An introduction to the concept of cultural relativism

The idea that norms and values are born out of conventions can be traced back to the Greek historian Herodotus c. Franz Boas, responsible for the founding of social anthropology in the U.

An introduction to the concept of cultural relativism

Relativism is typically viewed in contrast to realism, which is the idea that what is true and real exists independently of the mind. Where there are many different kinds of relativism-epistemological, moral, cultural, cognitive-they all have two features in common.

First, they assert that one thing e. Second, they deny that any standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.

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While cultural relativism provides a reflexive and critical tool for sociology and other social science disciplinespolitical and moral conservatives tend to despair over the influence of cultural relativism on intellectual thought and the shift away from objective, identifiable standards as the measure for all truth-claims.

However, some researchers have argued that it is possible to adopt a cultural relativist stance without abandoning a commitment to the idea of universal standards or human rights.

Keywords Difference; Epistemology; Ethnocentric; Incommensurability; Objectivity; Positivism; Rationality; Realism; Relativism; Standpoint Cultural Relativism Overview Cultural relativism is a complex concept that has its intellectual roots in discussions about relativism in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of language.

The general concept of relativism in sociology is associated with critiques of positivism in science and concomitantly, social science, which largely emphasize the differences between the focus and methods of inquiry associated with the natural and social sciences.

This opposition between realism and relativism was influenced by the work of Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Pure Reasonwho argued that the material and social world is mediated through our minds: Consequently, this relative epistemology-or cognitive relativism-makes it difficult to identify universal experiences that hold true for everyone, because it is likely that one person's experience of an An introduction to the concept of cultural relativism or activity will not be the same as that of another person.

Cognitive relativism, then, refers broadly to an intellectual stance that rejects the idea of an absolute viewpoint and the existence of objective criteria for making judgments about what is or is not real or true. Cultural relativism is associated with a general tolerance and respect for difference, which refers to the idea that cultural context is critical to an understanding of people's values, beliefs and practices.

It is viewed as a progressive stance that a researcher can take to make sure that she does not privilege her own understanding of the world in her explanation of what is happening in the context she is studying-a stance that ensures her portrayal of a culture to which she does not belong is faithful to its internal understandings.

Where there are many different kinds of relativism-epistemological, moral, cultural, cognitive-they have two features in common: This latter feature of relativism has implications for how people develop and test knowledge about the social world methodology and how people make judgments about what kinds of social practices are better than others.

While cultural relativism is celebrated by postmodernists and poststructuralists, it is viewed negatively by moral conservatives, who see cultural relativism as the demise of moral obligation; the transformation of scientific endeavor into a random series of quixotic, subjective decisions and choices and the end of participation in civic affairs Horowitz, The logic that sustains a commitment to cultural relativism is itself based on a claim that is relative to local Western criteria and begs the question: Here, cultural relativism is seen to have an ethical dimension moral relativism that neutralizes people's ability to criticize the beliefs and practices of other cultures Johnson, History The intellectual roots of cultural relativism within sociology lie in philosophical debates about distinctions between reality and relativism.

Although the concept of realism has a complex history, it is generally accepted that it refers to the existence of a reality that lies beyond our thoughts or beliefs about it Marshall et al. The main point of focus in debates about reality is whether universal truths or standards exist that we can use to measure or judge whether something is real or true.

This focus has had particular implications for philosophers and sociologists of science, who have studied the ways in which science makes claims about what exists, what is true and what counts as knowledge.

Philosophy of Science Debates about cognitive relativism developed in the work of sociologists who engaged with the philosophy of science, which examines what science is, what makes it a special kind of knowledge and how scientists make claims that have authority and credibility.

Science, it is assumed, occurs within a laboratory context that is free from bias, and which proceeds as a disinterested endeavor that creates a neutral product-such as explanations for differences between men and women. The aim of the scientific method is to produce knowledge that can be trusted, because it is based on empirical observation that can be repeated and tested by other researchers.

This approach to knowledge production is known as positivism, which rejects knowledge based on belief, speculation or faith in favor of knowledge based on systematic observation and experiment that involves testing ideas against reality i. Moreover, conventional accounts of science suggest that scientific knowledge grows cumulatively; each new discovery adding to what is already known.

However, sociologists have criticized this view of science and in particular, the role of objectivity and rationality e. For instance, Thomas Kuhn argued that the history of science was less linear than depicted because social beliefs and personal interests shape the practice and context of science.

Moreover, researchers become attached to particular explanations and theoretical traditions associated with the scientific communities to which they belong, which influence whether new ideas are accepted or rejected. Thus, scientific exchange is not necessarily objective or rational and indeed, the criteria for deciding the merits of a scientific theory could be philosophical, or indeed political, as much as rational Boudon, These associations and attachments undermine the potential for objectivity in science and for value-free inquiry.

Kuhn suggests that the truth claims underpinning scientific theories are relative to the values and practices that shape scientific practice.

Relativism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Cognitive relativism suggests that there is no objective knowledge, only interpretations of what scientists observe and that no theory can be said to be 'true,' only probable Boudon, Philosophy of Language Cultural relativism is linked to cognitive relativism through the claim that social science cannot identify truth, but only customs that vary from one society to another.

While social scientists-such as anthropologists, geographers and sociologists-can observe and document such customs, explanations need to be grounded by reference to the contexts The entire section is 3, words. Unlock This Study Guide Now Start your hour free trial to unlock this page Cultural Relativism study guide and get instant access to the following: Research Paper Starter You'll also get access to more than 30, additional guides andHomework Help questions answered by our experts.Cultural Relativism And Moral Relativism Words | 7 Pages.

Introduction Cultural relativism is a certain perspective, which was adopted by the anthropologists in the course of the early years of ’s.

Cultural relativism is an umbrella term that covers different attitudes, though it relies on a basic notion of emic coherence: Each culture works in its own way, and beliefs and practices that appear strange from the outside make sense when contextualized within their particular cultural framework.

Cultural Relativism Is A Weak Argument - In this paper I will argue that cultural relativism is a weak argument. Cultural relativism is the theory that all ethical and moral claims are relative to culture and custom (Rachels, 56).

Cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the idea that a person's beliefs, values, and practices should be understood based on that person's own culture, rather than judged against the criteria of another.

An introduction to the concept of cultural relativism

Cultural relativism is the idea that a person's beliefs, values, and practices should be understood based on that person's own culture, rather than be judged against the criteria of another.. It was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas in the first few decades of the 20th century and later popularized by his students.

Boas first articulated the idea in Relativism, roughly put, is the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them.

What is Cultural Relativism? -