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Cultural Relativism.
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Oct 20, 2003, 08:35 PM
 
I've had this argument with a few people and there seems to be a nice spilt between those for cultural relativism and those against it.

I personally am against the idea of cultural relativism. No, everything is not relative to each individual's culture. Just because canablism, for example, in someone's culture is prevalent doesn't make it "right". There OUGHT to be a set of axioms by which a certain "feature" in a culture is deemed moral or immoral. I know alot of key words aren't explained, but basically that's what I think needs to replace any "cultural relativism". Based on those axioms, variations could be allowed depending on environmental factors and the like. That is only the tip of the iceberg of my alternative I have in mind (something like a 'world view'). There might be some books written on the same, but i am not aware of them.
The point, however, is that cultural relativism is a load of bullcrap.

Discuss.
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 08:48 PM
 
Like many people, I think you have a misunderstanding of what cultural relativism means and how it should be used.

cultural relativism: the ability to view the beliefs and customs of other peoples within the context of their culture rather than one's own.

In other words, context is everything. Take something out of context, or place it in another unrelated context, and it won't make any sense.

Its not a matter of "right" or "wrong".
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Oct 20, 2003, 08:53 PM
 
Ah, yes, I recall studying this line of thought. No, I don't like it, either. Two of my strongest arguments against it are: relativism = nihilism with conformity bolted on for good measure, and relativism makes any and all cultural change immoral.

The first is easy to show. The trick is to realize that no matter how many arbitraries are added up, it cannot amount to anything other than arbitrary. One of the defining claims of nihilism is that morality is arbitrary. Cultural relativism just means that a person should conform to the arbitrary morality around them.

The second is, also, easy to show. It basically comes from the idea of continuity of thought. Unless we assume that the highly unlikely event that everyone (or even a large % of people) will wake up one morning and change their minds about what's moral, we have to admit that in order for the majority of society to change its views, some minority must first be present. Under relativism, the existence of that minority is wrong until enough people have changed their minds that one could say that the whole culture has changed.

So, what should we judge cultures by if relativism isn't valid? This depends entirely on your philosophical bent. I, being a consequentialist, tend to lean in that direction. Specifically, I tend to lean towards a long term survival of everyone (I'm glossing over stuff here, but that's only because I don't want to write a book).

I say to myself: given what they 'knew,' were they acting in the best interests of the people? Given a chance to increase the accuracy of what they 'knew,' did they take it? So, I guess I value cultures that are: 1, altruistic, and 2, non-dogmatic (i.e. pragmatic).

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Oct 20, 2003, 08:55 PM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
I've had this argument with a few people and there seems to be a nice spilt between those for cultural relativism and those against it.

I personally am against the idea of cultural relativism. No, everything is not relative to each individual's culture. Just because canablism, for example, in someone's culture is prevalent doesn't make it "right". There OUGHT to be a set of axioms by which a certain "feature" in a culture is deemed moral or immoral. I know alot of key words aren't explained, but basically that's what I think needs to replace any "cultural relativism". Based on those axioms, variations could be allowed depending on environmental factors and the like. That is only the tip of the iceberg of my alternative I have in mind (something like a 'world view'). There might be some books written on the same, but i am not aware of them.
The point, however, is that cultural relativism is a load of bullcrap.

Discuss.
It sounds like what you're saying is "my ideals are better than those of this other culture, therefore my ideals should be imposed on them". Who are you to tell other people what is right and what is wrong? If culture A thinks it's ok to kill and eat people, so long as the people who are killed and eaten are also part of that culture, what gives a person from culture B the right to interfere?
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 09:10 PM
 
Originally posted by thunderous_funker:
Like many people, I think you have a misunderstanding of what cultural relativism means and how it should be used.

cultural relativism: the ability to view the beliefs and customs of other peoples within the context of their culture rather than one's own.

In other words, context is everything. Take something out of context, or place it in another unrelated context, and it won't make any sense.

Its not a matter of "right" or "wrong".
Err, that's exactly what i meant by cultural relativism.
I agree that context is important, but that doesn't mean people like Saddam Hussien can go about torturing their subjects just because they think it is justified. There has to be a stronger basis for justification of actions and norms in a culture.
This is where "right and "wrong" comes in.


Originally posted by nonhuman:
It sounds like what you're saying is "my ideals are better than those of this other culture, therefore my ideals should be imposed on them". Who are you to tell other people what is right and what is wrong? If culture A thinks it's ok to kill and eat people, so long as the people who are killed and eaten are also part of that culture, what gives a person from culture B the right to interfere?
No, that is not what i was implying. Sorry if it sounds like that. I am not trying to force MY "views" on anyone. It would be a set of AXIOMS based on perhaps an evaluation of the many cultures around the world. It cannot be based on something external, like God, because then it would be just another religion. By your logic, just because a group of people think piracy is ok, doesn't make it so. In fact your argument could be used to justify theivery and piracy and everything else we consider "wrong".

