Culture Relativism states that we cannot absolute say what is right and what is wrong because it all depends in the society we live in. James Rachels however. James Rachels summarizes the former theory into one brief statement: “Different cultures have different moral codes.” (Rachels, 18) Ethical relativism. Cultural Relativism. Morality differs in every society, and is a convenient term for socially approved habits. Ruth Benedict, PATTERNS OF CULTURE ().

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Benedict, 36 In one instance, a chief responded to the apparent death of his sister and her daughter by gathering a war party and eventually killing seven men and two children while they were sleeping.

The two similar theories jajes the moral, ethical, and societal differences that diverse cultures experience.

James Rachels: The Challenge of Cultural Relativism

Not every culture has a reason to believe that their fellow members are out to poison them with black magic. Right and wrong are only matters of opinion, and opinions vary from culture to culture.

There is no way, on the other hand, to scientifically prove in and of themselves, not jaems relation to the environment or any other external factor whether cremation or cannibalization is morally better, or whether infanticide is morally right.

There may be circumstances, such as isolated societies, in which suitable medical treatment is unavailable to parents relatviism unknown to them and this may mitigate their moral responsibility. Here is the argument: There is nothing moral about whether or not Earth is flat—it has been scientifically proven that Earth is an oblate spheroid.

Benedict uses extreme examples to support her points. For instance, writing inrschels William Graham Sumner, affirmed: Along those same lines, it is imperative that the young of the society be cared for so that they may carry it into the future.

For example, Eskimos do not value infanticide when other cultures do not—they simply use it as a means of survival while other cultures do not need to. Benedict cites another example of a culture-wide action that would seem illogical and immoral to someone of Western culture: Rachels argues that cultural relativism would continue to support the notion that, because there is a difference of a opinion, there cannot be one truly correct belief. While it would be considered morally repugnant in our society to feel good after completing such an endeavor, those involved in the war party and the killings felt good upon their return to Sebaa.


As Rachels puts it, “There is no reason racheks think that if the world is round everyone must know it.

Cultural Relativism: James Rachels vs. Ruth Benedict | Gordon Hemsley –

Different cultures have different moral codes. Benedict supports the notion that the morals, ethics, and actions of different cultures of people are simply the result of many years of cultural evolution, through accidental isolation of and contact with other cultures. The Eskimos are a nomadic tribe whose males are often killed during hunting or from the cold.

This duty is part of the general custodial duty of parents to help, instruct, and preserve their offspring, a duty addressed by British philosopher, John Locke, more than three hundred years ago in his Second Treatise of Government.

In the first example, Rachels argues that, according to cultural relativism, because there is a disagreement between the two cultures, this leads to the conclusion that there could not possibly be a true objectively right procedure for disposing of the dead. There are definitely racchels moral codes that underlie all of the human cultures around the world, as Rachels claims.

Rachels uses another example to support his argument: Rachels misses the point when it comes to what morals and other characteristics are universal across all cultures. When the two theories are combined, they form a complete theory that some anthropologists racehls philosophers apply to cultures to describe rituals and actions that differ among them.

A prominent ethical theory, cultural relativism, holds that the right jammes the good is the customary. Instead, he believes that all cultures have some values in common—that there is less disagreement among cultures than it seems. Rachels is correct in his belief that there are many aspects of cultures that are not exclusive to racbels cultures.

Paradox and Discovery, Fifth Edition, p. For instance, jsmes one society believes that the earth is flat and another that it is spherical, we should not conclude that there is no objective truth about the shape of the earth.


According to Rachels, Eskimo mothers often kill their female babies after birth, without social stigma being attached to the action. If a normal member of one culture were to be transplanted into a significantly different culture, they would be considered abnormal in that culture.

One final example that he uses to support his analysis is the difference between cultures that refuse to eat cows and those who do not. In general, senseless murder is to be regarded as a negative action that is detrimental to the furthering of society.

The ‘right’ way is the way the ancestors used and which has been handed down. Certain aspects of cultures simply cannot be unified under one universal moral code relatovism governs all of the human race.

Quoted by Rachels in Shipka and Minton, p. As time goes on, certain actions begin to become congenial, and others, uncongenial. Jamse these two examples, Rachels comes up with two general arguments that cultural relativism uses: Rather, he was simply a nice guy who liked to work and be helpful.

Cultural Relativism

Shipka and Minton, p. Log In Sign Up.

Cultural relativism does, in fact, exist—but not to the extent that Benedict might predict, nor to the extent that Rachels has denied its existence. According to Locke, the duties of parents to their children and their authority over them cease when the children become adults. Therefore, killing female babies at birth helps to keep the population from becoming skewed overwhelmingly female, and helps to reduce the burden on the family during travel.

The notion of right is in the folkways. Further, in that customs often differ from culture to culture, so right and wrong differ, and there is no objective, universally applicable moral law. Rachels covers the topics and examples of cultural relativism within the central area of the spectrum, while Benedict covers those at the far ends. He had no desire to mask his true personality and conform to the tendencies of his culture.