Understanding the idea behind cultural relativism

In the 20th century, a variety of positions sympathetic to conceptual relativism were developed.

cultural relativism philosophy

Curators typically assumed that similar causes produce similar effects; therefore, in order to understand the causes of human action, they grouped similar artifacts together — regardless of provenance.

Nor could we contend that one culture is superior to another culture. As Marcus and Fischer point out, however, this use of relativism can be sustained only if there is ethnographic research in the United States comparable to the research conducted in Samoa.

Our goal as missionaries is not to westernize the world.

Cultural relativism in anthropology

In an article in the journal Science, Boas argued that this approach to cultural evolution ignored one of Charles Darwin 's main contributions to evolutionary theory: It is only since the development of the evolutional theory that it became clear that the object of study is the individual, not abstractions from the individual under observation. Relativism about science is also influenced by the related doctrine that all observations are theory-laden. He says: Lakatos and Feyerabend have taken the underdetermination of theories to justify the claim that the only difference between empirically successful and empirically unsuccessful theories lies in the talents and resources of their respective advocates i. Each person has the same categories and thus constructs the world in the same way. Boas's students drew not only on his engagement with German philosophy. When people are taught to think in racial terms instead of according to individual merit and character, and groups are identified as having special status e. They then depart from their commonality to join various factions in order to participate in the debate. However, such use does imply that those who use the masculine terms hold hostile or exclusionary thoughts toward women! Such an attack on reason creates a herd mentality by which people thoughtlessly follow those who proclaim themselves to be the leaders. But the relativists reject the quick move that presupposes the very conception of truth they are at pains to undermine and have offered sophisticated approaches of defense. Richard Rorty has made the influential claim that there is nothing to be said about either truth or rationality apart from descriptions of the familiar procedures of justification which a given society—ours—uses in one or another area of inquiry.

The key difficulty facing conceptual relativism is that of formulating the position in a coherent but non-trivial manner. Proponents do not realize that racism cannot be cured with more racism. Postmodernism denies the basis for knowing anything except itself. With both its romantic appeal and its scientific intentions, anthropology has stood for the refusal to accept this conventional perception of homogenization toward a dominant Western model.

Understanding the idea behind cultural relativism

Gone are the Enlightenment beliefs in objectivity, reason and evidence, and principles of freedom and justice that apply equally to all individuals. What constitutes right and wrong is determined solely by the individual or by society.

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Cultural Relativism