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Morality Is Relative Essay, Research Paper

James Rachels’ article, “Morality is Not Relative,” is incorrect, he provides arguments that cannot logically be applied or have no bearing on the statement of contention. His argument, seems to favor some of the ideas set forth in cultural relativism, but he has issues with other parts that make cultural relativism what it is.

The first mistake is in his comparison following the example of there being different moral codes. In outlining and explaining the cultural differences argument, he gives an example that he began the article with regarding the Callatians and the Greeks, and their differences in funerary practices. Rachels asks that “from the mere fact that they disagreed, that there is no objective truth in the matter?” His answer is that “no,” and that the answer one could derive is that one of those beliefs is altogether incorrect and wrong. Here Rachels’ statement seems to negate that which he wants to negate but it is through manipulation of the parties involved and the adding of “facts’ that aren’t there. These two cultures in his example to not disagree about anything, there are simply two different ways they deal with death. Because they are different, doesn’t necessarily imply there is any disagreement. So my answer is yes, this example does mean that there is no objective truth, because we cannot say that their practice (Greeks vs. the Callatians) is incorrect or immoral as much as they can say our practices are immoral. To label a culture’s belief in certain practices as possibly being “mistaken,” doesn’t sound very openminded in any way at all.

The next example Rachels uses to make his point clearer, is that in certain societies, because they believe that the earth is flat, and factually the earth is not, by default the those that believe that it is flat are wrong. By itself this argument makes sense, and I would agree, but in how Rachels applies it, it doesn’t make sense. He is comparing and trying to relate two things so dissimilar that it boggles the mind to think of comparing them in the first place. To begin with, Rachels seems to be implying that since, one is obviously wrong and that we have factual evidence to the contrary, that is what makes them wrong. That works, but when it’s applied to something like morality and ethics like he is trying to do, it makes no sense. Since when and where has there ever been a fact based moral code? Who says morally what is correct and what is not within society or for that matter for the good of humankind? Reading further, he states that the whole point is that the original conclusion does not follow from the premise laid forth by the cultural relativists. This is true based on what he gives in the second example, but his example is construed in order to get such results. Next Rachels goes on to further try and prove cultural relativism has some problems. In the next section, he evaluates the seriousness of the cultural relativist and what that exactly entails. Looking at the consequences, he says that we, as cultural relativists, would have to condone the actions of another culture as not being less inferior. There is no problem there. Where the problem begins is when he brings up slavery and genocide, things that are considered immoral to our society in particular. On a personal note, I do not wish to downplay any of these things in our history, I am looking at this through my point of view and that is all. Genocide and slavery are pretty immoral to me personally, but if condoning it means that we wouldn’t push our own beliefs on another then so be It. It’s evil but a necessary means. This example he gives is an extreme, brought on by events in the world’s past history, again Rachels uses those constructions of our own moral code to judge that to do such things is wrong. I know Rachels didn’t necessarily say there was or wasn’t a objective truth, but here he suggests that there is one, at least in this context regarding genocide and slavery.

The objections I have to Rachels’ argument against morality being relative are pretty much limited to the way he applies his examples. He applies them in a way to win the support of the reader, but looking further into them, they don’t seem to be accurately applied or in some cases even seem hypocritical to those ideas of cultural relativism that he does support. There are some glaring problems I have with Rachels’ argument, otherwise he does bring up some good points about what he thinks is right regarding cultural relativism, and several of those examples that he does use are illustrated in a way to be understood by someone as simple as myself.

1.”Morality is Not Relative,” by James Rachels, edited by Louis Pojman, collected in Philosophy: The Quest for Truth. Wadsworth Publishing 1999.


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