Term Paper on Ethics Cultural Relativism
Benedict and Pojman are the two names that come to mind when one think of
cultural relativism. They stand on the opposite side of the spectrum when it
comes to ethical relativism in the light of cultural differences. The
differences in moral practices across cultures give rise to the important issue
of ethics - the concept of "ethical relativism." It holds that morality is
relative to the norms of one's culture i.e. the differences of cultures are
reflected in the ethical relativism. Of course, if there were no differences in
the ethical requirements across the cultures, there would not have been any
relativity. Ruth is of the concept that an action may be right or wrong
depending upon the moral norms of the society in which it is practiced. The same
action may be morally right in one society but be morally wrong in another. She
is of the opinion that there are no universal moral standards that can be
universally applied to all peoples at all times.
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According to Ruth ethical norms of societies depend on the cultural differences.
The only moral standards against which a society's practices can be judged are
its own. In ethical relativism, there can be no common framework for resolving
moral disputes or for reaching agreement on ethical matters among members of
different societies. Itís the power of the custom and learning of a society
against nature and for the infinite capacity of human beings to change. The
ethical behavior within societies is powerfully influenced by the prevalent
customs and beliefs in those societies. However, she does not imply that the
inborn temperament within a culture is negligible or that the individual had no
control over her surroundings. But the individual power is so small that the
cultural powers overcome it and influence the individual behaviors. Ruth
believed that an individual could successfully change the conditions of her life
and in so doing, changes society.
Ruth has been criticized on the grounds of ignorance of going further than a
plan beyond tolerance and awareness of individuals. Thus we now come to the
opposite side that is mainly dominated by Pojman. He states that ethical
requirements should be standardized for each and every society regardless of the
differences in their cultures. He questioned whether there are any universal
moral principles or whether morality is merely a matter of "cultural taste." He
gave examples of the range of practices considered morally acceptable in some
societies but condemned in others. These are the infanticide, genocide, polygamy
racism, sexism, and torture that in some societies are believed to be just and
in some heinous crimes.
Pojman is an ethicist who rejects the theory of ethical relativism of Ruth and
claim that while the moral practices of societies may differ; the fundamental
moral principles underlying these practices do not. He believes that the
societies may differ in their Placation of fundamental moral principles but
agree on the principles themselves.
It may also be the case that some moral beliefs are culturally relative whereas
others are not unlike what Ruth has stated who characterizes all such moral
beliefs as culturally relative. Pojman believes that certain practices, such as
customs regarding dress and decency, may depend on local custom whereas other
practices, such as slavery, torture, or political repression, may be governed by
universal moral standards and judged wrong despite the many other differences
that exist among cultures.
Pojman also criticizes the lack of freedom of an individual that follows by
following the morally accepted culturally affected social norms and beliefs.
Individuals are then considered morally wrong if they deviate from the societal
or cultural bounds. At the same time an immigrant who has always practiced his
beliefs in the previous society would have to alter his way of thinking in the
new society thus leaving no room for his own personal beliefs and values. Such a
view leaves no room for moral reform or improvement in a particular society
since its individuals are submissive without any freedom to bring any change.
Furthermore, members of the same society may hold different views on practices.
In the United States, for example, a variety of moral opinions exist on matters
ranging from animal experimentation to abortion. Who is to judge what is right
and what is wrong?
In my personal view I believe that the most influential and thorough knowledge
of the righteousness of a belief comes from ones religion, if one has any.
Cultures are also affected through the religions as they give a thorough code of
ethics. The ethics of societies are not dependent on what the culture in that
society says but the individuals should be free to act as per the ethical
requirements as stated by their respective religions and that the rest of the
society members should have patience to the individual beliefs. As far as the
views of Ruth and Pojman are concerned I believe that Ruth states what is there
and cannot be changed and what Pojman states is something of an ideal which if
achieved would be much better but at the same time extremely difficult to
I believe that ethical behavior should be categorized into two major categories.
Some of the behavior should be made universal which all human beings on earth
would be required to fulfill and the second category may differ as per the local
requirements of culture and beliefs.
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