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Lecture 4

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Department
Philosophy
Course
PHILOS 2YY3
Professor
Liam Dempsey
Semester
Winter

Description
PHILOS 2YY3 Dempsey January 13, 2014 Lecture 3 • Discussion Question Jan. 13 • 1) in Canada which isn’t immoral but just different • One which you would be inclined to say “live and let live.” • 2) Think of a cultural practice different from cultural practices in Canada which you believe is objectively immoral • One which you would NOT be inclined to say “live and let live.” Cultural Differences • Different cultures DO have different codes of behaviour. Examples from the book: • Greek versus Indian funeral rites • Eating the dead – in some cultures it’s a sign of respect, in others it’s unthinkable • Polygamy -vs- monogamy • In extreme environments, some cultures practice infanticide – as a sort of birth control Cultural Relativism • Is morality relative to a culture? Is morality just a “socially approved habit”? • Or are there objective standards of right and wrong • According to which some cultural practices can be deemed immoral? Cultural Relativism • Ruth Benedict (early 20th century anthropologist): • “Morality differs in every society, and is a convenient term for socially approved habits.” Cultural Relativism • Universal truths in ethics are a myth • Our moral code is only one of many – no better and no worse • William Sumner: p. 16 Five Elements of Cultural Relativism 1) Different societies have different moral codes 2) The moral code of a society determines what is right in that society 3) There are no objective standards with which to judge one society’s moral code 4) The moral code of our society has no special status 5) It is arrogant for us to judge the conduct of other peoples (we must be tolerant) • Notice that (2) and (5) are potentially inconsistent: • 2) The moral code of a society determines what is right in that society • 5) It is arrogant for us to judge the conduct of other peoples (we must be tolerant) • Part of the Nazi moral code was to be intolerant of most other cultures Cultural Differences Argument • Cultural relativists argue from facts about different cultures • To the status of morality. E.g., pp. 17-18 • BUT this conclusion does not follow • The premise is about what people believe, the conclusion, about what is really the case • Rachels: differences in moral codes do not mean that some are not better than others Counter-example: • In some societies, people believe that the earth is flat, in others, that it is spherical • Does it therefore follow that there is no right answer??! • Rachels: the “cultural differences argument” is therefore flawed Consequences of Cultural Relativism 1) We could no longer say that another culture’s moral practices are either superior or inferior • We could not criticize e.g., one group of humans enslaving another • We could not criticize e.g., a country for violently suppressing political dissent. P. 19 2) We can no longer criticize the moral codes of our own society • To determine what is right, we simply check the standards of our society • BUT it is hard to believe that a society’s standards are necessarily perfect • Just because a society permits the enslavement of a race, doesn’t make it right • Criticizing your own society would always be immoral because it goes against that society’s present standards 3) The idea of moral progress does not make sense • Progress means replacing old social standards with new, hopefully better, ones • BUT if relativism is true, progress is (always) wrong b/c it conflicts with present standards. P. 20 • For these reasons most ethicists reject cultural relativism • Less Disagreement Than It Seems? • Perhaps ther
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