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Philosophy 1020
John Thorp

25. Moral Relativism 0. Introductory Materials i) Ethics and morals For our purposes, “ethics” = “morals” “Ethics” < Greek ethe – customs “Morals < Latin mores = customs ii) About Ruth Benedict 1887-1948 Anthropologist – pioneering in women academics and also very famous because of the argument of moral relativism 1. The argument for moral relativism Morality is just socially approved customs. Societies differ (often quite strikingly) as to what customs they approve or disapprove. • What is approved or disapprove is based on what your society approves or disapproves Morality is, therefore, culturally relative. 2. The lessons of a wider view of cultures “In the higher cultures the standardization of custom and belief over a couple of continents has given a false sense of the inevitability of the particular forms that have gained currency, and we need to turn to a wider survey in order to check the conclusions we hastily base upon this near-universality of familiar customs.” • What is abnormal in our cultural may be normal and honorable in another culture • What is normal in our culture may be abnormal and dishonorable in another culture 3. Examples i) Trances, catalepsies, pain-endurance “Most peoples have regarded even extreme psychic manifestations not only as normal and desirable, but even as a characteristic of highly valued and gifted individuals” ii) Homosexuality "Homosexuals in many societies are not incompetent, but they may be if the culture asks adjustments that would strain any man’s vitality." • Not just some of the people all of the time, but all of the people some of the time • Ancient Greece: homosexuality (refer to classics lectures – noblemen and young boys) iii) Murder Stems from Benedict’s own anthropological studies "…Among the Kwakiutl it did not matter whether a relative had died in bed of disease, or by the hand of an enemy; in either case death was an affront to be wiped out by the death of another person. The fact that one had been caused to mourn was proof that one had been put upon… "…A chief’s sister and her daughter had gone up to Victoria, and either because they drank bad whiskey or because their boat capsized they never came bac
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