Uploaded by Othello Nyenkan


October 22, 2021
A Critique of Cultural Relativism: Does “good” need to be socially approved?
Views on what is “good” or “bad varies across cultures (Eshetu, 2017). This has led to
numerous. debates across the globe over what should be considered as morality good or
bad. (Gensler, 2018). It even gets more critical in a multiculturally define setting, where it
has questioned what defines what is acceptable. However, social scientists have
generally argued that we can take objective analysis of other cultures and that we accept
each culture as uniquely good (Worthy, Lavigne, & Romero, 2020). By speaking to
cultural relativism, it is a view which holds that good must be construed in the context of
social approval (Andes,2021). In this paper, I argue that cultural relativism can encourage
diversity but has an unintended consequence which is the appeal to individualistic morals
views, and therefore there is a need for a balanced framework for universal action.
To proceed with this essay, it is important to understand that anthropologists have defined
cultural relativism as the concept that culture must be seen and understood in views of
the values and beliefs of that culture and that it should not be judged by the standards of
other culture. Accordingly, most social scientists express cultural views as good within
their own limits and attribute that as been the cause of human diversity and conditions.
Therefore, good is relative, and relative to each culture (Donnelly, 2009)
Moreover, along side the definition, ethicists view on what is good, is that we must see
good as that which has a social approval and that “good” means “socially approved.” In
this context, cultural relativists treat good and bad as culturally assigned and moral
judgement is left with the majority view. However, this metaethical viewpoint by ethicist
leaves vacuum on universal approach on issues of morality (Blumenson, 2011). Howbeit
we shall first assess an argument in favor of the ethicist views of cultural relativism and
A pro in favor of the views of cultural relativism by the ethicist is that cultural relativism
from its viewpoint could make for inclusive agreement. Accordingly, cultures around the
world should be pushed into a system of being uniquely accepted and treated as separate
entities with their uniqueness on morality. In short, morally uniform societies. Such a form
of inclusivity is supposed to nurture an atmosphere of tolerance.
Furthermore, it is expected that cultural relativism would promotes a majority wide
acceptance viewpoint in terms of moral standards. That good for the majority must be
seen as good for all. For this, there is the acceptance that agreed norms by the subjects
must be construed as right for the whole. This concept is supposed to provide an
opportunity for a collective benefit in the culture in which it is formed and since it is to be
seen as democratic.
As far as right and wrong is seen however, how these benefit other cultures and their
members remains unclear. Moreover, cultural relativism will encourage within
geographical borders or its settings, an adherence to the accepted norms, and give
individuals the opportunity to model their code of conducts alongside the existing popular
norms. At the same, this will mean that individuals can fashion their conducts along side
the existing norms whether it is morally right or wrong universally.
With the above arguments of CR, it simply does make good for local actions. Which
means that, if CR is brought on the global stage, it would require an extra stretch of the
Ethicist’s definition of what is morally right. This leaves us to further critique why good
must not be seen as the majority decision.
Before addressing the objection to that view, I shall try to look at some metaethical
viewpoints on what is regarded as “good”. In doing this, I am reflecting on the key concern
of whether morals standards should be socially approved.
A cultural relativist would say that if “x “is socially approved therefore its good (Gensler,
2018). On the other hand, a subjectivist would hold the definition of “good” as being what
he/she liked. In the same supernaturalist, would suggest that any “x” is good because it
is desired. These concepts try to fashion the meaning of “good” (Gensler, 2018).
However, “good” must be understood as having .an ethical and a moral standpoint. Thus,
from an ethical standpoint, we choose to follow norms prepared as road map and often
the dictates of a society and therefore a function of the time and place. Also, morality
treats “good” as an appeal to one’s own judgement and from within. Is therefore that all
definitions of “good” so far have appeal to the ethical standpoint. Therefore, it can be
understood that” good,” defined in terms of societal approval is generally an ethical
standpoint and therefore can fall short of morality.
How does “good” by interpretation fall short of morality, let say for example, a nation’s
desire to go to war with another smaller nations and which may be a popular view of most
of the people of that country. This decision maybe along political party line, and this does
not mean that the decision would be morally befitting as this may just be in view of some
political correctness on the part of the ruling party.
We can mention here though that morality however is not in direct opposition to cultural
relativism. Besides, morality as seen in a moral realist, respect cultural differences even
though morality insist on objectively a right or wrong (Gensler, 2018). Therefore, what is
missing is the fact that there is a need to promote a common objective value for different
societies that overlaps.
Thus, the universality of cultural relativism in dealing with moral issues is still lacking. This
lacking is felt across various directions of societies, i.e... it leads to cultural conditioning
and this being the case that people are generally going to give up their culture to adapt
to the culture of the time. In this. People tend to give up language, habits, and their
previous culture to embrace the popular norms which is just another way cultural
relativism places cultures into ethnocentric position meaning that dominant culture
override making others a subculture.
Another aspect is that it creates an unintended consequence of which is an Individualistic
moral view. Although, people must coexist with each other, they find that they must select
their friends, communities, and associates. It also leads to withdrawal in by having people
set their own moral code if they must deal with others. In doing this, people are less likely
to interact with others because of fear of cultural misunderstanding.
Let me start up here that a universal definition of good most depict an amount of
impartiality which is removed from cultural inferences and a conviction. With this, I can
use a few thoughts put forth to by other thinkers that are useful in providing a more
universal and impartial definition of “good”. I shall go on to review the concepts of
prescriptivism, moral realism, and the golden rule. Prescriptivism is a moral belief showing
how people should live, and how we ought to live with people. Prescriptivism point
towards a more personal approach and towards defining what is good. However, the
downside of prescriptivism is that it decides what is good. Good must be of a personal
conviction and not decided by another.
Also, also when defining good it cannot lie in subjectivism, this means just because one
likes it does not define it as good. What we mean here is that good cannot be established
because of our emotions. As such, we cannot define good as to how we feel as such a
judgment would lead to partiality. It must justice to the individual and oneself.
When speaking of impartiality, the golden rule has shown a significant level of relevance
and in dealing with the issues of cultural overlap. The golden rule can be construed as an
impartiality principle; one which hold that good is that which “expresses consistency,
justice and equal dignity and demands that people act in a way and manner as to how
you would like to be” (Gensler, 2018).
The Golden Rule has been a more universal principle for mankind. When judging the
golden rule, we can be quick to see that it is not guided by culture nor is it a populist view.
It is a rule that speaks to impartiality, that considers not just oneself, but also the others,
and works for a common benefit.
Cultural relativism benefits just a society and only that society. It considers good to be
what is approved for that society and so that society. However, cultural relativism holds
a future for humanity, but a wider definition of the concept on good is required.
Consequently, any definition of good must be devoid of any form of prescriptivism, lack
subjectivity, and incorporate impartial and universal principles.
Andes P (Instructor). 2020. PHIL101: Introduction to Ethics. Class Handout.
Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Concordia University of
Blumenson, E. (2011). Cultural Relativism. Boston: Springer.
Donnelly, J. (2009). Cultural Relativism and Universal Human Rights. Human Right
Quarterly, 400-419.
Eshetu, Y. (2017). Understanding Cultural Relativism: A critical Appraisal of the
Theory. International Journal of Multicultural and Multireligious
Understanding, 24-30.
Gensler, H. J. (2018). Ethics : A Contemporary Introduction. Third Edition. New
York: Taylor and Francis.
Worthy, L. D., Lavigne, T., & Romero, a. F. (2020). Culture and Pschology. Pheonix:
Glendale Community College.