I attempt to rebut the following standard objections against culturalrelativism: 1. It is self-defeating for a cultural relativist to take the principle of tolerance as absolute; 2. There are universal moral rules, contrary to what culturalrelativism claims; 3. If culturalrelativism were true, Hitler’s genocidal actions would be right, social reformers would be wrong to go against their own culture, moral progress would be impossible, and an atrocious crime could be made (...) moral by forming a culture which approves of it; 4. Culturalrelativism is silent about how large a group must be in order to be a culture, and which culture we should follow when we belong to two cultures with conflicting moralities. (shrink)
This book provides an analysis of the debate surrounding cultural diversity, and attempts to reconcile the seemingly opposing views of "ethical imperialism," the belief that each individual is entitled to fundamental human rights, and culturalrelativism, the belief that ethics must be relative to particular cultures and societies. The author examines the role of cultural tradition, often used as a defense against critical ethical judgments. Key issues in health and medicine are explored in the context of (...)cultural diversity: the physician-patient relationship, disclosing a diagnosis of a fatal illness, informed consent, brain death and organ transplantation, rituals surrounding birth and death, female genital mutilation, sex selection of offspring, fertility regulation, and biomedical research involving human subjects. Among the conclusions the author reaches are that ethical universals exist, but must not be confused with ethical absolutes. The existence of ethical universals is compatible with a variety of culturally relative interpretations, and some rights related to medicine and health care should be considered human rights. Illustrative examples are drawn from the author's experiences serving on international ethical review committees and her travels to countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where she conducted educational workshops and carried out out her own research. (shrink)
The key problem for normative (or moral) culturalrelativism arises as soon as we try to formulate it. It resists formulations that are (1) clear, precise, and intelligible; (2) plausible enough to warrant serious attention; and (3) faithful to the aims of leading cultural relativists, one such aim being to produce an important alternative to moral universalism. Meeting one or two of these conditions is easy; meeting all three is not. I discuss twenty-four candidates for the label (...) "culturalrelativism," showing that not one meets all three conditions. In the end I conclude that cultural relativists have produced nothing that threatens universalism. (shrink)
The implementation of international human rights law has traditionally been undermined by the dichotomy between universalism and culturalrelativism. Some groups regard human rights as more reflective of other culture’s and are unwilling to subscribe to them. One response to this is to enable groups to take co-ownership of human rights. Quality Circles based on institutions and technology, and the collaboration they encourage, provide one such means for doing so. What is required is for states to facilitate rather (...) than undermine and censor these processes. Human Rights Quality Circles at different levels represent one way in which the culturalrelativism and universalism division can be addressed, particularly in an ever-globalising world. (shrink)
Abstract The concept of culture was originally an expression of German nationalism, which reacted to the French Enlightenment by asserting the uniqueness and incomparability of all cultures as historical creations. This understanding of cultural diversity, which prevailed in American anthropology, is widely understood to imply the moral equality of all cultures. Yet its relativism originally applied to different individuals socialized in the values of their culture, rather than to different cultures. The debate over multiculturalism, which presupposes cultural (...)relativism, ignores this distinction. The vogue of multiculturalism reflects the decline of the Left, quests for community and identity, and an actual reduction in diversity more than a genuine appreciation of different cultures. (shrink)
This paper is based on the assumption that critical rationalism represents a middle position between absolutist and relativistic positions because it rejects all attempts of ultimate justification as well as basic relativistic claims. Even though the critical-rationalist problem-solving-approach based on the method of trial and error leads to an acknowledgment of the plurality of theories and moral standards, it must not be confused with relativism. The relativistic claims of the incommensurability of cultures and the equality of all views of (...) the world and all moral systems can be challenged by two basic critical‐rationalist arguments:(1) Popper’s critique of ‚the myth of the framework’; (2) the criticalrationalist conception of different levels of rationality (Albert, Agassi and Jarvie). In ethics moral standards and norms can be interpreted from a critical‐rationalist perspective as undogmatic suggestions for the regulation of social behaviour and as attempts to answer different problems, resulting from social life. This allows for the comparison of different moral standards, norms, practices and institutions with reference to the underlying problem situation and the search for culturally overlapping moral standards. (shrink)
