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Source:The Elements of Moral Philosophy (2012)by James Rachels and Stuart Rachels (McGraw Hill, 2012)1Lesson 2: The Challenge of Cultural RelativismMorality differs in every society, and is a convenient term for sociallyapproved habits.-Ruth Benedict, PATTERNS OF CULTURE (1934)Part 1Different Cultures Have Different Moral CodesDarius, a king of ancient Persia, was intrigued by the variety of cultures hemet in his travels. He had found, for example, that the Callatians, who lived inIndia, ate the bodies of their dead fathers. The Greeks, of course, did not dothatthe Greeks practiced cremation and regarded the funeral pyre as thenatural and fitting way to dispose of the dead. Darius thought that asophisticated outlook should appreciate the differences between cultures. Oneday, to teach this lesson, he summoned some Greeks who happened to be at hiscourt and asked what it would take for them to eat the bodies of their deadfathers. They were shocked, as Darius knew they would be, and replied that noamount of money could persuade them to do such a thing. Then Darius called insome Callatians and, while the Greeks listened, asked them what it would takefor them toburn their dead fathers’ bodies. The Callatians were horrifiedandtold Darius not to speak of such things.This story, recounted by Herodotus in his History, illustrates a recurringtheme in the literature of social science: Different cultures have different moralcodes. What is thought right within one group may horrify the members ofanother group, and vice versa. Should we eat the bodies of the dead obviouslycorrect; but if you were a Callatian, the other answer would seem equally certain.There are many examples of this. Consider the Eskimos of the early andmid-20th century. The Eskimos are the native people of Alaska, northern Canada,Greenland, and northeastern Siberia, in Asiatic Russia. Today, none of thesegroups callthemselves “Eskimos,” but the term has historically referred tothatscattered Arctic population. Prior to the 20th century, the outside world knewlittle about them. Then explorers began to bring back strange tales.The Eskimos lived in small settlements, separated by great distances, andtheir customs turned out to be very different from ours. The men often had morethan one wife, and they would share their wives with guests, lending them outfor the night as a sign of hospitality. Moreover, within a community, a dominantmale might demandand getregular sexualaccess to other men’s wives. Thewomen, however, were free to break these arrangements simply by leaving their
Source:The Elements of Moral Philosophy (2012)by James Rachels and Stuart Rachels (McGraw Hill, 2012)2

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