The cultural relativism it is the point of view that considers that all ethical or moral truth depends on the cultural context in which it is considered. In this way, customs, laws, rites and conceptions of good and evil cannot be judged according to external and immovable parameters.
Discover that moral standards They are not innate but are learned from culture, it allows us to understand why different societies are governed by very different principles from ours. Similarly, the moral principles of the same society change over time, and even the same person can change them throughout his life, depending on his experiences and learning.
Cultural relativism holds that there are no universal ethical standards. From this point of view, it is impossible for us to judge from a moral point of view the behaviors of cultures other than our own.
The point of view opposed to cultural relativism is the ethnocentrism, which judges the behaviors of all cultures according to its own parameters. Ethnocentrism can only be sustained on the assumption (explicit or not) that one’s own culture is superior to others. It is at the base of all kinds of colonialism.
Between the extremes of cultural relativism and ethnocentrism there are intermediate points, in which no culture is considered superior to another, but each individual assumes that there are some principles that he considers inviolable, even knowing that he has learned them from his culture. For example, although we understand that each culture has its initiation rites, we can be against initiation rituals that involve the mutilation of people. In other words, not all valid cultural practices are considered, but all equally questionable cultural practices.
Examples of cultural relativism
- Consider it wrong for people to be naked on public roads, but consider it normal in cultures where the clothing used covers fewer parts of the body.
- When we are visiting, follow the rules of the house we visit, even if they are different from those that govern our house.
- Considering it wrong that in our society a person has more than one spouse, but accepting it in cultures where polygamy is an accepted practice.
- Consider it natural for people to have sex before marriage, but understand the reasons why previous generations of women did not.
- Consider it natural for people to consume alcohol but respect people who (for religious, cultural, etc.) avoid its consumption.
- Consider the practice of magic false in our culture but respect magicians and religious leaders of other cultures in which this practice fulfills a social and even medical function.
- Respect the worship of gods other than those we worship, even if we do not worship any gods and do not believe in their existence.
- Before criticizing a cultural practice, understand the reasons for it, but also the criticisms that arise from within that same culture.