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Chapter 3

PHIL 1100H Chapter Notes - Chapter 3: Cultural Relativism, James Rachels

Course Code
PHIL 1100H
Norlock Kathryn

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PHIL 1100
Week 2
Friday, January 20th, 2017
Reading: ‘The Challenge of Cultural Relativism’ by James Rachels
Different cultures have different moral codes.
Cultural Relativism
Challenges our ordinary belief in the objectivity and universality of moral truth
There is no such thing as universal truth in ethics, there are only the various cultural
codes and nothing more
Our own code has no special status; it is just one among many
A theory about the nature of morality
6 Cultural Relativism Claims
1. Different societies have different moral codes
2. There is no objective standard that can be used to judge on societal code better than
3. The moral code of our own society has no special status
4. There is no ‘universal truth’ in ethics; there are no moral truths that hold for all people at
all times
5. The moral code of a society determines what is right within that society, if the moral code
of a society says that a certain action is right, at least within that society
6. It is mere arrogance for us to try to judge the conduct of other people. We should adopt
an attitude of tolerance toward the practices of other cultures.
Consequences of Taking Cultural Relativism Seriously
1. We could no longer say that the customs of other societies are morally inferior to our own
2. We could decide whether actions are right or wrong just by consulting the standards of
our society
3. The idea of moral progress is called into doubt
These lead thinkers to believe that Cultural Relativism is false, because you can condemn some
other cultures’ practices
All Cultures Have Some Things in Common
To be protective of their infants
The prohibition of murder
Because they are necessary for societies to exist
What can be Learned from Cultural Relativism
1. It warns us about the danger of assuming that all our preferences are based on some
absolute rational standard
2. It provides an antidote for dogmatism
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