Ethics position theory (EPT) maintains that individuals’ personal moral philosophies influence their judgments, actions, and emotions in ethically intense situations. The theory, when describing these moral viewpoints, stresses two dimensions: idealism (concern for benign outcomes) and relativism (skepticism with regards to inviolate moral principles). Variations in idealism and relativism across countries were examined via a meta-analysis of studies that assessed these two aspects of moral thought using the ethics position questionnaire (EPQ; Forsyth, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (...) 39 , 175–184, 1980). This review identified 139 samples drawn from 29 different countries, for a total sample of 30,230 respondents, and concluded that (a) levels of idealism and relativism vary across regions of the world in predictable ways; (b) an exceptionist ethic is more common in Western countries, subjectivism and situationism in Eastern countries, and absolutism and situationism in Middle Eastern countries; and (c) a nation’s ethics position predicted that country’s location on previously documented cultural dimensions, such as individualism and avoidance of uncertainty (Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values , 1980). Limitations in these methods and concerns about the validity of these cross-cultural conclusions are noted, as are suggestions for further research using the EPQ. (shrink)
The movement to respect culturaldiversity, known as multiculturalism, poses a dauntingchallenge to healthcare ethics. Can we construct adefensible passage from the fact of culturaldifferences to any claims regarding morality? Or doesmulticulturalism lead to ethical relativism? Macklinargues that, in view of a leading distinction betweenuniversalism in ethics and moral absolutism, the onlyreasonable passage avoids both absolutism andrelativism. She presents a strong case againstethical relativism and its pernicious consequences forcross-cultural issues in healthcare. She alsoprovides sound criteria for the assessment (...) of aculture's moral progress. (shrink)
Introductory Remarks Why Paradigm Variation is Ensuant upon Contradiction How Externalistic Warrant Parries the Threat of [Truth] Relativism Why Not to Ward Relativism off by Means of Foundationalistic Justification Defending a relativistic View of Warrant A Transcendental Argument against [Truth] Relativism Towards [Partial] convergence A Gradualistic Paraconsistent Way to Convergence 7.1. - Perspectivism and Non Copulative Paraconsistent Logics 7.2. - The Strength and Weakness of Two Copulative Approaches to Paraconsistent Logic 7.3. - The Logic of Contradictorial Gradualism (...) 7.4. - Implementing the Notion of Relative Truth Bibliographic References.. (shrink)
Ethics position theory (EPT) maintains that individuals’ personal moral philosophies influence their judgments, actions, and emotions in ethically intense situations. The theory, when describing these moral viewpoints, stresses two dimensions: idealism (concern for benign outcomes) and relativism (skepticism with regards to inviolate moral principles). Variations in idealism and relativism across countries were examined via a meta-analysis of studies that assessed these two aspects of moral thought using the ethics position questionnaire (EPQ; Forsyth, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (...) 39, 175–184, 1980). This review identified 139 samples drawn from 29 different countries, for a total sample of 30,230 respondents, and concluded that (a) levels of idealism and relativism vary across regions of the world in predictable ways; (b) an exceptionist ethic is more common in Western countries, subjectivism and situationism in Eastern countries, and absolutism and situationism in Middle Eastern countries; and (c) a nation’s ethics position predicted that country’s location on previously documented cultural dimensions, such as individualism and avoidance of uncertainty (Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, 1980). Limitations in these methods and concerns about the validity of these cross-cultural conclusions are noted, as are suggestions for further research using the EPQ. (shrink)
Psychiatrists encounter persons from diverse cultures who profess experiences (e.g., communicating with spirits) that evoke intuitions of abnormality. This view might not be shared with the person or her/his cultural peers, raising questions concerning the justification of such intuitions. This article explores three positions relevant to the process of justification. The relativist position transfers powers of judgment to the subject’s peers yet neglects individual values and operates with a discredited holistic view of culture. The clinical-ethnographic position remedies this by (...) suspending judgment subject to understanding the individual in a sociocultural context yet finds objections with the universalist-scientific position: objective standards exist and could justify intuitions of abnormality cross-culturally. This article argues that the claim to objectivity is value-laden, reflecting instead a brand of normality and relationship to reality further upheld through epistemological utility and valued technological progress. In conclusion, it is suggested that the clinical-ethnographic position takes personal values and context seriously, both of which are crucial for responsible clinical practice. (shrink)
Abstract: The founders of American pragmatism proposed what they regarded as a radical alternative to the philosophical methods and doctrines of their predecessors and contemporaries. Although their central ideas have been understood and applied in some quarters, there remain other areas within which they have been neither appreciated nor appropriated. One of the more pressing of these areas locates a set of problems of knowledge and valuation related to global citizenship. This essay attempts to demonstrate that classical American pragmatism, because (...) its methods are modeled on successes in the technosciences, offers a set of tools for fostering global citizenship that are more effective than the tools of some of its alternatives. First, pragmatism claims to discover a strain of human commonality that trumps the radical postmodernist emphasis on difference and discontinuity. Second, when pragmatism's theory of truth is coupled with its moderate version of culturalrelativism, the more skeptical postmodernist version known as “cognitive” relativism is undercut. (shrink)
This book consists of the edited proceedings of a debate among Jurgen Habermas, Richard Rorty, and Leszek Kolakowski that was held in Warsaw in May of 1995. It includes also commentary from those in attendance, including extensive remarks by Ernest Gellner. The debate marked the fortieth anniversary of the foundation of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and focussed primarily on topics related to historicism and culturalrelativism.
