Cultural Relativism


Cultural relativism, as a moral theory, argues that there is nothing like general truth in respect to ethics; only different cultural codes exist, and nothing more. It confronts our belief in detachment and generality of ethical truth (Rachels, 2009).


Many cultural relativists have tried to justify their claims by arguing that various social groups have different moral systems of doing things. Secondly, they say that a moral system of a social group determines what is correct within that group. This is means that what is considered in that group as right, then that deed is correct, at least for that social group. Similarly, there is no universal rule that can be used to criticize one social group’s code as better than other’s. Ethical truths that hold for all groups at all times do not exist. They further argue that our own way of conduct in society does not have any special consideration, it is just but one among many. They also recommend that we should always respect other people’s culture and not judge them (Rachels, 2009).


Cultural relativism does not fully justify its claims. It only brings an idea that what is ethically accepted is either relative to one particular person or to that person’s culture.

Though cultural relativism helps in explaining other cultures, it does not justify its beliefs. Through it, we understand why some cultures have permitted racism, polygamy, female circumcision and so on, but it does not present a reasonable case why these practices are accepted. Here we will not be able to explain what benefits does the culture gain or help in preventing a certain situation.

In this we ask ourselves whose culture is more acceptable or right. Cultural relativism does not give account on which is more right. It does not consider subcultures where one culture is a mixture of two different cultures. This could result in two or more conflicting cultures, such as being in religion or a gang associate. Two people from different cultures maybe living in a family, so whose culture is to be adopted. Cultural relativism explains that we have to respect other people’s culture, but the culture maybe conflicting (Rachels, 2009).

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