Cultural Relativism: Is truth defined by our culture or our culture by truth?

Essay by queenkrissyUniversity, Master'sA+, February 2004

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In his article "Cultural relativism and cultural values", Melville Herkovits defines the principle of cultural relativism as "judgments are based on experience, and experience is interpreted by each individual in terms of his own enculturation" (26). This is the basic premise of cultural relativism, that beliefs, values, and morals are all based on one's culture. Therefore, since morality is based on society and different societies have different views of right and wrong, there can be no moral absolutes. Since there are no absolutes, under this view of cultural relativism all moral views determined by one's culture are deemed true whether they conflict or not.

Upon first glance, relativism seems like a very appropriate concept of morality in the world. It is clear to see that there are differences of what is acceptable and unacceptable in different societies across the world. Growing up in Western culture I have grown a fondness for meat, especially steak.

It is a momentous occasion when I can go out or fix a nice, juicy steak for a meal, the bigger the better. This is not a problem in my culture, save those few health conscience people who say I will die by heart disease.

However, if I were raised in an eastern, Hindu, culture these dietary practices would be considered wrong. My act of eating cow would be considered a moral atrocity. From examples like these and many others around the world we can see a good case for different cultures having different moral views, but is that really the case? I believe that at a surface level cultural relativism holds some merit, however if we look deeper into the issue we can find a flawed, and inaccurate theory for the way that the world should work.

Some of the biggest arguments given in...