Machine generated contents note: Note on citation style; Abbreviations and works cited by title; Introduction; 1. The question of moral relativism; 2. Happiness and the moral life; 3. History and human destiny; 4. The concept of race; 5. Language and world; 6. The place of reason; 7. Religious diversity; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.
David Bloor’s thought experiment is taken into consideration to suggest that the rationality of the Other cannot be inferred by way of argument for the reason that it is unavoidably contained as a hidden supposition by any argument engaged in proving it. We are able to understand a different culture only as far as we recognize in it the same kind of rationality that works in our own culture. Another kind of rationality is either impossible, or indiscernible.
Can politics be studied scientifically, and if so, how? Assuming it is impossible to justify values by human reason alone, social science has come to consider an unreflective relativism the only viable basis, not only for its own operations, but for liberal societies more generally. Although the experience of the sixties has made social scientists more sensitive to the importance of values, it has not led to a fundamental reexamination of value relativism, which remains the basis of contemporary (...) social science. Almost three decades after Leo Strauss's death, Nasser Behnegar offers the first sustained exposition of what Strauss was best known for: his radical critique of contemporary social science, and particularly of political science. Behnegar's impressive book argues that Strauss was not against the scientific study of politics, but he did reject the idea that it could be built upon political science's unexamined assumption of the distinction between facts and values. Max Weber was, for Strauss, the most profound exponent of values relativism in social science, and Behnegar's explication artfully illuminates Strauss's critique of Weber's belief in the ultimate insolubility of all value conflicts. Strauss's polemic against contemporary political science was meant to make clear the contradiction between its claim of value-free premises and its commitment to democratic principles. As Behnegar ultimately shows, values--the ethical component lacking in a contemporary social science--are essential to Strauss's project of constructing a genuinely scientific study of politics. (shrink)
In this pathbreaking study, Micaela di Leonardo reveals the face of power within the mask of cultural difference. From the 1893 World's Fair to Body Shop advertisements, di Leonardo focuses on the intimate and shifting relations between popular portrayals of exotic Others and the practice of anthropology. In so doing, she casts new light on gender, race, and the public sphere in America's past and present. "An impressive work of scholarship that is mordantly witty, passionately argued, and takes no (...) prisoners."--Lesley Gill, News Politics "[Micaela] di Leonardo eloquently argues for the importance of empirical, interdisciplinary social science in addressing the tragedy that is urban America at the end of the century."--Jonathan Spencer, Times Literary Supplement "In her quirky new contribution to the American culture brawl, feminist anthropologist Micaela di Leonardo explains how anthropologists, 'technicians of the sacred,' have distorted American popular debate and social life."--Rachel Mattson, Voice Literary Supplement "At the end of di Leonardo's analyses one is struck by her rare combination of rigor and passion. Simply, [she] is a marvelous iconoclast."--Matthew T. McGuire, Boston Book Review. (shrink)
I criticize the following three arguments for moral objectivism. 1. Since we assess moral statements, we can arrive at some moral truths (Thomson, 2006). 2. One culture can be closer to truths than another in moral matters because the former can be closer to truths than the latter in scientific matters (Pojman, 2008). 3. A moral judgment is shown to be true when it is backed up by reason (Rachels and Rachels, 2010). Finally, I construct a dilemma against the view (...) that there are moral truths and we can move toward them. (shrink)
This paper explores the nature of the relationship between reasonable variations in moral justifications and universal moral principles. It examines Wiredu’s distinction between custom and morality, and its implications for the issue of moral justification in African cultures. It argues that Wiredu’s distinction does not adequately articulate how universal moral principles are employed in different circumstances to justify actions and judgments. Wiredu’s distinction implies that a conceptual account of moral justification does not involve custom regarding relative facts and cultural (...) norms. The paper defends a variant of the relativism about moral justification that does imply relativism of truth and incommensurability between two culturally relative moral perspectives. It argues that the plausibility of such relativism is contingent on the possibility of conceptual, cognitive, and epistemic universals, and the idea that moral reasoning is a kind of practical reasoning that does not necessarily depend on intellectual rationality. (shrink)
