What do cultural relativists claim?
Understanding Cultural Relativism
Before we dive into the claims made by cultural relativists, it's important to first understand what cultural relativism is. Cultural relativism is a perspective in anthropology which believes that a person's beliefs and activities should be understood in terms of their own culture. It's a theory that was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas in the late 19th century and has since been embraced and applied within the social sciences. Cultural relativism basically argues that all cultures are equally valuable and need to be studied from a neutral point of view.
The Principle of Cultural Relativism
The principle of cultural relativism is perhaps the most fundamental claim made by cultural relativists. They assert that there are no absolute truths in ethics, instead, different societies have different moral codes. Therefore, the morality of an action is relative to the customs of one's own culture. This principle arises from the idea that there is no ultimate standard of good or evil, so every judgment about right and wrong is a product of society.
Denial of Ethical Absolutism
Another key claim of cultural relativists is the denial of ethical absolutism. They argue that what is considered morally right or wrong varies from culture to culture, and even from individual to individual. Therefore, it's impossible to establish a single, definitive moral code that applies universally. This claim challenges the notion of universal human rights, suggesting that rights are culturally specific and should be respected as such.
Respect for Cultural Diversity
A major claim of cultural relativism is the profound respect for cultural diversity. Cultural relativists believe that every culture has its own unique value system and ways of life which need to be respected and understood. They assert that no culture is superior or inferior to another, and it's wrong to judge the practices and beliefs of other cultures based on our own cultural standards. This perspective encourages open-mindedness, tolerance, and respect for cultural diversity.
Rejection of Ethnocentrism
Cultural relativists strongly reject the concept of ethnocentrism, the belief in the inherent superiority of one's own culture. They argue that such a viewpoint is biased and unjust, and that it can lead to harmful attitudes such as racism and xenophobia. Instead, they advocate for the understanding and appreciation of all cultures, emphasizing that each culture is equally valuable and deserving of respect.
The Importance of Cultural Context
Another important claim of cultural relativists is the critical role of cultural context. They argue that to fully understand a person's actions and beliefs, it's essential to consider the cultural context in which they exist. Cultural relativists claim that without considering this context, we risk misunderstanding and misinterpreting behaviors and beliefs, leading to incorrect and potentially harmful assumptions.
Challenges to Cultural Relativism
Despite its many contributions, cultural relativism is not without its critics. Critics argue that cultural relativism can lead to moral relativism, where all actions are deemed acceptable if they are part of a cultural tradition. They also argue that it can be used to justify harmful practices and can hinder social progress. However, proponents of cultural relativism counter these arguments by emphasizing the importance of understanding and respect for cultural diversity, as well as the dangers of ethnocentrism and cultural imperialism.