This preview shows page 1. Sign up to view the full content.
Unformatted text preview: the prevalent cultural
beliefs happen to be.
Another example that illustrates this point is female
circumcision. This is the practice in some cultures of
excising a portion of female genitalia. It is usually practiced
on young girls. Moral RelativismMoral lead to numerous health problem
It is quite painful and can It is quite painful and can lead to numerous health problem
for the girls but it is practiced for cultural reasons and
some argue, as a way of depriving females of sexual
Of course, in Western cultures, such a practice is
considered quite immoral, so we have a case of cultural
Moral relativism would hold that in Western cultures
‘Female circumcision is wrong’ is true where in cultures
where people do not happen to hold similar beliefs that
claim would be false and it may well be true instead that
‘Female circumcision is right’.
Someone might argue that of course it is perfectly clear
that there is no universality- after all, we have the
empirical evidence of moral disagreement- so doesn’t this
show that universality does not exist? No it does not. 16 Moral Relativism
And as philosophers such as James Rachels have noted,
there are reasons why:
1. Cultural differences are not evidence for the view that
there is no universal truth to morality-there could be such
non-relative truth but people are mistaken about it or
unaware of it, just as it was true that ‘ The earth orbits the
Sun’ even 500 years ago when few people, if anyone
The Premise that there is diversity of belief cannot support
a conclusion that there is no universal truth to morality.
Some people-or everybody even might be mistaken.
2.In culture, we can observe moral progress (morality is
not static); that is things seem to be getting better in some
cultures at least.
17 Moral Relativism
It is necessary to adopt an attitude of tolerance toward
differing social customs and conventions.
But closer reflection reveals that instead, the view has
implications that are quite unattractive and implications
that most persons would be unwilling to accept.
While tolerance is valuable, it only goes far- it clearly
cannot cover morally outrageous behavior such as mass
murder, baseless discrimination or host of other moral
problems that we have seen in play through out human
history. 18 Relativism and Chauvinism
Another, related charge made against moral
relativism, is that of chauvinism.
Even in view of all the cultural variations in humans’
conceptions of the moral life, the relativist is accused
of clinging with zealous certainty to those with which
he has been brought up, dismissing variations found in
other societies as perversions and distortions which
deserve forthright condemnation.
Only his own way of doing things is right. He is
unimpressed by the fact that other cultures take their
own morality as seriously as he takes his; what
matters is that they have false conceptions of the good
19 Moral Relativism
Moral the fact that slavery is illegal and
For example, some takes
women now have the right to vote as a sign of moral
progress in the USA.
The abolition of slavery throughout the USA-this change in
the culture of the USA-denotes genuine moral progress
and not simply a shift in what people happen to believe.
Thus it does seem plausible to maintain that there has
been moral progress in the USA since 1776, at least with
respect to some issues.
However, this would have to be rejected as illusory if moral
relativism is true, since there would be no objective
standard along which to measure progress.
The point of the above criticisms is to note that many
people find themselves attracted to relativism because
they mistakenly identify it with tolerance or think that such
20 The Argumentum ad Nazium
This challenge to relativism is simple, and essentially
relies on most people’s bedrock intuition. It insists that
some individuals and cultures may be radically mistaken
about basic moral principles.
Suppose somebody were to point to the culture of the
Nazis, and comment that the ethical values (or lack of
them) of that culture were “right for them”, and that nobody
should criticize them.
To make the point more vivid: imagine that Germany had
won World War II, established Nazi values in the whole of
Europe, killed all remaining European Jews, and gained
wide acceptance of its doctrine that the human good
emerges from conflict and domination.
21 The Argumentum ad Nazium
It remains intuitively abhorrent to suggest that Nazi
values would thereby become right, merely because
they would be part of an established culture. Even if
nobody challenged them, they would surely still be
Although the Nazi example is often used as a paradigm
of evil, there are plenty of other examples that will also
serve the purpose.
However, the Argumentum ad Nazium, or some variant,
is enough to suggest to most of us that th...
View Full Document