As the world becomes a smaller place with communication becoming increasingly widespread, i think a "world view" could very much be possible. It would of course require intense research and philosophical considerations (ethics etc.).
So again, n: for cultural relativism.
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 09:41 PM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
No, that is not what i was implying. Sorry if it sounds like that. I am not trying to force MY "views" on anyone. It would be a set of AXIOMS based on perhaps an evaluation of the many cultures around the world. It cannot be based on something external, like God, because then it would be just another religion. By your logic, just because a group of people think piracy is ok, doesn't make it so. In fact your argument could be used to justify theivery and piracy and everything else we consider "wrong".
Right, but by coming up with some universal axioms, you're establishing that certain moral values are correct and certain others are incorrect. I'm simply saying neither you nor anyone else has the moral perfection to make this decision (whether that is because morality is relative or for some other reason).

You're right that this can be used to justify anything, but it would only apply within a certain cultural context. If, as a result, that culture collapses or adopts different values to save itself then, within that culture, those particular values have been determined wrong and new ones have replaced them (a survival of the fittest for ethics, if you will). There are all sorts of reasons why it would be preferable to come up with an absolute moral code and hold everyone to it, but I think to do so would be, well, immoral.

My view of things does cause all sorts of problems when you start to deal with other cultures, and I won't pretend that's not the case. But I find it difficult to justify any other view.
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 10:11 PM
 
Originally posted by nonhuman:
My view of things does cause all sorts of problems when you start to deal with other cultures, and I won't pretend that's not the case. But I find it difficult to justify any other view.
Heh, that's because you're suffering from digital brain (read: binary logic). If you looked at what I outlined, it's all about what information people have access to, and what they did with said information. Given that, there are degrees to how right or wrong an act is.

The best part about what I presented is that it can be argued that it is what societies do anyway (more or less). Believe it or not, but the original arguments I used for myself in building the framework were evolutionary. I've since moved past that, but the effects of the original framework are still plainly visible. Given that anything to do with evolution is really about predicting how people will behave, not how they should behave, in framing my criterion on evolutionary principles, I have a leg up on not hitting too many problematic counter-examples.

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Oct 20, 2003, 10:13 PM
 
Originally posted by thunderous_funker:
Like many people, I think you have a misunderstanding of what cultural relativism means and how it should be used.

cultural relativism: the ability to view the beliefs and customs of other peoples within the context of their culture rather than one's own.

In other words, context is everything. Take something out of context, or place it in another unrelated context, and it won't make any sense.

Its not a matter of "right" or "wrong".
You're right. Who are we to judge Hitler and his followers? I mean, they had a different cultural view, right? Same with Stalin vs. the Ukraine.
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Oct 20, 2003, 10:26 PM
 
Originally posted by BlackGriffen:
Heh, that's because you're suffering from digital brain (read: binary logic). If you looked at what I outlined, it's all about what information people have access to, and what they did with said information. Given that, there are degrees to how right or wrong an act is.
Huh? The problems arise from the fact that someone does something that their culture views as perfectly acceptable in the presence of people whose culture views it as unacceptable. There may be degrees of right and wrong, but there is still a definite distinction between right and wrong. Nothing can be both right and wrong.

An extreme example would be a cannibal coming to the US and killing and eating someone. To them, they did nothing wrong. To the people of the culture they are visiting, a wrong was committed.

A less extreme example is something I did myself a week or so ago. I took a spoon and stuck it into the rice in my rice cooker so that it was standing up. At the time, there were 5 Japanese people in the room with me. In Japan, you don't do that (It's either bad luck, or rude, or something. I knew this, but for some reason it just completely slipped my mind.). You could say this is just a cultural faux pas, but how does it differ from the previous example except in magnitude? To my Japanese friends, what I did was wrong, even if it was less wrong than killing and eating someone, and something that they easily could forgive.
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 10:29 PM
 
Originally posted by finboy:
You're right. Who are we to judge Hitler and his followers? I mean, they had a different cultural view, right? Same with Stalin vs. the Ukraine.
They were committing acts against people whose moral values didn't condone those acts. It was an incident just like the two examples in my previous post. If the Jews that the Nazis had rounded up and killed agreed with the Nazi view that they were inferior and should therefore be killed, then it would have been a totally different matter.

I don't think there is anything wrong with killing someone who wants to be killed.
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 10:35 PM
 
Originally posted by nonhuman:
Right, but by coming up with some universal axioms, you're establishing that certain moral values are correct and certain others are incorrect. I'm simply saying neither you nor anyone else has the moral perfection to make this decision (whether that is because morality is relative or for some other reason).

