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The fallacy of cultural relativism
Posted: 05 January 2008 07:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 76 ]  
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Antisocialdarwinist - 04 January 2008 02:20 AM

Arildno, I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re way ahead of your time.

I’m not too sure if this is entirely a compliment, but I’ll say thank you, anyway.

Now, I would like to steer this thread back to the destruction of false absolutes, in particulr that of “culture”.

I’ll start by quoting from my first post:

Each “culture” is considered a sovereign realm of morality and jurisdiction, and preservation of this sovereignty is the basic inter-cultural moral duty.

But, one may legitimately ask:
WHERE does a particular culture start, and where does it end?
How are we to point it out?
And, what are the relevant criteria for singling out those cultures that should be regarded as morally sovereign, and which (sub-)cultures that are NOT morally sovereign?
For example, in all societies there will evolve different classes, and each class will develop its own standards of behaviour.
Are such class moralities, sub-cultures morally sovereign with respect to the over-arching culture or not?
And, whatever the answer is, what are the criteria for determining this?

Cultural relativism is first and foremost guilty of an EPISTEMOLOGICAL sin, namely to gloss over the trivial fact that any assemblage of “culture” will, if we go down on the level of individuals, shatter into each individual’s set of opinions (O), emotions(E), practices(P) that will often differ from his set of OEP at some later stage, and definitely be at odds with the OEPs of other individials at the same time&place;, not to speak of the differences towards OEPs of individuals in “same” culture but at a rather different place or time.


Now, we can of course, without becoming guilty of self-contradictory thinking, DEFINE culture to be the FREQUENCY SPECTRUM of OEPs at a particular position (region) in space and time.

Thus, various distances between cultures can ideally be measured by the frequency difference by which some well-defined opinion, say, is held by the members of the two compared cultures.


However, statements like “no one can step out of his culture” is just meaningless psycho-babble.

At best, it points to the trivial fact that insofar an individual changes his opinion or his practice, then he has wrought a change in “his” culture, so that he cannot be said to have left it by changing his opinions.
But since it is the actual opinions held and practices done by an individual that determines, for example, his moral value, retaining particular loathsome opinions&practices;is full justification for condemning him, whatever his “culture” is.

This point is further strengthened by reminding the reader that at any given time&place;, a MULTITUDE of contradictory opinions&practices;will be present for the individual to choose from.

A Roman remained free to choose to buy a slave, and it is by no means probable that all slaves, or even the large majority of them, had personal moralities in which they deemed their enslavement to be morally right.

Who are we to regard the most common morality of slave-holders to be the standard by which slave-holders should be judged?
Why is it wrong of us to judge them by the standards of morality ascribed to by their slaves?


That the majority of agricultural slaves in Rome was opposed to their personal enslavement was, of course, recognized by the ruling classes.
They knew that, IF GIVEN THE CHANCE, those slaves would run off from their enslaved status.
Therefore, humans were branded, so that IF they escaped, it would be easy to find them, and we have retained many papyri sent out to warn citizens that this or that person was a fugitive slave who should be returned to his owner for a reward.

And, of course, measures were taken to minimize attempts at escape, it is enough to mention terrorization through repeated physical beatings at disobedient behaviour, along with physical chaining the slaves in the slave barracks during night-time.


The slaveholder system and its attendant morality was an ENFORCED system upon unwilling human beings, and it is actually obscene of us to excuse the slave-holders behaviour by saying “the just did what was normal then” when there were hundreds of thousands contemporaries of those slave-holders who did not at all agree with their personal enslavement.

Although it is very unlikely that these slaves had developed universal idea of man as free, each one of them thought that what HE experienced was an indignity done to him.

And THAT is what should count in our moral evaluation of the institution of slavery, not its prevalence in the ancient world.

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