Machine generated contents note: CHAPTER 1. Cultural and Ethical Relativism -- I. CulturalRelativism -- II. Approval Theories -- III. Ethical Relativism -- IV. Institutionalism and Ethical Relationism -- CHAPTER 2. Positivism, Postmodernism and Ethical -- Relativism -- I. Metaethical Theories -- II. Positivism and Ethics -- III. Postmoder Cognitive Relativism -- IV Ethical Relativism -- CHAPTER 3. Cultural-Ethical Relativism: A Critique -- I. The Limited Validity of Cultural (...) class='Hi'>Relativism -- II. Approbation Theories -- III. 'Is' and 'Ought' Controversy -- IV Some Further Arguments Concerning Ethical -- Relativism -- CHAPTER 4. Relativism: Positivist and Postmodern: -- A Critique -- I. Recapitulation -- II. Non-cognitivist Theories -- III. Postmodern Cognitive Relativism -- IV. Indeterminacy of Translation, Inscrutability of -- Reference, Conceptual Schemes, and -- Incommensurability -- V Some Further Comments --CHAPTER 5. Anti-Relativist Trends: Realism and -- Universali -- I. Introductory Remarks -- II. Realism: Metaphysical and Epistemological -- m. Realism and Ethical Discourse -- IV Ethical Universalism -- V Are Realism and Universalism Complementary? -- CHAPTER 6. The Moral Point of View -- I. Overridingness -- II. Objectivity and Universality -- II. Impartiality and Reversibility -- IV Equality and Justice -- V Towards Universal Morality -- CHAPTER 7. Self and Others -- I. Early Views -- II. Existentialist View -- III. Liberals and Communitarians -- IV. Kantian Perspective -- V Indian Perspective -- CHAPTER 8. A Rational Approach to Universal -- Morality -- I. Objectivity and Validity -- II. A Rational Approach -- II. Reason and Dialogue -- IV. Concluding Note. (shrink)
Herodotus. Custom is king.--Engels, F. Ethics and law: eternal truths.--Sumner, W. G. Folkways.--Ross, W. D. The meaning of right.--Duncker, K. Ethical relativity?--Herskovits, M. J. Culturalrelativism and cultural values.--Kluckhohn, C. Ethical relativity: sic et non.--Taylor, P. W. Social science and ethical relativism.--Ladd, J. The issue of relativism.--Redfield, R. The universally human and the culturally variable.--Bibliography (p. 145-146).
The scholars who defend or dispute moral relativism, the idea that a moral principle cannot be applied to people whose culture does not accept it, have concerned themselves with either the philosophical or anthropological aspects of relativism. This study, shows that in order to arrive at a definitive appraisal of moral relativism, it is necessary to understand and investigate both its anthropological and philosophical aspects. Carefully examining the arguments for and against moral relativism, Cook exposes not (...) only that anthropologists have failed in their attempt to support relativism with evidence of cultural differences, but that moral absolutists have been equally unsuccessful in their attempts to refute it. He argues that these conflicting positions are both guilty of an artificial and unrealistic view of morality and proposes a more subtle and complex account of morality. (shrink)
The “ontological turn” is a recent movement within cultural anthropology. Its proponents want to move beyond a representationalist framework, where cultures are treated as systems of belief (concepts, etc.) that provide different perspectives on a single world. Authors who write in this vein move from talk of many cultures to many “worlds,” thus appearing to affirm a form of relativism. We argue that, unlike earlier forms of relativism, the ontological turn in anthropology is not only immune to (...) the arguments of Donald Davidson’s “The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” but it affirms and develops the antirepresentationalist position of Davidson’s subsequent essays. (shrink)
Is it possible, given culturally incongruent perspectives, to validate any common standards of behavior? Is it possible to implement human rights in societies without incorporating the idea into their fabric of culture? Is it possible for cultural communities to survive in the contemporary world without rights protection? This book addresses questions like these in the light of an inventive and original understanding of culture.