That's the whole point of it. If we have moral/immoral standards for one culture, why not have similar standards that will apply to the entire world population? Of course it would have to be simple, fairly rigid and YET have scope for improvement.
Perfection cannot be easilty achieved, but that doesn't mean we don't strive for it.

As long as different cultures exist, it will be extremely difficult to attain world peace. It would be easier to unite as humans, if there were set axioms or something.
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 10:55 PM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
That's the whole point of it. If we have moral/immoral standards for one culture, why not have similar standards that will apply to the entire world population? Of course it would have to be simple, fairly rigid and YET have scope for improvement.
Perfection cannot be easilty achieved, but that doesn't mean we don't strive for it.

As long as different cultures exist, it will be extremely difficult to attain world peace. It would be easier to unite as humans, if there were set axioms or something.
But are you saying that we should come up with rules that all people on Earth will be bound by in all situations, or are you saying that we should come up with rules to govern inter-cultural interactions? If the second, then sure. If the first, what do you do about the one culture which holds that killing is not wrong? Do you just impose the will of everyone else on them, or do you ignore the issue of killing? Do you tell the Japanese that they're silly and we don't care about their stupid rice superstitions, or do you make it universally bad to stand your spoon/chopsticks up in rice?
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 10:57 PM
 
The degree I was referring to was whether the culture was right or wrong to hold a belief, not specific actions by individuals. For that, I have to get in to a little more detail, and I don't have time to do so right now.

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Oct 20, 2003, 10:59 PM
 
Originally posted by nonhuman:
But are you saying that we should come up with rules that all people on Earth will be bound by in all situations, or are you saying that we should come up with rules to govern inter-cultural interactions? If the second, then sure. If the first, what do you do about the one culture which holds that killing is not wrong? Do you just impose the will of everyone else on them, or do you ignore the issue of killing? Do you tell the Japanese that they're silly and we don't care about their stupid rice superstitions, or do you make it universally bad to stand your spoon/chopsticks up in rice?
Don't be ridiculous. I'm not an expert (yet). I can't answer specific questions. This kind of an idea would probably take generations to evolve and enact. It can't be sorted out over night.
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 11:07 PM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
That's the whole point of it. If we have moral/immoral standards for one culture, why not have similar standards that will apply to the entire world population? Of course it would have to be simple, fairly rigid and YET have scope for improvement.
Perfection cannot be easilty achieved, but that doesn't mean we don't strive for it.

As long as different cultures exist, it will be extremely difficult to attain world peace. It would be easier to unite as humans, if there were set axioms or something.
Well, we more or less do with the international laws of the Geneva Convention ratified by the UN and upheld by the International Court of Justice. True, it also regulates the treatment of POWs, but there are some fundamental basics regarding human rights. Such as...

The Fourth Geneva Convention (1949): Treatment of civilians during wartime and peace. There's many many articles in there that set down basic axioms regarding humane bahavior, treatment, and objective morality/ethics.

http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/y4gcpcp.htm
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Oct 20, 2003, 11:09 PM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
Don't be ridiculous. I'm not an expert (yet). I can't answer specific questions. This kind of an idea would probably take generations to evolve and enact. It can't be sorted out over night.


What's the point of starting this discussion if you're not willing to discuss it?

I don't expect you to have all the answers about it, but this is a pretty basic concept to the whole thing. To do this would require that you say some people are right and others are wrong, and I don't think anyone is in a place to make that decision.

How would it evolve unless it is put into practice? And if it's put into practice and still needs to evolve, doesn't that imply that some people are going to be oppressed until the evolution is complete?
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 11:22 PM
 
In one of my previous posts i mentioned that it would require intense research of cultures worldwide, AND consider various philosophical ideologies.
hmm. Actually now it sounds like i'm leaning towards a utopia. aahh.. i need some sleep.
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 11:27 PM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
Actually now it sounds like i'm leaning towards a utopia.
Oh. Well, in that case, I'm all for it.
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 11:33 PM
 
Originally posted by nonhuman:
Oh. Well, in that case, I'm all for it.

That would eventually be the result hopefully. Bottom line is.. cultural relativism has to go because it is bs.
     
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Oct 20, 2003, 11:43 PM
 
.
( Last edited by daimoni; Sep 6, 2004 at 11:21 AM. )
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 01:32 AM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:

I personally am against the idea of cultural relativism. No, everything is not relative to each individual's culture. Just because canablism, for example, in someone's culture is prevalent doesn't make it "right". There OUGHT to be a set of axioms by which a certain "feature" in a culture is deemed moral or immoral.
The whole problem with what you are saying is that someone has to be the ultimate arbiter of what is moral and what is not. Who will do this? You must admit that different cultures have very different ways of thinking about things, and most are not of the "cannibalism" straw man variety, either.

