A Defense of Ethical Relativism

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A Defense of Ethical Relativism-Ruth Benedict
Summary Paper

Ethical relativism is the theory that holds that morality is relative to the norms of one's culture. That is, whether an action is right or wrong depends on the moral norms of the society in which it is practiced. The same action may be morally right in one society but be morally wrong in another. Benedict mentions emotions such as joy, anger, and grief, or human drives such as the sex drive, and argues that these emotions can be expressed differently in other cultures than they are expressed in our own culture. Throughout the essay Benedict discusses about various examples starting from homosexuality to the Northwest coast Indians. In Ethical relativism moral progress does not exist she proves this with the help of homosexuality, today also it is not widely accepted in many cultures but then still it depends from cultures to cultures. In her study regarding the northwest island of Melanesia she shows that different cultures have different sets of values, customs, ethics & morals. For example among the Kwakiutl tribe if a member of a community dies instead of moaning for that persons death they avenge the death by going out and killing some other individual. For me as an Indian or any other American this behavior as abnormal, unsound and extreme. However these people view their very normal and they would be even honored for doing this. Therefore we recognize that morality differs in every society, and is a convenient term for socially approved habits. She even makes a statement of ‘what is morally good = what is habitual’. Benedict also says that most of what is normal is merely habitual. In turn, "Normality . . . is culturally defined." So she is clearly saying that what is habitual depends on social conditioning within the culture. In summary, Benedict says that what is habitual is synonymous with whatever is normal whatever is socially agreeable to the majority of...
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