Cultural Relativism is a term coined by philosopher and social theorist Alain Locke. It became popular – indeed, axiomatic among certain Liberal intelligentsia – due to the extended works of anthropologist-cum-activist Franz Boas and the large number of students who followed the doctrine of Boasian anthropology and its call for them to use their studies in the cause of social activism rather than maintaining the detachment, objectivity, abstraction, and quantifiability in their work that is the touchstone of true scientific endeavor.
- the belief that the importance of a particular cultural idea varies from one society or societal subgroup to another, the view that ethical and moral standards are relative to what a particular society or culture believes to be good/bad, right/wrong
On the plus side, Boaz was correct in maintaining that groups’ behaviors are based upon their culture as opposed the their race. This, however, is more than counterbalanced by his postulate that Right and Wrong only exist within respective cultures and societies and that it is wrong to judge individuals’ actions by any higher and/or more universal standard.
Cultural Relativism – Keeping One’s Head Buried In The Sand
Of course, cultural relativism requires that individuals and societies keep their heads firmly buried in the sand to avoid noticing any of the behaviors of others that might find objectionable or horrific.
Cultural relativists cling to the belief and, following the tenets of Boasian activism, try to force others to accept that all cultures are worthy in their own right and are of equal value and that diversity of cultures, even those with inherently conflicting moral beliefs, is not to be considered in terms of right and wrong or good and bad.
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