural Relativism

For example, Eskimos do not value infanticide when other cultures do not—they simply use it as a means of survival while other cultures do not need to. Skip to main content. Benedict, 36 Were he transplanted into—for instance—the United States, he would be considered normal; in his native land, however, he is abnormal.


They may be exempt from prosecution because they have conformed to custom and possibly law. Paradox and Discovery, Fifth Edition, p. The Eskimos are a nomadic tribe whose males are often killed during hunting or from the cold.

The first conclusion is that a member of one culture would not be able to consider any other cultures inferior to their own, as it would not be true—they are simply all different. Further, in that customs often differ from culture to culture, so right and wrong differ, and there is no objective, universally applicable moral law.

I believe, further, that modern international moral affirmations, such as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, support my position. It does not, however, indicate a lack of cultural relativism, as the simple need to conduct infanticide in order to survive may be exclusive to the Eskimo culture.

In fact, it may be argued that even those cultures that share such a belief do not have any reason to. According to Locke, the duties of parents to their children tachels their authority over them cease when the children become adults. Another situation addresses the Eskimo practice of infanticide.

Benedict has the opposing viewpoint that the morals and ethics of cultures are, in fact, relative. Cultural relativism does, in fact, exist—but not to the extent that Benedict might predict, nor to the extent that Rachels has denied its existence.