In some cultures, it is immoral for a woman to go out without a veil. In some cultures, polygamy is perfectly acceptable. In some cultures, the concept of personal property does not exist. Would you like these cultures to impose their points of view upon the US? After all, to them, the way we do things is just as alien. This is what we mean by cultural relativism. You can't let your own culture's preconceptions shape how you view another culture. You must understand that these things have a function in those particular societies, even if they don't in your own.

Of course, like anything, when taken to extremes, relativistic thought is probably a bad thing.

And I tend to agree that there might be a way to come up with some basic "guidelines" about judging the morality of a particular practice. Anything that cicumscribes a person's fundamental human rights could be considered immoral, but what are those human rights, exactly? And who decides? (The caste system in India, the killing of baby girls in favor of baby boys in China, apartheid in South Africa, or possibly even my example of the veil above are all examples of problematic issues).
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 02:47 AM
 
Originally posted by Icruise:
And I tend to agree that there might be a way to come up with some basic "guidelines" about judging the morality of a particular practice. Anything that cicumscribes a person's fundamental human rights could be considered immoral, but what are those human rights, exactly? And who decides? (The caste system in India, the killing of baby girls in favor of baby boys in China, apartheid in South Africa, or possibly even my example of the veil above are all examples of problematic issues).
Don't mean to continue tooting my own horn, but another advantage of the approach I advocate is that it permits wiggle room. Not an infinite amount, but just enough that two people can disagree and what I suggested above won't break the tie (assuming equal knowledge of disagreeing parties as to what actually effects the survival prospects of society).

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Oct 21, 2003, 03:18 AM
 
I was going to participate in this thread, but nonhuman already made all the good arguments.

A good example of this is the 2008 Olympics: It's to be held in Bejing, China. And as we all know, in China they eat dogs. You know, the kind of furry things we "westerners" look at as companions and pets. Now people, who are not even vegetarians themselves, are screaming bloody murder! Eating dogs? Who do they think they are? And the boycotts and petitions are off. Sidenote: This first came up with the world cup in Seoul.

So, which is it? Is it "obvious ethnocentrism for some narrow-minded Westerners to denounce other people for eating certain meat which they don't consume." or are we really the lords of all things moral and good™?

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Oct 21, 2003, 03:57 AM
 
Originally posted by - - e r i k - -:
I was going to participate in this thread, but nonhuman already made all the good arguments.
Indeed.

Originally posted by nonhuman:
It sounds like what you're saying is "my ideals are better than those of this other culture, therefore my ideals should be imposed on them". Who are you to tell other people what is right and what is wrong? If culture A thinks it's ok to kill and eat people, so long as the people who are killed and eaten are also part of that culture, what gives a person from culture B the right to interfere?
That's exactly what he's saying, I think.

Macfreak... who are you to decide what values should be imposed on others? Who are you to say that one set of values is wrong, and another is right?

I absolutely agree with nonhuman.

The problem comes when cultures clash. Who decides which set of values are taken? Seriously - you make it sound so simple - "guidelines". You cannot have guidelines when something is black and white. There's always a grey area - but sometimes, it IS just black and white.

When one culture says it's okay to murder the guy that took your daughters virginity afterwards, and one says it is not... what kind of guideline do you put there? There's no grey area.

Cultural relativism is something you cannot destroy. It simply "is". It is an intrinsic component of a multicultural society.

If you don't like it... go and isolate yourself with people of your "own kind".

My view that it is immoral to kill a person for no good reason is no more legitimate than the view of a tribal member whose society says it's totally cool.

That's the way things are.
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 04:42 AM
 
Originally posted by thunderous_funker:
cultural relativism: the ability to view the beliefs and customs of other peoples within the context of their culture rather than one's own.

In other words, context is everything. Take something out of context, or place it in another unrelated context, and it won't make any sense.

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Oct 21, 2003, 06:28 AM
 
Originally posted by Cipher13:
Indeed.



That's exactly what he's saying, I think.

Macfreak... who are you to decide what values should be imposed on others? Who are you to say that one set of values is wrong, and another is right?

I absolutely agree with nonhuman.

The problem comes when cultures clash. Who decides which set of values are taken? Seriously - you make it sound so simple - "guidelines". You cannot have guidelines when something is black and white. There's always a grey area - but sometimes, it IS just black and white.

When one culture says it's okay to murder the guy that took your daughters virginity afterwards, and one says it is not... what kind of guideline do you put there? There's no grey area.

Cultural relativism is something you cannot destroy. It simply "is". It is an intrinsic component of a multicultural society.

If you don't like it... go and isolate yourself with people of your "own kind".