Moral relativism attracts and repels. What is defensible in it and what is to be rejected? Do we as human beings have no shared standards by which we can understand one another? Can we abstain from judging one another's practices? Do we truly have divergent views about what constitutes good and evil, virtue and vice, harm and welfare, dignity and humiliation, or is there some underlying commonality that trumps it all? These questions turn up everywhere, from Montaigne's essay on (...) cannibals, to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, to the debate over female genital mutilation. They become ever more urgent with the growth of mass immigration, the rise of religious extremism, the challenges of Islamist terrorism, the rise of identity politics, and the resentment at colonialism and the massive disparities of wealth and power between North and South. Are human rights and humanitarian interventions just the latest form of cultural imperialism? By what right do we judge particular practices as barbaric? Who are the real barbarians? In this provocative new book, the distinguished social theorist Steven Lukes takes an incisive and enlightening look at these and other challenging questions and considers the very foundations of what we believe, why we believe it, and whether there is a profound discord between "us" and "them.". (shrink)
Are all moral truths relative or do certain moral truths hold for all cultures and people? In Moral Relativism: A Reader, this and related questions are addressed by twenty-one contemporary moral philosophers and thinkers. This engaging and nontechnical anthology, the only up-to-date collection devoted solely to the topic of moral relativism, is accessible to a wide range of readers including undergraduate students from various disciplines. The selections are organized under six main topics: (1) General Issues; (2) Relativism (...) and Moral Diversity; (3) On the Coherence of Moral Relativism; (4) Defense and Criticism; (5) Relativism, Realism, and Rationality; and (6) Case Study on Relativism. Contributors include Ruth Benedict, Richard Brandt, Thomas L. Carson, Philippa Foot, Gordon Graham, Gilbert Harman, Loretta M. Kopelman, David Lyons, J. L. Mackie, Michele Moody-Adams, Paul K. Moser, Thomas Nagel, Martha Nussbaum, Karl Popper, Betsy Postow, James Rachels, W. D. Ross, T. M. Scanlon, William Graham Sumner, and Carl Wellman. The volume concludes with a case study on female circumcision/genital mutilation that vividly brings into focus the practical aspects and implications of moral relativism. An ideal primary text for courses in moral relativism, Moral Relativism: A Reader can also be used as a supplementary text for introductory courses in ethics and for courses in various disciplines--anthropology, sociology, theology, political science, and cultural studies--that discuss relativism. The volume's pedagogical and research value is enhanced by a topical bibliography on moral relativism and a substantial general introduction that includes explanatory summaries of the twenty selections. (shrink)
The issue of relativism has recently become a vital concern in sociology and politics, along with globalization. This book studies ethical relativism in its most profound and recent forms, and argues that a non-relativist account of morality is capable of validating our moral experiences without undesirable implications. Ethical Relativism brings a fresh-perspective to the on-going debate on post-modernism and relativism, and should be of interest to all who study philosophy, theology, and cultural studies, and those (...) interested in spirituality. (shrink)
In this book, C. G. Prado addresses the difficult question of when and whether it is rational to end one’s life in order to escape devastating terminal illness. He specifically considers this question in light of the impact of multiculturalism on perceptions and judgments about what is right and wrong, permissible and impermissible. Prado introduces the idea of a “coincidental culture” to clarify the variety of values and commitments that influence decision. He also introduces the idea of a “proxy premise” (...) to deal with reasoning issues that are raised by intractably held beliefs. Primarily intended for medical ethicists, this book will be of interest to anyone concerned about the ability of modern medicine to keep people alive, thereby forcing people to choose between living and dying. In addition, Prado calls upon medical ethicists and practitioners to appreciate the value of a theoretical basis for their work. (shrink)
Many point to Peter Winch’s discussion of rationality, relativism, and religion as a paradigmatic example of culturalrelativism. In this paper, I argue that Winch’s relationship to relativism is widely misinterpreted in that, despite his pluralistic understanding of rationality, Winch does allow for universal features of culture in virtue of which cross-cultural understanding and even critique is possible. Nevertheless, I also argue that given the kind of cultural universals that Winch produces, he fails to (...) avoid relativism. This is because in order to provide the standards without which relativism ensues, one requires a certain kind of criteria of rationality, namely, what I here call substantive universals, a kind of criteria which Winch rejects. (shrink)
This paper examines the issue of global child labor. The treatment is grounded in the classical economics of Adam smith and the more recent writings of human capital theorists. Using this framework, the universal problem of child labor in newly industrializing countries is investigated. Child labor is placed in its historical context with a brief review of practices in the United States and Great Britain at the time those countries were industrializing. Then, child labor is examined in its contemporary global (...) context. We argue that, as countries industrialize, they tend to follow predictable patterns of development – including use of and eventual abandonment of child labor. We argue that this convergence under the logic of industrial capitalism supports a universalist approach to human rights (that would condemn child labor) over a more tolerant cultural relativist approach. (shrink)
Drawing parallels between gender essentialism and cultural essentialism, I point to some common features of essentialist pictures of culture. I argue that cultural essentialism is detrimental to feminist agendas and suggest strategies for its avoidance. Contending that some forms of culturalrelativism buy into essentialist notions of culture, I argue that postcolonial feminists need to be cautious about essentialist contrasts between "Western" and "Third World" cultures.
Living organ donation will soon become the source of the majority of organs donations for transplant. Should mentally handicapped people be allowed to donate, or should they be considered a vulnerable group in need of protection? I discuss three cases of possible living organ donors who are developmentally disabled, from three different cultures, the United States, Germany, and India. I offer a brief discussion of three issues raised by the cases: (1) cultural diversity and culturalrelativism; (2) (...) autonomy, rationality, and self-interest; and (3) the proper use and role for clinical ethics consults. (shrink)
Culturalrelativism was the subject of a panel presentation at the 2005 meetings of the American Anthropological Association. In 2007, three of the four presentations were published in Anthropological Quarterly. The present article comprises what was presented in the fourth panel presentation, my own, plus a critical realist critique of the other three papers and the discussant’s introduction of them. The critical realist method of immanent critique, applied here, reveals the gaps, contradictions and non-sequiturs of cultural (...) class='Hi'>relativism, and suggests that the critical realist meta-philosophy of philosopher Roy Bhaskar, sociologist Margaret Archer, and others offers anthropologists a stronger theoretical paradigm from which to operate. (shrink)
Putnam's internal realism entails the simultaneous rejection of metaphysical realism and (anything goes or total or cultural) relativism. Putnam argues, in some places, that relativism is self-contradictory, and in others, that it is self-refuting. This paper attempts the exegetical task of explicating these challenging arguments, and the critical task of suggesting that a full-blown epistemological relativism may be capable of surviving the Putnam attack.
