What exactly is cultural relativism in metaethics? Is cultural relativism true? Can cultural relativists uphold the principle of cultural tolerance?

Essay by iceemelonCollege, UndergraduateA, May 2008

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Metaethics is a branch of ethics that explores normative ethical questions concerning what it means be 'good'; the existence of objective and absolute values; the source of our values; and the nature of our moral judgments. Cultural relativism is a theory within the domains of metaethics which attempts to answer these questions, but in doing so raises its own problematic questions, such as whether or not we can be culturally tolerant and not criticize other cultures, whether or not society can morally progress and whether or not universal standards of morality can exist. In this essay I will argue that while Cultural Relativism seems plausible and does initially satisfy the questions of metaethics, it cannot convincingly overcome the criticism and questions raised after critical evaluation. The failure of Cultural Relativists to defend their theory, along with the troubling consequences if it were practiced, prevents Cultural Relativism to be true.

Furthermore, I will explore the relationship between Cultural Relativism and the principle of cultural tolerance and ultimately conclude that no such philosophically significant connection exists.

Cultural Relativists believe that different cultures have different moral codes. Cultural Relativists, therefore, argue that moral disagreements cannot be resolved rationally, as there is no universal or culturally-neutral moral standard which can be justified throughout all societies, at all times. This indicates that there is no objective truth in morality and judgments of 'right' and 'wrong' are simply matters of opinion confined to a certain culture. Hence, Cultural Relativism is the belief that the truth or falsity of moraljudgments or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the convictions or practices of a group of persons. For example, a moral judgment such as'female genital mutilation is morally wrong' can be true in the context of one society and considered...