An Inuit mother has just given birth to a baby. She has a one–year–old baby still dependent on her milk. It is the season of food scarcity, which means the mother is not as well nourished as she could be. She and her husband decide that their older child is a higher priority, and they opt to end their newborn baby's life. Considering the concepts of ethnocentrism and cultural relativism, discuss the practice of infanticide.
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We Westerners are likely to respond to such a scenario with instant and instinctive horror. We feel that we would never countenance such an action and that infanticide is immoral. It goes against all of our instincts that say that we must protect helpless children.
However, this attitude on our part might simply reflect ethnocentrism and a lack of understanding of the idea that cultural relativism might be a more appropriate stance. Ethnocentrism is the attitude that holds that one’s own ethnic group/culture is superior to that of others. Our reaction to the Inuit mother’s decision is (one could argue) based on such an attitude. We feel that our values are superior to theirs and so we react with horror when their actions are incompatible with our beliefs.
It may be more appropriate to think about whether cultural relativism is an appropriate stance in this situation. We might consider, for instance, the idea that the Inuit’s situation makes this a logical choice. If the parents choose to try to raise this child, they may end up causing the deaths of both children as neither one would be sufficiently well-nourished.
In short, it is arguable that infanticide is not simply evil in all cases. It may be that we need to be more culturally relativistic and less ethnocentric when thinking about that practice.
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