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Elements of Moral Philosophy 2: Cultural Relativism


The second chapter is an excellent take down of cultural relativism. He points out five claims (16):

  1. Different societies have different moral codes.
  2. The moral code of a society determines what is right within that society
  3. There is no objective standard that can be used to judge one code over another
  4. The moral code of our own society is not special
  5. It is arrogant to judge other cultures. We should be tolerant.

Rachels immediately points out that 2 and 5 can contradict. Perhaps our society says that it is okay to judge other cultures. Further approaches include pointing out that moral progress is impossible if 2 is correct, that 1 does not soundly imply 3. There’s also the argument that we cannot judge the murdering of innocents as wrong. Lastly, Rachels says there is more in common among cultures than we think.

The takeaway is that we should try to avoid arrogantly judging other practices as immoral, just because they are different. We should also be very wary of forcing our conception of morality on others. But it goes too far to then think that there morality is totally culturally relative.

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