Cultural Ethical Relativism

Cultural Ethical Relativism

Nowadays, the problem of moral values is highly topical. A lot of people today would suppose that there is no evidence of any; still, moral relativism assumes that morality is constructed by the society. What morality and ethics mean for a particular individual may not be the right thing for another one. On the other hand, the claim of moral relativism is the existence of moral values that define such concepts as good and evil, rightness and wrongness, and they overtop cultures and societies. Considering this point, the following paper lingers upon the discussion of the credibility of the cultural relativism.  


Influence of Morality

Morality is an inalienable part of life of an individual. Undoubtedly, people have duties and obligations which somehow address their moral values. People need to have rules to follow, and, conversely, special set of actions or beliefs that they are prohibited to do. In such a way, there is an ethical dimension of every single person’s life.  An individual is a representative of the human race, and everything he or she experiences in life such as a world of good and evil contributes to the understanding of definite types of actions in terms of moral rightness and wrongness. The very structure of human essence implies that people are supposed to make a choice; thus, morality and ethics help the mankind to be responsible for the use of freedom and understanding the essence of the human nature. Namely, morality gives an account to human existence from the perspective of seeking the answer to the basic questions such as how people are expected to live and how to judge them in a right way. In response to these questions, moral relativism has emerged.

Moral relativism is a philosophical study that claims there is no absolute law which can be applied to any nation or any historic period. Instead of an objective moral law, it maintains that certain situations presuppose specific moral stance. 

In the modern time, the support of moral relativism is closely linked to the theory of evolution; actually, the dispute revolves around this issue. In fact, the way the humanity progressed is similar to the process of the development of morality. It had led to the assumption that there is no universal or determinate certainty in the realm of morality. Owing to this argument, its logical inference causes confusion among individuals, who support moral relativism. For instance, Paul Kurtz in his book The Humanist Alternative concluded: “In case man is a product of evolution, one species among others, in the universe without purpose, then man’s option is to live for himself”. 

Subjectivism (Relativism)

Subjectivism refers to the theory which claims that objective moral truth does not exist; moreover, there are no objective moral facts.  Thus, for example, the fact of a murder cannot be objectively true. A lot of forms of subjectivism go as far as making people believe that divergent moralities describe how the person perceives a definite ethical matter. Moral statements are just factual statements about one’s attitude to a certain issue; in such a way, moral judgments depend on feelings, emotions and personal relations of individuals, who think about such issues. 

Reasonable points of subjectivism reflect the close relations between morality, feelings and beliefs of people; it may deal with contradictory moral forms, which people are often fighting against. Subjectivism reflects the estimative fragments of moral statements in usual life in order to make judgments; for instance, moral statement may assume that lying is wrong, and factual statement may claim that cats have fur. Moral judgments reflect the communication of approval or, conversely, disapproval that goes along with making moral statements on a day-to-day basis. Relativism can clarify what people argue about; it may allow people who disagree over the rightness or wrongness of some matters to see that the real argument is not an objective truth about their personal outlooks. It reflects the persuasive intention behind moral disputes. Subjectivism can also enable individuals to engage in moral arguments to and see that in fact, they are not disputing about objective truth but try to convince their opponents to adopt their viewpoint.

The shortcomings of subjectivism are based on the assumption that moral statements are less important than the majority of people think they are; it can be true without rendering moral statement insignificant. Relativism seems to incline people to think that moral statements give information about what humans feel about moral matters. In case the simplest ideas of subjectivism are right, an individual who truly approves of telling lie and claims that “telling lies is good”, is unambiguously right. In accordance with this theory, all the person has to do to prove that untruth is good is to discover the evidence that they actually approve of untruth as long as they say untruth and feel good about that. In fact, they will be surprised in case somebody criticizes them for being a liar, and they often praise other people for telling lies. Many people would find that method of approaching ethics a little unhelpful and would not presuppose it to reflect the method, in which a lot of people are tending to value ethical questions. 

Moral statement seems to take the further extent than the one of the statement about feelings. Anyway, individual tells that something is wrong, and the other person always gets the message that they dislike something regarding this statement; on the contrary, most people possibly think that the other individual does more than just telling about personal feelings. The matter is based on the question of how to blame people to be always subjective regarding truth. In case so, it is impossible to blame people for behaving in a wrong way; e.g. the assertion “murder is wrong” is not an objective truth. Furthermore, it is difficult to answer how to justify people who committed a murder. The answer is that people may justify castigation for murder on the basis of the objective truth that the majority of normal people in society condemn murder. In case humans do so, it should not be pretended that the justification is based on something different from the views of the majority of people.