My view that it is immoral to kill a person for no good reason is no more legitimate than the view of a tribal member whose society says it's totally cool.

That's the way things are.

Why does it seem to you guys that *I* want to set the guidelines or whatever for what the norm should be? I don't. I'm saying there should be an evaluation of cultures, and only logically valid and rational "features" should be retained. Now of course this could get pretty subjective, but an attempt must be made. Trial and error will eventually help form at least some basic axioms.

Math and logic are universal. At least on this planet. Perhaps that could be used to build some fundamental basics.

Like i said, specifics aren't easy to deal with, a compromise would have to be made in some cases for the better of the many, the greater
whole.

One more point:
If there is 'relativism' between cultures, why not extend that same logic to imply relativism WITHIN cultures? Like the discussion in the software piracy thread awhile ago, that would probably justify piracy (for one example).
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 06:42 AM
 
Originally posted by daimoni:
Have you ever taken even a basic Cultural Anthropology class... because it sure doesn't sound like you have. Not that it would do you any good.

thunderous_funker explained to you, the ignorant, what Cultural Relativism is... and it just right over your head and between your ears at the same time.

Of course, I'm only looking at this in the context of this thread, so I may be accused of Ethnocentrism... you bunch of Muppet Savages!
Thanks for you extremely insightful post.
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 06:44 AM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
Why does it seem to you guys that *I* want to set the guidelines or whatever for what the norm should be? I don't. I'm saying there should be an evaluation of cultures, and only logically valid and rational "features" should be retained. Now of course this could get pretty subjective, but an attempt must be made. Trial and error will eventually help form at least some basic axioms.
Whoever makes the decision, the point is that your position necessitates a decision being made. The problem is that on many very basic issues, people will never agree. Ever try getting half a dozen Americans to agree on pizza toppings? Now try and get people to agree on what is "right" and "wrong" keeping in mind that everyone is indoctrinated from birth to believe that their way of doing things is best.

But I think this whole argument is a little too nebulous. Are there any concrete issues in which you see relativism as causing a real problem? What are they?
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 07:09 AM
 
Originally posted by Icruise:
Whoever makes the decision, the point is that your position necessitates a decision being made. The problem is that on many very basic issues, people will never agree. Ever try getting half a dozen Americans to agree on pizza toppings? Now try and get people to agree on what is "right" and "wrong" keeping in mind that everyone is indoctrinated from birth to believe that their way of doing things is best.

But I think this whole argument is a little too nebulous. Are there any concrete issues in which you see relativism as causing a real problem? What are they?
Decisions are being made all the time, within cultures. Pizza toppings are an immediate worry that feeds the appetite. That isn't quite good an example, but i see your point. Not all people are rational, that doesn't mean we cater to irrationality. It's just a waste of time and effort. Emotions can coerce you make all kinds of actions, but fortunately we have the ability to reason and determine what is "good" and what is not. I don't mean what is "good for me" or "good for you". Now that just begs for a definition of "good". But the point is, the "decision" would be made based on rationality, not emotional response, for the good of the whole.

I agree, the argument is pretty shaky, but that's only because alot of the basic terms aren't defined well yet. I certainly see room for improvement tho. I'm gonna have a chat with one of my philosophy prof. sometime. Lets see if anything comes out of that.
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 09:10 AM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
I've had this argument with a few people and there seems to be a nice spilt between those for cultural relativism and those against it.<snip (for brevity)>
Discuss.
What do you mean by 'for' and 'against'?
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Oct 21, 2003, 02:17 PM
 
I didn't get to follow up on what I was trying to say earlier.

First of all, you have to narrow the questions in order to get the root of the issue.

Cultural relativism is a tool for problem solving. The problem is usually a question of "why does this culture believe/do/conduct itself in the following way?" It is not a tool for discovering Ahistorical Morality (what is Right or Good in all situations for all people).

When we observe the eccentricities of another culture, we must use the same frame of reference that the natives use in order to understand why they do as they do. Morality doesn't enter into it.

Example: many westerners look at Hindu culture and boggle that a nation with so many starving people venerates cows instead of eating them. For decades, westerners took it as a sign of irrationality or even cultural stupidity that Hindus wouldn't simply slaughter the millions of sacred cows and feed themselves.

This is looking at the question of "why don't Hindus eat cows even when they are hungry?" through a westerner's eyes. Because we don't look at the issue from a Hindu's perspective, we answer the question erroneously by saying "Hindus don't eat cows because they are irrational and primative and trapped by an irrational and stupid mythos."