Johann Gottfried Herder has been described as the founder of culturalrelativism within the German philosophical tradition, which would make him the starting-point for one thread in the pattern of ideas leading to the Nazi disaster. More recently, some scholars have rejected this interpretation, arguing that Herder actually supported the universalist values of the Enlightenment. I argue that Herders position is actually a complex, and laudable, blend of universalism and relativism. It includes: (1) the presumption of a (...) set of basic human goods, upon which some universal criteria for ethical judgements may be founded: and, (2) the view that human practices, values and beliefs must be interpreted within their social context, and that the happiness and virtue of individuals can only be measured in relation to their specific values, being a function of their capacity to satisfy their desires and to live up to their ideals. Key Words: Counter-Enlightenment culturalrelativism ethical relativism Eurocentrism Johann Gottfried Herder. (shrink)
Macaulay was wrong: The British public in one of its periodic fits of morality may be a ridiculous spectacle but it has at least one rival in the reaction we have recently witnessed to ‘culturalrelativism’, ‘postmodernism’, and suchlike phenomena. One good illustration of the point is the argument of Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont's Intellectual Impostures (1998: London, Profile Books). Sokal and Bricmont spend the greater part of their time holding various postmodernist writers up to ridicule, and (...) it would be a waste of time to defend it against them. However, their most seriously argued chapter (chapter four) is a critique, not of postmodernism, but of epistemic relativism in the philosophy of science, as mainly exemplified by the work of Popper, Feyerabend, and Kuhn, and it is important to answer the case they make. There are many reasons for finding that case unconvincing. For example: (i) Sokal and Bricmont repeatedly imply that epistemic relativism is counter-intuitive. Against them it can be objected that some quite ordinary proposition can be both true and, at the same time, only true for beings with certain types of visual apparatus or with a certain cultural history. Nor are they right in claiming that all scientists find epistemic relativism implausible. Some do, but Chomsky doesn't. Neither does Stephen Hawking; (ii) Sokal and Bricmont suppose that there is a single, uniquely correct description of the universe ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered, but all the evidence we have suggests the contrary; (iii) it is not the case that epistemic relativism entails that any description is just as good as any other, so they are wrong to insist that it must endorse all manner of silly superstition; (iv) Sokal and Bricmont frequently insist that “the scientific method is not radically different from the rational attitude in everyday life or in other domains of human knowledge” but this glosses over great differences between the procedures appropriate to different areas of inquiry – science on the one hand, history and/or psychoanalysis on the other. (shrink)
For more than 100 years, anthropologists have collected ethnographic research among communities who assert that the spirits, animal allies, and other entities of the unseen world are “really real,” yet we have historically contextualized this information under the umbrella of culturalrelativism rather than taking the veracity of these claims seriously. In the last decade, some anthropologists claim that our discipline has finally undergone an ontological turn, which opens a door for anthropologists to finally take claims of nonhuman (...) sentience seriously under the umbrella of ontological, rather than cultural, relativism. This paper takes issue with ontological relativism as just one more frame for explaining away the stories of other-than-human consciousness that ethnographers report and suggests that there is an urgent need to consider the relevance, rather than the relativism, of other-than-human consciousness. It looks to Michael Harner's work as a welcome alternative to ontological relativism and encourages opening our minds to a reconsideration of what is “really real.”. (shrink)
How should we deal with social diversity if we conceive it as cultural diversity? Appeals to culturalrelativism and to the collective good of diversity provide inadequate answers. Taking cultural diversity seriously requires that we respond to it fairly or justly and that, in turn, requires an approach that is impartial (or neutral) amongst cultures. Claims of impartiality are often thought peculiarly implausible when applied to cultural diversity, but an impartialist approach is in fact peculiarly (...) appropriate to that form of diversity. The issue is not whether we can be impartial, but whether we are ready to accept the implications of describing a diversity as ?cultural? and, if we are, what form our impartiality should take. Attempts to avoid claims of impartiality by dealing with diversity through deliberative processes are misguided since those processes must embody commitments to impartiality if their outcomes are to be just. (shrink)
