Cultural Relativism Pros and Cons List

In cultural relativism, the beliefs, practices, and values of an individual should be based on their culture instead of criterion that are developed by a different culture.

Can someone have a universal perspective from within their own culture? Is it wrong to create moral judgments from an outside cultural perspective? Here are some of the pros and cons of cultural relativism to consider.

Pros of Cultural Relativism

1. It offers new perspectives.
People can learn much from one another. Each person has a different perspective to offer. Each culture can offer the same. This is what makes us stronger as a people, not trying to determine which group is “right” and which is “wrong” all the time.

2. It develops new ideas.
Cultural relativism encourages two people from different backgrounds to have a conversation with one another. Instead of outright and immediate condemnation for perceived gaps in morality, there is an opportunity to look at the world through the eyes of another.

3. It encourages cultural development.
Instead of cultures bending to the worldview of a majority, cultural relativism encourages individualization. It supports the idea of following traditions, customs, and practices that are specific to an individual’s culture.

Cons of Cultural Relativism

1. It eliminates the idea of a universal morality.
Imagine a culture which deems murder to be an ethical action. Or imagine a culture which says it is morally correct to hurt children. Under cultural relativism, appalling actions can be treated as a cultural tradition and allowed to remain in society, despite the harm it may cause.

2. Not making a judgment is still making a choice.
The goal of cultural relativism is to be non-judgmental, but the act of not making a choice is still a choice. That kind of choice tends to foster internal resentment because those who disagree feel like they have no way to present their own culture into the conversation.

3. It can be easily manipulated.
Someone can state that their actions are part of their culture and cultural relativism would ask that the traditions be honored, even if illegal. There must be some level of structure put in place to control behavior and choice, otherwise any actions could be deemed fair and moral by someone, somewhere.

Cultural relativism is a good idea in concept. It teaches us to look at other cultures and to respect their history and traditions. It also suggests that all cultures can learn from one another. When one culture sees a tradition practiced by another as immoral, however, it becomes difficult for both cultures to maintain a dialogue.