Now, from a Hindu perspective the answer is quite different. A cow to a Hindu is priceless. Why? Well, traditional taboos aside, the real reason is because a cow is essential to their way of life. It is a beast of burden (taking surplus to market, plowing, increased labor power), a source of diary products which can be eaten and sold for income, a source of fertilizer for growing crops, and can be breed to create future cows which will serve the same purposes. Killing a cow for its meat is absolutely retarded from this perspective. The taboo on eating cows is simply a cultural tool for a culture to pass on its knowledge (cows are more valuable alive) from generation to generation.

Now the question you want to ask (and others who do mistake what the tool of cultural relativism is for) is "what is the best way for a culture to conduct itself?" We pluck an individual or a group and we remove them from everyting that defines them and then judge how they should be behave if they knew everything we know and saw the world the way we see it. We take them out of the context that defines them as individuals and expect them to choose the same as we have chosen (without realizing our choices are also based on our personal context).

Cultural relativism is way to understand how others choose within their own context, not a way for figuring out what everyone should choose in all contexts.

Cultural Relativism is useless for discovering Univeral Morality. Why? Because each culture shapes morality for its own purposes. People do not make moral decisions with full knowledge, they make moral decisions on what they know.

Now people want to interpret that as saying that anything goes. That we cannot judge one thing to be better or more moral than another thing. Why can't we? As a 21st century westerner, I have a pretty clear view of what I consider to be moral and immoral. I have no problem at all choosing between Hitler and Jefferson.

But 200 years from now, someone will come along and look at my moral choices and probably find the times and places when my moral actions were decidedly immoral because of the consequences I didn't forsee or because I was ignorant of knowledge readily available to them.

It is futile to search for the set of choices that will stand outside of time, history, culture, space, environment and decree that this set of choices is the Correct, Right, Moral choices that all people should make in all situations and at all times. There is no such set of choices. Every individual and every culture goes through the exercise of picking their path as best they know how. Some choose well, some don't. Some blatantly rebel against the morality of their culture--sometimes the result is horror, sometimes the result is evolutionary.
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Oct 21, 2003, 02:52 PM
 


Pragmatism asks its usual question. "Grant an idea or belief to be true," it says,"what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone's actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth's cash-value in experiential terms?"
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 03:18 PM
 
D'oh! I was so tired rushed I forgot to summarize what t-f was saying earlier, and what he's saying now.

Cultural relativism is a tool to understand why people make the choices they do.

Ethical relativism is taking cultural relativism to the be a statement about what is moral or ethical.

It is the second I oppose. The first is highly useful as a tool of understanding.

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Oct 21, 2003, 03:42 PM
 
Originally posted by BlackGriffen:
D'oh! I was so tired rushed I forgot to summarize what t-f was saying earlier, and what he's saying now.

Cultural relativism is a tool to understand why people make the choices they do.

Ethical relativism is taking cultural relativism to the be a statement about what is moral or ethical.

It is the second I oppose. The first is highly useful as a tool of understanding.

BlackGriffen


I need a good editor. You're hired.
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Oct 21, 2003, 03:57 PM
 
thunderous_funker: You're not reading my posts, are you? Just skimming over them? If you are, you seem to be interpreting them in a way to justify your belielfs.

Firstly, please stop with the examples, they are irrelavent right now, espcially since everyone who has posted thus far seems to know what's going on.

If you re-read my posts, you'll see that I'm not suggesting a "set of choices" like you put it. They certainly don't have to be predefined. They don't have to be be outside time, history, space or whatever else you said. It's a matter of BASIC set of axioms, which would be used as a guide to make decisions, considering various factors that could be unique to each culture or region. When that is done, everyone will be under the SAME context. We are all humans and have the same needs. So obviously this IS possible. Again, don't forget about scope and room for variation.
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 04:17 PM
 
If you want to be stubborn about it MF, try this oldie but 'goldie' on for size:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

How does that one hash out?

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Oct 21, 2003, 04:19 PM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
[B]If you re-read my posts, you'll see that I'm not suggesting a "set of choices" like you put it. They certainly don't have to be predefined. They don't have to be be outside time, history, space or whatever else you said. It's a matter of BASIC set of axioms, which would be used as a guide to make decisions, considering various factors that could be unique to each culture or region. When that is done, everyone will be under the SAME context. We are all humans and have the same needs. So obviously this IS possible. Again, don't forget about scope and room for variation.
Well, as BG greatly simplified, I just don't think cultural relativism is the thing you have issues with. You're talking about moral/ethical relativism which is an entirely different matter.

I'm happy to discuss moral/ethical relativism if you like. Its a super topic.

Ok. Perhaps you should provide an example of a Universal Axiom. I'm unaware of any for which there aren't lots of exemptions and extenuating circumstances.

Not even the 10 Commandments holds up. Not even among the ancient Hebrews or modern Judeo-Christians. The Bible is full of examples of when God and His Faithful waived their own commandments to suit some circumstance or another.