In reviewing five edited collections and one monograph from the 1990s, the article summarizes the present status of the "human rights revolution" that was signaled by the adoption in 1948 of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights". It goes on to elaborate and evaluate some of the attempts contained in these books to deal with theoretical and practical controversies surrounding the subject of human rights, particularly the discussion of what to make of "culturalrelativism" as far as human (...) rights are concerned. Finally, the article summarizes some recent thinking and research on a neglected area, namely compliance with human rights standards protecting "freedom of religion or belief.". (shrink)
Relativist and constructivist conceptions of truth and knowledge have become orthodoxy in vast stretches of the academic world in recent times. In his long-awaited first book, Paul Boghossian critically examines such views and exposes their fundamental flaws. Boghossian focuses on three different ways of reading the claim that knowledge is socially constructed--one as a thesis about truth and two about justification. And he rejects all three. The intuitive, common-sense view is that there is a way the world is that is (...) independent of human opinion; and that we are capable of arriving at beliefs about how it is that are objectively reasonable, binding on anyone capable of appreciating the relevant evidence regardless of their social or cultural perspective. Difficult as these notions may be, it is a mistake to think that philosophy has uncovered powerful reasons for rejecting them. This short, lucid, witty book shows that philosophy provides rock-solid support for common sense against the relativists. It will prove provocative reading throughout the discipline and beyond. (shrink)
Moral relativism is often rejected on grounds that it is either descriptively inadequate, at best, or self-defeating, at worst. In this essay, I swim against the predominant anti-relativistic philosophical tide. My minimal aim is to show that relativism is neither descriptively inadequate nor self-defeating. My maximal aim is to outline the beginnings of an argument that relativism is a truth resting on deep facts about the human normative predicament. And I shall suggest that far from being a (...) source of cultural degeneracy, the fact of relativism has the potential to ground a culture that is deeply life-affirming. My argument against the twin charges of descriptive inadequacy and self-defeat turns on a distinction between tolerant and intolerant relativism. I concede that many of the standard arguments against relativism do have force against tolerant relativism. But against intolerant relativism, those arguments are entirely unavailing. The crucial difference between the tolerant and intolerant relativist is that although the intolerant relativist agrees with the tolerant relativist that norms are relative, she insists that agents are sometimes entitled to hold others to norms by which they are not bound. I shall argue that just because the intolerant relativist allows that we are sometimes entitled to hold others to norms by which we are bound but they are not, she is able to escape both the charge of descriptive inadequacy and the charge of self-defeat. In particular, I shall show that the intolerant relativist has a coherent and satisfying account of the nature of moral disagreement and moral argument. Establishing the ultimate truth of relativism, however, would take more than showing that one form of relativism escapes certain standard arguments against relativism. Though I do not pretend to conclusively discharge the burden of showing that relativism is true in the space of this essay, I do sketch the beginnings of an account of what I call the bindingness of norms that has intolerant relativism as more or less straight-forward downstream consequence. If there are independent grounds for accepting that account of bindingness, then there are independent grounds for accepting intolerant moral relativism. (shrink)
This paper approaches "multiculturalism" obliquely via conceptions of social and political pluralism in the pragmatist tradition. As a matter of social analysis, the advent of multiculturalism implies some loss of confidence in our prior conceptions of accommodating ethnic, social, and religious diversity: the conversion of traditional American cultural diversity into a war of political interest groups. This, and the corresponding tendency toward culturalrelativism and "anything goes," is fundamentally a product of over-centralization and cultural-political exhaustion in (...) the wake of the long ordeal of the Cold War. An over-emphasis on the political, and national centralization, has pressured our cultural variety toward more political forms, and "multiculturalism" is both product and backlash.<br><br> Many issues connected with the general theme of multiculturalism parallel philosophical debates on objectivity and the diversity of cultural perspectives. Successful treatments of these themes, drawing on the pragmatist tradition, need to be developed and applied to contemporary problems. The general approach here emphasizes a relative autonomy of religious, ethnic, and cultural-racial groups, the need to be wary of both exclusion and self-insulation, and the roles of individuals in mediating group differences. In the concluding section, specific issues relating religious pluralism and secularism will be addressed.<br><br>. (shrink)
