Phil 101 Wk 7 - I wanted to add a few things for thought...

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Ethical Relativism wrap-up or a few more reasons to reject this view I wanted to add a few “things for thought” with regard to relativism. This is a theory that not only the author of the textbook article finds problematic. In fact, very few philosophers are relativists because of all the problems, practical and logical this theory can cause. Even if we grant that ethical relativism provided a positive lesson in the early twentieth century, suggesting the suspension of Western judgmental attitudes toward other cultures, there are serious problems with the theory. I know the article mentions many of them but I would like to reiterate these here and also add a few others. 1. No Criticism or Praise of Other Cultures- Does this mean that it is always wrong to criticize another culture or group for what it does? If we are to follow the idea of ethical relativism to its logical conclusion, yes. We have no right to criticize other cultures, period. But on occasion things happen in other cultures that we feel either by instinct or through rational argument, we should criticize to maintain our own moral integrity. Curiously enough, at the time when anthropologists were beginning to write articles about cultural tolerance, one of the most offensive “social experiments” in history was being conducted in the Western world. Europe was being overtaken by the Nazis, whose extreme racism was not kept secret, even though the existence of the death camps of later years was not generally known until after the war. A true ethical relativist would have to stick to her guns and maintain that other countries had no right to criticize what was going on in Germany and Austria in the 1930’s and 1940’s. For most people, even those who believe there ought to be tolerance, there is a moral limit to tolerance and any theory that doesn’t recognize this is just not a good theory. Not only are we prevented from criticizing another culture’s doings if we accept the theory of relativism, but we also cannot praise and learn from another culture. If we find the social system of Scandinavia is more humane and functions better than any other in the world, the conclusion
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based on relativism has to be that this is because it is right for them, but we still can’t assume that it is right for America. If we happen to admire the world ethic of Japan or Jainism’s teachings of nonviolence we can’t assume that we can adapt these things to our own culture. In short, ethical relativism when taken to its logical conclusion, precludes learning from other cultures. Curiously, that doesn’t mean that all ethical relativists would actually forbid us to learn from other cultures or to criticize others-on the contrary, ethical relativists think of themselves as very tolerant and open-minded. The problem is in the logic of the theory itself: When it is applied to real-life situations as a moral principles, it reveals itself to have certain limitations.
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