Not even the Golden Rule works universally because not everyone agrees on what they'd like to have done to themselves. I like butter in my ass and a lollipop in my mouth, but I don't think its a good idea for me to go around planting them in the orifices of others in hopes of reciprocity.
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Oct 21, 2003, 04:22 PM
 
Coming up with a BASIC set of axioms requires making choices and deciding that one group of people's opinion is better than another group of people's opinion. The only way to get around this is if everyone already agrees on these basics, and if that's the case than there's no point.
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 04:23 PM
 
Uh, wouldn't ethical relativism be a subset of cultural relativism? If not, why not?
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 05:01 PM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
Uh, wouldn't ethical relativism be a subset of cultural relativism? If not, why not?
A subset? Only if you think ethics are a function of culture.

So the question isn't about judging cultures by their own rules (cultural relativism), but judging ethics by culture--does society determine what is right or wrong or is it independent of society?

First off, its probably good to include the usual bit about terminology.

I like this formulation from Wikipedia:
The root word for Ethical is the Greek "ethos," meaning "character." The root word for Moral is Latin "mos," meaning "custom."

Both words are broadly defined in contemporary English as having to do with right and wrong conduct. Character and custom, however, provide two very different standards for defining what is right and what is wrong. Character would seem to be a personal attribute, while custom is defined by a group over time. People have character. Societies have custom. To violate either can be said to be wrong, within its appropriate frame of reference.
So morality is largely a function of culture--society decides for itself over time what is acceptable and unacceptable.

Ethics can certainly contradict or transcend morality and often do.

So the real sticky question is, are there Universal Ethical standards which should be reasonably expected of all people regardless of culture?

I'd probably answer yes, but would remind people that any such "universal" ethic would still not be ahistorical. My attitudes about taking of human life are still a function of being a 21st century westerner on planet earth who reads history and literature and thinks he knows reasonably well what is good and bad.

We might say that the essential nub of Western Classical Liberalism is the minimization of cruelty. That is a fairly broad ethical standard by which I expect my contemporaries to operate. Of course, chosing Right action in a given circumstance can still be controversial even among those who agree that we should be minimizing cruelty.
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Oct 21, 2003, 05:34 PM
 
.
( Last edited by daimoni; Sep 6, 2004 at 11:26 AM. )
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 06:03 PM
 
For those who haven't already considered this, maybe morality evolved as a tool in man's behavioral arsenal as a way to protect himself in a savage world. TF explained hown this might work in his hindu cow example. Another example that comes to mind is the Jews' disdain for wormy pork and dirty things. Murder too is also messy business, especially when it isnt governed by a set of values (such as specific capital punishment laws or the rules of ritualized tribal warfare).

If morality depends on the shared history and environmental situation of a group, and is harmless to us, then who are we to condemn it?

Well it might harm us in less obvious ways by revolting us...or making us less sure of the concreate overriding superimportance of our super-duper important and useful moral system.

So some people strike back (or otherwise try/want to correct it through various coercive or persuasive tactics) for this 'harm' that is being inflicted.

This is because of our morality instinct...our tendency to believe strongly in values or things that have been proven useful by the test of time.

Another way to deal with the threat of those different than us is to try and understand why they are different, and then use that knowledge to determine if the threat goes beyond mere culture shock or if it is a true danger (like hitler's nazism).

Some people have found it possible to substitute th fear of different people with the superiority felt thinking theyn know enough to understand and not fear other culture's values.
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Oct 21, 2003, 07:06 PM
 
Originally posted by Cipher13:
The problem comes when cultures clash. Who decides which set of values are taken?

Cultural relativism is something you cannot destroy. It simply "is". It is an intrinsic component of a multicultural society.

My view that it is immoral to kill a person for no good reason is no more legitimate than the view of a tribal member whose society says it's totally cool.

That's the way things are.
But there must be philosophical arguments that trump ethical relativism. Otherwise, how do we condemn any behaviour?

Wouldn't a utilitarian argument against killing overwhelm any cultural justification for killing?

For instance, let's say in a certain culture that a married woman cheats on her husband and is caught. In this culture, for a woman to commit adultery is a great disgrace to her husband and to the family. In this culture, death of the adulterer is seen as a reasonable punishment.

Are you telling me that there is no valid ethical principle that states that killing this woman is wrong, regardless of cultural beliefs?
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 07:43 PM
 
Originally posted by Spliff:
But there must be philosophical arguments that trump ethical relativism. Otherwise, how do we condemn any behaviour?

....
Why do we need some over-arching philosophical structure to condemn undesirable behavior? Aren't we suitably equipped and empowered to do that without requiring some Universal Ethical Foundation on which to stand?