The thirty-three essays in <I>Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology</I> grapple with one of the most intriguing, enduring, and far-reaching philosophical problems of our age. Relativism comes in many varieties. It is often defined as the belief that truth, goodness, or beauty is relative to some context or reference frame, and that no absolute standards can adjudicate between competing reference frames. Michael Krausz's anthology captures the significance and range of relativistic doctrines, rehearsing their virtues and vices and reflecting on a (...) spectrum of attitudes. Invoking diverse philosophical orientations, these doctrines concern conceptions of relativism in relation to facts and conceptual schemes, realism and objectivity, universalism and foundationalism, solidarity and rationality, pluralism and moral relativism, and feminism and poststructuralism. Featuring nine original essays, the volume also includes many classic articles, making it a standard resource for students, scholars, and researchers. <B>Table of Contents:</B> Foreword by Alan Ryan Preface Introduction Michael Krausz <B>Part I. Orienting Relativism</B> 1. Mapping Relativisms Michael Krausz 2. A Brief History of Relativism Maria Baghramian <B>Part II. Relativism, Truth, and Knowledge</B> 3. Subjective, Objective, and Conceptual Relativisms Maurice Mandelbaum 4. “Just the Facts, Ma’am!” Nelson Goodman 5. Relativism in Philosophy of Science Nancy Cartwright 6. The Truth About Relativism Joseph Margolis 7. Making Sense of Relative Truth John MacFarlane 8. On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme Donald Davidson 9. Truth and Convention: On Davidson’s Refutation of Conceptual Relativism Hilary Putnam 10. Conceptual Schemes Simon Blackburn 11. Relativizing the Facts Paul A. Boghossian 12. Targets of Anti-Relativist Arguments Harvey Siegel 13. Realism and Relativism Akeel Bilgrami <B>Part III. Moral Relativism, Objectivity, and Reasons</B> 14. Moral Relativism Defended Gilbert Harman 15. The Truth in Relativism Bernard Williams 16. Pluralism and Ambivalence David B. Wong 17. The Relativity of Fact and the Objectivity of Value Catherine Z. Elgin 18. Senses of Moral Relativity David Wiggins 19. Ethical Relativism and the Problem of Incoherence David Lyons 20. Understanding Alien Morals Gopal Sreenivasan 21. Value: Realism and Objectivity Thomas Nagel 22. Intuitionism, Realism, Relativism, and Rhubarb Crispin Wright 23. Moral Relativism and Moral Realism Russ Schafer-Landau <B>Part IV. Relativism, Culture, and Understanding</B> 24. Anti Anti-Relativism Clifford Geertz 25. Solidarity or Objectivity? Richard Rorty 26. Relativism, Power, and Philosophy Alasdair MacIntyre 27. Internal Criticism and Indian Rationalist Traditions Martha C. Nussbaum and Amartya Sen 28. Phenomenological Rationality and the Overcoming of Relativism Jitendra N. Mohanty 29. Understanding and Ethnocentricity Charles Taylor 30. Relativism and Cross-Cultural Understanding Kwame Anthony Appiah 31. Relativism, Persons, and Practices Amélie Oksenberg Rorty 32. One What? Relativism and Poststructuralism David Couzens Hoy 33. Must a Feminist Be a Relativist After All? Lorraine Code List of Contributors Index. (shrink)
During the last few decades, most cultural critics have come to agree that the division between "high" and "low" art is an artificial one, that Beethoven's Ninth and "Blue Suede Shoes" are equally valuable as cultural texts. In Who Needs Classical Music?, Julian Johnson challenges these assumptions about the relativism of cultural judgements. The author maintains that music is more than just "a matter of taste": while some music provides entertainment, or serves as background noise, other (...) music claims to function as art. This book considers the value of classical music in contemporary society, arguing that it remains distinctive because it works in quite different ways to most of the other music that surrounds us. This intellectually sophisticated yet accessible book offers a new and balanced defense of the specific values of classical music in contemporary culture. Who Needs Classical Music? will stimulate readers to reflect on their own investment (or lack of it) in music and art of all kinds. (shrink)
The paper explores the defence by the early sociologist of science Ludwik Fleck against the charge of relativism. It is shown that there are crucial and hitherto unnoticed similarities between Fleck’s strategy and the attempt by his contemporary Karl Mannheim to distinguish between an incoherent relativism and a consistent relationism. Both authors seek to revise epistemology fundamentally by reinterpreting the concept of objectivity in two ways: as inner- and inter-style objectivity. The argument for the latter concept shows the (...) genuine political background and intent of Fleck’s sociology of science and its ambition to relieve the cultural struggles of his time. (shrink)
Gilbert Harman’s defense of moral relativism is distinctive because it is grounded upon a fundamental theory of moral obligation, and not merely upon certain well-known anthropological facts (e.g., cultural diversity). Harman’s theory of moral obligation is a particular form of “internalism”-roughly, that to have a moral obligation, one must have some adequate motivation (either dispositional or occurrent) to observe such constraints on action. It is argued, in the present piece, that Harman’s version of internalism fails to account for (...) the sense of using common moral judgments for the purposes of moral education (there is, in other words, a relativism that exists between those with more complex moralities and those who are just learning moral ideas). But this use of moral judgments seems to be crucial in moral education. Since this is so, this difficulty poses an important anomaly to Harman’s relativistic moral theory. (shrink)