Ethical Relativism

Ethical relativism is a view, which shows what is morally true or false; it is dependent on what particular culture believes is right or wrong. In other words, it depends on society or cultural group, in which a person believes the definite action as ethically wrong, and thus, it is also wrong for each individual within this society. Business people often say something of the kind; they suppose, for instance, that businesses work under their own system of moral values. What is considered right by several businesses is right for ethical relativism. In this case, there are some questions. The first one is about rightness and wrongness of that action; it is valid as long as one community or boss says it is right or it is wrong. In this case, there are several moral standards that can be applied to every society and every business regardless of their beliefs in those standards. When objections like “Why believe that morality is relative?” are received, proponents of relativism are likely to respond. First, different persons have different beliefs about morality. Second, the objective facts about morality do not exist. Relativists motivate their point of view by disagreement with moral issues among lots of people; there are heated debates, strong arguments and conflicts between nations over the question whether actions are ethically right or wrong. The main claim of relativists is that this disagreement is a proof that the objective fact of the matter about morality does not exist; thus, relativism is a subjective notion of morality. Relativists claim that moral truth depends on what humans think about morality. In such a way, morality is simply a question of individual preferences. In comparison to that, the majority of other points are objective forms of morality; therefore, morality does not depend on what humans think, and it is not a question of personal preferences. The truth is that several things are simply false or true regardless the way anyone thinks. For instance, “Ice cream is a tasty food” is a subjective truth since it is true as someone thinks it is true. “The grass is green” is an objective truth; since nobody thinks the grass is red. 

Cultural Relativism

Experts say that “Different cultures have different moral codes”, and this statement seems to be the key to understanding morality. Cultural relativists distinguish the following claims. First, different groups of people have various codes of ethics, and these codes of their own societies have no special status; it is just one among many. In their opinion, there is no overall truth in ethics, and there is no moral rightness for different people at all times. The moral code of a definite society points to what is true among this group of people; thus, in case the moral code of these people says that action is right, it means that it is right within that group of people. Relativists think that it is utterly arrogant to judge the behavior of other social groups, and they suppose that they have to be tolerant to the practices of other societies. Cultural relativism studies a theory of morality, and it seems to be true on the one hand; in contrast, a lot of theories can be estimated by subjecting it to loyal analysis. Analyzing cultural relativism, it is easy to find that it is not rational initially; the main feature that can be noticed is a definite form of argument. 

Cultural relativists use a strategy of arguing with facts regarding the differences among cultural views to relatively outcome the status of morality. In such a way, we have to accept the reasoning as Greeks believed that it is a bad thing to eat the dead flesh, while the Galatians thought it was a good idea to do so. According to these facts, eating the dead flesh is not eventually good or bad; it is only a question of viewpoint that varies from one culture to another. In addition, there can be a diversity of examples regarding cultural relativism, as Eskimos do not see anything wrong in infanticide, but Americans think that action is immoral. Thus, infanticide is neither objectively good nor objectively bad for cultural relativists. Obviously, these arguments are variants of one fundamental idea. Both arguments are specific cases of a more common argument that concludes that different cultural groups have different conduct. Consequently, the objective morality does not exist; rightness and wrongness depend on one’s point of view, and they differ from one culture to another. 

Cultural and Ethical Relativism

Today, cultural relativism is considered a dubious theory; for instance, in academic debates, calling somebody a relativist is a mild form of a verbal offence. In the 1920s and 1930s, relativism was formulated by Franz Boas in the context of ethical matters. It was the answer to the Nazi regime and their racism, eugenics and anti-Semitism.  The standpoint was that those human differences and their ideologies like Nazism must be understood as cultural. The concept of the plasticity of human nature and the ability of people to adopt the vast diversity of cultures and traditions existed owing to this position. The early relativism used this metaphor, except for the accidents in the history when some people may have been born in Tibet as long as the genetic makeup is the same. Conversely, they speak different languages and adhere to a different culture. From this point of view, culture is knowledge which people acquire after the birth. 

Ruth Benedict, a famous anthropologist, said that all cultures are “coexisting and equally valid patterns of life, which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence”. On this basis, every culture is autonomous, separate, independent, but equal; every culture makes sense in its own context, and everyone has to know this context in order to understand what the people do and why they do it. 

