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 While noting the merits of cultural relativism, do you feel there are any limits to...

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user5463334 | Student | eNoter

Posted February 25, 2013 at 6:51 AM via web

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 While noting the merits of cultural relativism, do you feel there are any limits to these merits?

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 25, 2013 at 11:50 AM (Answer #1)

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I moved the topic to this particular category because I think that the limits of relativism can be seen on cultural and moral grounds.  The same limitations are evident.  One of the most striking limitations to the relativist position is that it is logically inconsistent.  If one suggests that "everything is relative," then a universal position is being taken.  In suggesting that there is a universality in all that is relative, universality has already been emphasized, precisely opposite from the point that relativism seeks to make.  It is here where there is a logical limit to the merits of tolerance and understanding in relativism.  In seeking to strike a position where refraining from absolutism is sought, there is actually absolutism achieved.

On a more practical level, I would suggest that one of the most painful limitations to cultural and moral relativism is that it prevents us from making judgments that can be clearly seen.  Based on the relativist philosophy, a Klansman and Mother Teresa are on the same level.  The Buddhist culture and the culture of the Taliban are on the same level.  These situations clearly demonstrate how limiting the relativist position is.  In the basic premise that all cultures and moral positions are relative, we are unable to make judgments that we know are valid ones because "everything is relative to one another."  The Buddhist culture is less oppressive than that of the Taliban.  Mother Teresa is morally superior than a Klansman.  These judgments are limited by relativism.

Another limitation that is fed into this is that individuals and cultures can knowingly take advantage of relativism to advance their own self- serving goals.  Certainly, moral and cultural relativism could be seen as a rationale that enabled Hitler's rise to power.  What Hitler was doing became evident early on, but many claimed that everything is "relative" and Hitler was able to gain power and acquire even more control.  Even though Hitler acted in a manner that was clearly absolutist, he was able to manipulate the relativist position from the West in order to gain more power.   The Taliban operated under the veil of relativism for so long, while committing some of the worst of atrocities.  Here again, relativism was used to allow the Taliban to operate in a manner that did not advocate relativism, but rather a very harsh reality of authoritarianism.  Relativism's beauty can become its undoing in the hands of a very capable and self- serving end.  This would have to be seen as a strict limitation on the philosophy if it can be manipulated in such a manner.

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