World View Assignment #2
March 10, 2015 Cultural Relativism and Morality
Cultural relativism was coined by Franz Boas, a anthropological researcher, who was fascinated by other cultures and languages of indigenous cultures of the Baffin Isle Inuit. Franz said that a "...civilization is not something absolute, but ... is relative, and ... our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes." (Boundless). His idea made him the modern father of anthropology because he could look at another culture without having a ethnocentric point of view. The definition of this term is to “regard the beliefs, values, and practices of a culture from the viewpoint of that culture itself” (Cultural). In short cultural relativism means that the “rights” and the “wrongs” of a society are culture specific that may not be “right” or “wrong” in another culture.
While being able to look at one culture and study it with a scientific eye can further the understanding of human kind, there are still problems along with the positives with Franz Boas's concept. The positives of cultural relativism are such that a person can stand back and see a culture as a whole without immediately judging the history, people, or religious beliefs of that culture. Researchers can learn how the people thought and how the culture worked by taking a neutral stance about what they are studying. On the other hand, if everyone today took a cultural relativist approach on other cultures there would be no way to take a moral stance against another culture. For example, raping and pillaging would be tolerated because while it may be
“wrong” in our culture, it may not be in another. I think that this concept should be used in research to broaden and expand our understanding but should not be used on a day to day basis.
One question that cultural relativism brings to mind is should people of one culture be able to do whatever they want? I think that a society always has some type of rules. There will always be social mores, folkways, taboos and laws that structure a society. While some people may think a person is doing whatever they want, they are actually acting a certain way based on a societal outlook that they have observed or heard about. In my personal opinion a person should not be able to do whatever they want but thats why there are rules and laws s put in place around the world to try and reduce bad or unethical behaviors.
The second and last question is how does a society…