100%(1)1 out of 1 people found this document helpful
This preview shows page 4 - 5 out of 7 pages.
If Cultural Relativism is correct, can we legitimately think ofthis as progress?Progress means replacing a way of doing things witha 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 oftheir time, then Cultural Relativism would say it is a mistake to judgethem by the standards of a different time. Eighteenth-century societywas, in effect, a different society from the one we have now. To saythat we have made progress implies a judgment that present-daysociety is better, and that is just the sort of transcultural judgmentthat, according to Cuitural Relativism, is impermissible.Our idea of social reform will also have to be reconsidered. ATHE CHALLENGE OF CULTURAL RELATIVISM 19reformer such as Martin Luther King, Jr., seeks to change his societyfor the better. Within the constraints imposed by CulturJ Relativism,there is one way this might be done. If a society is not living up toits 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 herproposals as worthwhile. But the "reformer" may not challenge theideals themselves, for those ideals are by definition correct. Accord-ing to Cultural Relativism, then, the idea of social reform makessense only in this very limited way.These three consequences of Cultural Relativism have led manythinkers to reject it as implausible on its f,ace. It does make sense, theysay, to condemn some practices, such as slavery and anti-Semitism,wherever they occur. It makes sense to think that our own society hasmade some moral progress, while admitting that it is still imperfectand in need of reform. Because Cultural Relativism says that thesejudgments make no sense, the argument goes, it cannot be right.2.5. Why There Is Less Disagreementthan ft SeemsThe original impetus for Cultural Relativism comes from theobservation that cultures differ dramatically in their views of rightand wrong. But just how much do they differ? It is true that thereare differences. However, it is easy to overestimate the extent ofthose differences. Often, when we examine what seeTns to be a dra-matic difference, we find that the cultures do not differ nearly asmuch 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 Lnoughfood; still, the cows are not to be touched. Such a society *o,rldappear to have values very different from our own. But does it? Wehave not yet asked why these people will not eat cows. Suppose it isbecause they believe that after death the souls of humani i.thubitthe bodies of animals, especially cows, so that a cow may be some-one's grandmother. Now do we want to say that their values aredifferent from ours? No; the difference lies elsewhere. The differ-ence is in our belief systems, not in our values. We agree that weshouldn't eat Grandma; we simply disagree about wheiher the cow# (or could be) Grandma.