Besides, when have philosophical arguments ever prevented evil?
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Oct 21, 2003, 09:53 PM
 
Originally posted by thunderous_funker:
Why do we need some over-arching philosophical structure to condemn undesirable behavior? Aren't we suitably equipped and empowered to do that without requiring some Universal Ethical Foundation on which to stand?
I understand that ethics and morality are human constructs. There are no universal ethical laws like there are physical laws.

But there must be a way around philosophical relativism. How else do we condemn cruel and hurtful behaviour in other cultures? If we can't do that, then organizations like Amnesty International don't have a leg to stand on.


Besides, when have philosophical arguments ever prevented evil?
Philosophical arguments can reduce evil if they lead to laws against certain behaviours. It's against the law to murder someone in the US, but that doesn't prevent it from happening. However, if murder were legal, the murder rate in the US would sky-rocket.
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 10:05 PM
 
Originally posted by thunderous_funker:
A subset? Only if you think ethics are a function of culture.

So the question isn't about judging cultures by their own rules (cultural relativism), but judging ethics by culture--does society determine what is right or wrong or is it independent of society?

First off, its probably good to include the usual bit about terminology.

I like this formulation from Wikipedia:
quote:
The root word for Ethical is the Greek "ethos," meaning "character." The root word for Moral is Latin "mos," meaning "custom."

Both words are broadly defined in contemporary English as having to do with right and wrong conduct. Character and custom, however, provide two very different standards for defining what is right and what is wrong. Character would seem to be a personal attribute, while custom is defined by a group over time. People have character. Societies have custom. To violate either can be said to be wrong, within its appropriate frame of reference

*bs snipped*
So yeah, from your very definition, ethical relativism IS a subset of cultural relativism because the culture is obviously made up of individuals who have a certain character. Thanks for that, you just reinforced the validity of my argument.
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 10:12 PM
 
Originally posted by thunderous_funker:
Why do we need some over-arching philosophical structure to condemn undesirable behavior? Aren't we suitably equipped and empowered to do that without requiring some Universal Ethical Foundation on which to stand?

Besides, when have philosophical arguments ever prevented evil?
:edit: that question deserves a and

There are many examples where people are unable to make good judgements for themselves. Emotions play a big part. Not everyone is capable of dominating their emotions with rationality. There is a reason why laws exist, despite the fact that we all COULD govern ourselves. Now obviously that wouldn't be as efficient, but that's another debate.

Also it is not the purpose of philosophical arguments to prevent evil per se. Philosophical arguments are used more to question the foundations upon which we construct various institutions. Now how those arguments are applied, again leads to another area.
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 10:18 PM
 
Originally posted by Macfreak7:
Also it is not the purpose of philosophical arguments to prevent evil per se. Philosophical arguments are used more to question the foundations upon which we construct various institutions.
Okay, maybe I'm missing something here, but I thought that one of the things philosophy is good for is to provide people with a rational framework of ethical principles that they can live by. Principles that ensure basic rights for people and principles that serve as "manual" on how to act morally.

When I have children, I'm going to have to explain to them why stealing is wrong. Won't my arguments be philosophical in nature? Or am I just supposed to explain the intricacies of property law to them?
     
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Oct 21, 2003, 10:33 PM
 
Originally posted by Spliff:
Okay, maybe I'm missing something here, but I thought that one of the things philosophy is good for is to provide people with a rational framework of ethical principles that they can live by. Principles that ensure basic rights for people and principles that serve as "manual" on how to act morally.

When I have children, I'm going to have to explain to them why stealing is wrong. Won't my arguments be philosophical in nature? Or am I just supposed to explain the intricacies of property law to them?
Ooooookay yeah, for some reason i seperated ethics out of philosophy. sheesh i've been delving too much into it all lately. or it's mid-semester burn out.

Nonetheless, citing reasons based on philosophical theories are still applications of the same, which involves rationality. The reason why rationality fails is because other factors such as emotions come into the picture. So it's not a failure of the theory, but that of its application.
     
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Oct 22, 2003, 05:06 AM
 
Originally posted by Spliff:
But there must be philosophical arguments that trump ethical relativism. Otherwise, how do we condemn any behaviour?

Wouldn't a utilitarian argument against killing overwhelm any cultural justification for killing?

For instance, let's say in a certain culture that a married woman cheats on her husband and is caught. In this culture, for a woman to commit adultery is a great disgrace to her husband and to the family. In this culture, death of the adulterer is seen as a reasonable punishment.

Are you telling me that there is no valid ethical principle that states that killing this woman is wrong, regardless of cultural beliefs?
Yeah... I am saying that no valid ethical principle states that killing said woman is wrong.

Ethics are a part of culture.

While *I* say it's wrong... they do not. Who is right?
     
 
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