If Cultural Relativism is correct can we legitimately think of this as

If cultural relativism is correct can we legitimately

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If Cultural Relativism is correct, can we legitimately think of this as progress?Progress means replacing a way of doing things with a better way. But by what standard do we judge the new ways as bet- ter? If the old ways were in accordance with the social standards of their time, then Cultural Relativism would say it is a mistake to judge them by the standards of a different time. Eighteenth-century society was, in effect, a different society from the one we have now. To say that we have made progress implies a judgment that present-day society is better, and that is just the sort of transcultural judgment that, according to Cuitural Relativism, is impermissible. Our idea of social reform will also have to be reconsidered. A THE CHALLENGE OF CULTURAL RELATIVISM 19 reformer such as Martin Luther King, Jr., seeks to change his society for the better. Within the constraints imposed by CulturJ Relativism, there is one way this might be done. If a society is not living up to its own ideals, the reformer may be regarded as acting for the b.rt, the ideals of the society are rhe standard by which we judge his or her proposals as worthwhile. But the "reformer" may not challenge the ideals themselves, for those ideals are by definition correct. Accord- ing to Cultural Relativism, then, the idea of social reform makes sense only in this very limited way. These three consequences of Cultural Relativism have led many thinkers to reject it as implausible on its f,ace. It does make sense, they say, to condemn some practices, such as slavery and anti-Semitism, wherever they occur. It makes sense to think that our own society has made some moral progress, while admitting that it is still imperfect and in need of reform. Because Cultural Relativism says that these judgments make no sense, the argument goes, it cannot be right. 2.5. Why There Is Less Disagreement than ft Seems The original impetus for Cultural Relativism comes from the observation that cultures differ dramatically in their views of right and wrong. But just how much do they differ? It is true that there are differences. However, it is easy to overestimate the extent of those differences. Often, when we examine what seeTns to be a dra- matic difference, we find that the cultures do not differ nearly as much as it appears. Consider a culture in which people believe it is wrong to eat !ows. This may even be a poor culture, in which there is not Lnough food; still, the cows are not to be touched. Such a society *o,rld appear to have values very different from our own. But does it? We have not yet asked why these people will not eat cows. Suppose it is because they believe that after death the souls of humani i.thubit the bodies of animals, especially cows, so that a cow may be some- one's grandmother. Now do we want to say that their values are different from ours? No; the difference lies elsewhere. The differ- ence is in our belief systems, not in our values. We agree that we shouldn't eat Grandma; we simply disagree about wheiher the cow # (or could be) Grandma.

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