An anthropologist known as Universalist, Clyde Kluckhohn, said that in reality, ethical relativism is a special case of cultural relativism. Clyde concluded the doctrine of Benedict of cultural relativism – coexisting and equally actual patterns of life – it denies moral criticism of any cultural practice, including murder, slavery and cannibalism and, in addition, the other forms like Nazism and Communism. Clyde Kluckhohn supposed that in case a person adopts Benedict’s position, it means that person cannot be critical to evil. With the purpose to replace the relativism of Boas and Benedict, Clyde proposed a range of ethical and cultural universals. He compared two Native American groups: the Kwakiutl who encourage exhibitionism and the Zuni who encourage restraint. Kluchhonh showed different ways of displaying identity and being in the world; these big differences opened regarding universal-prizing norms of the cultures. Moreover, Clyde claimed that the diversity of human moral codes contains a universal: “Morality is as genuine a human universal as is language. All cultures have moral systems”. At the same time, Kluckhohn was searching for cultural universal and was some kind of a relativist. He thought that the variety of values in societies are not moral but are questions of taste; thus, the matter that the taste of other societies does not coincide with our own does not make them foolish, uninformed or evil. In case somebody speaks another language or they button their clothes from the top down instead of from the bottom up, this does not mean that people are abnormal. It is the key relativist principle. Clyde Klukhohn even claimed that in a global society, every group may and must learn other cultures and traditions. In addition, each group must represent itself with a divergent value system together with its own traditional norms and practices. This is another relativist position to insist on the imperative to experience from other cultures. Clyde argued against ethical relativism and had a big need for relativity. 

Moral Value 

Economists and philosophers understand the concept of the value differently. Philosophy professor Aeon J. Skoble claims that economics supposes that value is a subjective phenomenon, while philosophy uses the concept of the word value as an objective one. Rights, for instance, are something everyone has to have; that is an objective thing in comparison to economical understanding of value. As long as the value is considered the way the price system works, it is subjective in economic sense. When economists say that value is subjective, they mean that people have different tastes and preferences and thus value things in different way.  In such a case they need an objective moral basis to live in society peacefully. In order to reach this, everybody should have an objective way of learning what to expect from each other and how to treat each other. These issues provide an objective basis for the social living among persons with different tastes and preferences. 

 Subjectivism is characterized by the confidence that moral value is subjective; that means that values are whatever people choose and desire. It means there are no such things as good or evil, except of what somebody thinks is good or evil. In case someone believes something is evil, it is his or her preference, namely, it cannot be a statement of reality. The ideology that values are subjective is a denial of the need of morality. Since some values may be accepted without consequences, there is no guide to define what values ought to be accepted; as long as an objective moral standard does not exist, no reason may be used to define how someone should act. Emotions are one thing that is left to make a decision, and afterwards, a person is ruled by one’s emotions. Another reason to maintain the point of view which confirms that moral value is subjective is a demand for lack of moral judgment. Regarding morality as subjective, and considering that bad or good are not real, there is no sense to judge other people by one’s own personal moral standards. Furthermore, whereas moral judgment is not experienced, justice is impossible and crimes cannot be punished. Thus, an innocent person cannot be protected, and it is easy to understand who benefits from that policy.

Divergent moralities in the world make a question about the subjectivity or objectivity of moralities, and standpoints are still divided just as long as those moral values are too different all over the world. Moreover, not only people have their own opinion, but also, as -mentioned above, in every science, there is its own scientific explanation of the two standpoints.  It is easy to see on the example how different the moral values in two counties are. On the example of Iraq, it is clearly seen that for those who maintain the murderous regime in the country, moral values seem to be subjective As long as people do not judge the murder, they obviously neglect the moral values, considering them subjective, whereas Americans truly believe that terrorist countries are immoral. 

Anyway, in case morality is objective, there should be no inconsistency in values. Therefore, morality is subjective, and through actual scientific proofs, child is not born with a set of standard morals; as he or she grows up, he or she studies the values by his/her own feelings and experience. In such a way, it is clearly seen that moral values are different for every person. Then, it is obvious that moral values are subjective since peoples are different and their values are not always equal.


The issue for the moral relativists, who are secular humanists who deny God, is that they have no satisfactory answer to the substandard question. For example, the appeal to the relative needs of society or individual preferences does not give satisfying answers. The best answer to the matter of necessitates is that person has an unchanging standard, which is allowed to turn to. In addition, the second is an absolute authority where the appropriate moral obligation may be defended; for instance, rape cannot be deemed wrong as long as the strongest statement which may be used to express one’s disapproval of it is “I do not like it.” Therefore, the cultural ethical relativism should not be accepted for its irresponsibility and even cynicism. None should forget to have an ethical attitude for other people and surroundings he or she lives in. Even more, it is important to note that moral value can be subjective, but the truth is objective. 


Mar 7, 2019 in Socioligy
Communication Knowledge and Information
Deschooling Society

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