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cultural relativism

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


E pistemology, ethics, philosophy of social science A theory that holds that each culture is a unique and arbitrary system of thought and behavior. What is considered to be a reasonable claim in one society is not necessarily thought to be so in another culture, and consequently it is impossible to compare and rank different cultures. Any behavior has to be explained in terms of the society and context in which it occurs. Any attempt to compare different cultures would inevitably have to appeal to some assumptions universally found in human cultures, but cultural relativism denies that there are such significant cultural universals. Cultural relativism was the dominant conviction in anthropology in the 1930s and 1940s and is still employed in many studies of the social sciences, including studies of ethics. Many philosophers reject cultural relativism as incoherent, on the grounds that it undermines our concepts of truth , objectivity , and meaning . “The reason cultural relativism is so crucial is that it challenges the orthodoxies of our civilisation. To the confirmed relativist, the ideas of our society (whether moral or existential) are a matter of convention and are not rooted in absolute principles that transcend time and place.” Hatch, Culture and Morality ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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