Ethics: Cultural Relativism

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“Morality differs in every society and is a convenient term for socially approved habits”

“What is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like, and immorality is what they dislike” (Alfred North Whitehead) The question of morality is one which begs a hundred questions. How can one judge what is moral and what is not? Who decides where the line is drawn? What standing ground does one have when question the morals of another? Where is the benchmark? This essay shall examine the statement aforementioned, firstly by engaging with cultural relativism, then critically discuss cultural relativism and lastly examine the implications for educational practices in South Africa.

With regards to the statement, it is first important to note the definition of morality. “Morality speaks of a system of behavior in regards to standards of right or wrong behavior. The word carries the concepts of: (1) moral standards, with regard to behavior; (2) moral responsibility, referring to our conscience; and (3) a moral identity, or one who is capable of right or wrong action.”( In other words morals are what is considered to be right or wrong. The real question is right or wrong to whom? What is considered acceptable in Kenya is considered immoral in South Africa. To engage with the topic, cultural relativism needs to be visited.

Cultural relativism is “the form of moral relativism that holds that all ethical truth is relative to a specified culture. According to cultural relativism, it is never true to say simply that a certain kind of behavior is right or wrong; rather, it can only ever be true that a certain kind a behavior is right or wrong relative to a specified society.” ( This is a fairly attractive theory to buy into as it holds idea’s of freedom of choice and non judgment. The theory is...
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