Do you believe in cultural relativism?What your thought about cultural relativism?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For me, this is a very difficult topic.  I grew up in a culture that was nothing like that of the United States and so I can see the goods and bads of at least two cultures.  From this experience, I understand that different people see things different ways.  At the same time, I have a hard time believing that good and bad really are relative and are culturally based.

I think that the conclusion I have come to is that certain things are relative.  For example, where I grew up women were not supposed to show their legs above the knee but showing their breasts was not a huge deal (although that was changing with American influence).  I think that this is just cultural.

On the other hand, it was considered to be okay to beat someone whose family had done wrong to your family.  I do not think that this sort of vigilante/revenge justice is acceptable.

So I guess I think that relativism is okay for "small" things but not for "big" things.  Now, which things are small and which are big?  That's a tough question...

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Initially, I would say that the position of pure cultural relativism is logically challenging.  If the belief is that it is difficult or impossible for individuals to determine what is culturally acceptable or not, then assuming the position of relativism, where everything is acceptable is logically defeating.  In stating that one cannot take a position, one actually does take a position (the position being that one cannot take a position.)  I agree with the previous thoughts on the idea that what determines cultural acceptance might be more driven towards an examination of criteria, more than anything else.  If I determine that the enhancement of individual voice is the most important element, then I can make judgments based on this premise.  If I determine that the abuse of children is wrong, then I can judge cultural practices on this specific criteria.  I think that this might be where I am on this one.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't like the idea of relativism in any form, really.  Relativism is the belief that there is no absolute truth--that everything can and should be judged on the basis of many things, culture included.  I do believe truth is absolute and immutable (unchangeable), no matter the cultural differences.  Where this gets tricky, I think, is in determining what is truth and what is simply cultural practice.  Cannibalism is a cultural practice of certain tribes, but it is a moral truth that life is sacred and should never be taken without just cause.  How people choose to dress or their personal hygiene habits or body markings (tattoos or piercings) are generally cultural choices disconnected from any moral truths.  They're simply choices.   Practice does not trump truth, as far as I'm concerned.

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've also been lucky enough to live for significant amounts of time in several different cultures, one of them very different from our American culture.  Because of that, I have come away with several perspectives similar to the previous post.

There were some things that I thought were far superior to our cultural approach to things.  What is harder to do is to say that one thing is so much better than another that it ought to be universally adopted.  Like the previous post, I'd like to think that there are things that are right and wrong, like not killing or beating people.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Cultural relativism implies that no one culture is better than another. I find it hard to stand in judgement of another culture's beliefs. Tolerance is about understanding that people are different. We might find some traditions odd or gross, but as long as they are not hurting anyone- to each his own!