Problems vs. Cultural Relativism


If rape, incest, clitoridectomies, execution of bald people at age 38, the oppression of white males, the destruction of Buddhism (or another religion) is moral, then it is moral.

(1) Problem of Sub-Groups: difficult to define boundaries of culture (North America? Ohio? My hood?)

(2) Moral Reformers Dilemma: Moral reformers are unethical people

(3) If you find ONE universal moral value/action that is always right/wrong (e.g. rape of children) in any culture and any time period, then cultural relativism is false.

(4) Cultural relativism is less reasonable than subjectivism. If you are going to be stuck with some form of relativism, why should you make yourself a slave to the ethical WHIMS of a culture? Be a subjectivist and decide your own morality.

(5) Have to tolerate INTOLERANCE. If cultural relativism is true, we cannot complain what other cultures do in their culture. Nazi Germany was intolerant, but they get to decide if they are going to make tolerance right or wrong. Stalinist Russia was intolerant, and we can’t complain. They have the right to be intolerant of free speech if they want.


Problems with Individual Ethical Relativism:

(A) We cannot complain about serial killers. They may have done something illegal, but individuals decide if things are right or wrong. So, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy were moral people if they were obeying their moral principles.

(B) Moral Inquiry is counterintuitive. To find out whether or not we should get an abortion or help an old lady across the street, we just need to ask what we believe. To get ethical advice from a friend or book is wrong. Individuals decide right and wrong.


Cultural relativism is a principle in which an individual’s person belief and actives are understood in terms of their own culture. This means that individual beliefs, customers and ethics are considered relative to the individual within their own social context.  What is right or wrong is defined to be cultural specific (Barzilai, 2003). What one society considers being moral is considered immoral by another society. This is based on the premise that there is not universal standard of morality and therefore no one should judge the customs of another society. According to cultural relativism, cultures are worth in their own right and have equal value implying that there is no culture that is superior to the other.  Diversity of culture therefore need to be accepted and not be considered in terms or wrong, good, or bad.