Explain the differences between Cultural Relativism and Cultural Absolutism

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A) Explain the differences between Cultural relativism and absolutism.

Moral absolutism is the idea that there are set values and that some things are objectively right or wrong regardless of the circumstances. Pope John Paul the 2nd said “ If something is true, then it must be true for all people and at all times” The ancient Greek philosopher Plato supported the idea of moral absolutism because he believed that humans were inherently bad and so we need absolutes to guide us. The opposite of an absolute view is a relative morality, which takes into account the circumstances before deciding if something is good or bad. Protagoras said “man is the measure of all things” which means he believed we need to take our morals from our own consciences and not let a source of authority tell us what is right or wrong. Cultural relativism is the theory that because of the diverse range of cultures and customs in the world means that morality cannot be absolute. The anthropologist William Sumner said “The right way is the way that the ancestors used and which has been handed down” which suggests that morality is entirely dependent on your upbringing and background. This theory directly opposes moral absolutism. For example, in some countries women are supposed to cover themselves in public, in others, women are allowed to wear more revealing clothes if they wish. This means that there cannot be an absolute rule about the clothes that women can wear. It also celebrates the diversity of the world, and does not hold one country’s values above another’s.

According to John Ladd,  consists of two ideas:

  • a diversity thesis, which specifies what is considered morally right and wrong varies from society to society, so that there are no moral principles accepted by all societies, and
  • a dependency thesis, which specifies that all moral principles derive their  from cultural acceptance

The problem with cultural relativism is that it could lead to the justification of abhorrent acts, such as female genital mutilation or FGM. FGM is practised in many countries in Africa and also in Kurdistan and Yemen, it is very dangerous to women’s health but some people in the country would try to justify it by saying that because it has been happening for many years, it is tradition, and cultural relativism would say that we could not disagree with that, therefore, some people think that a society that accepted cultural relativism would turn to chaos. As Randall Terry said “You have relativism...you have anything. How long before child pornography is mainstream?”

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Cultural absolutism aims to solve this problem, it is the idea that although there are differences in culture, and we should accept those, it is important to uphold basic moral values which are the same worldwide. This is supported by the “golden rule” or the idea that you should treat others how you want to be treated. This rule is found in all religious scripture albeit in different ways, for example “Love your neighbour” in the Bible or “Let him who desires his own advantage not harm another” which is found in Buddhist text. This shows that although these religions ...

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