Morality and Cultural Relativism

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Cultural relativism promotes understanding and acceptance of differences. Throughout history, various conflicts could have been lessened or avoided by encouraging cultural relativism. People throughout the world are greatly influenced by the cultural and environment in which they are raised. Moral and ethical standards and behavioral practices vary across cultures. Cultural relativism is an appealing theory; it should be the goal in terms of promoting tolerance and peace. Reaching that goal, however, is a challenge. It requires study and understanding and a willingness to relax our own social mores and beliefs as we empathize with others. Cultural relativism as a theory also faces challenges and criticism from scholars. James Rachels, author of the chapter “The Challenge of Cultural Relativism” believes that cultural relativism is an overarching theory that should not be accepted in its entirety. Rachels argues that there is not one theory that will define what is right or wrong. Rachels believes that aspects of cultural relativism, such as keeping an open mind and tolerance, are important. According to Rachels, one can accept those concepts without endorsing the entire theory. In this paper, I will describe Rachels’ position on cultural relativism and his belief that individual, internal standards play a large role in morality and ethics. Because of that individuality, cultural relativism is a limited view of culture and human behavior. Rachels elaborated on his reluctance to adopt cultural relativism in its entirety in his subsection titled “The Consequences of Taking Cultural Relativism Seriously.” I agree with Rachels’ idea that all theories should be viewed analytically, questioned, and thoughtfully adopted and are dependent on a culture and individual experience. This type of analysis allows one to look at theory in terms of how it works in practice. This process encourages critical thinking and should lead to a deeper understanding of the...
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