Philosophical Implications of Cultural Relativism Assignment

Philosophical Implications of Cultural Relativism Assignment Words: 4026

Philosophical Implications of Cultural Relativism Philosophical position of Cultural Relativism is best understood in terms of its epistemological, ethical and logical implications. Philosophical means articulation, argumentation, analysis, and synthesis of the idea, principle or concept. [1] Implication is a relationship between two propositions that holds when both propositions are true and fails when the first is true but the second is false. It is to develop a logical cohesion among arguments for implicit understanding of idea or principle and something else without expressing it directly. Philosophical implications of cultural relativism”, suggests to put the idea of cultural relativism in clear, concise and readily understandable language, supporting with reasons from other ideas, principles, and observations to establish conclusion and overcome objections. It is to understand the principle of cultural relativism by disintegrating and clarifying its various components like: 1. Research-oriented tool to tackle its opposite attitude of ‘ethnocentrism’. 2. Ethical theory in order to understand other culture in its own perspective. . Logical analysis to evaluate the principle for it integrity. 4. Critical role in the 20th century postmodern cultural movement with reference to culture, language and social justice. 5. Positive role in contemporary global politics to bring tolerance, harmony and peace in very complex multicultural world in order to solve disputes among different countries and nations. Finally It is together different ideas related to cultural relativism into a single and unified vision.

So the philosophical understanding of the principle of cultural relativism and its implication in relation to various aspects of human being in order to carry out the scientific and systematic study of human being living in society is what my task to perform research work. And this implicit intention is working behind my thesis ‘philosophical implications of cultural relativism’. Let’s start with discussing the principle opposite to cultural relativism to make our idea of cultural relativism clearer and easily understandable. 3. 1Ethnocentrism: Binary opposite

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Ethnocentrism is conviction of own cultural superiority; it is a belief in the superiority of the social or cultural group that a person belongs to. Word Ethno means people and culture. It is derived from Greek word ‘ethnos’. [2] Ethnocentrism is the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one’s own culture. It is a belief that one’s own race or ethnic group is the most important among other groups. Within this ideology, individuals will judge other groups in relation to their own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with concern to language, behavior, customs, and religion.

The sociologist William Graham Sumner define ethnocentrism as “that view of thing in which one’s own group is ‘the principle’ center of everything and all of others are scaled and rated with reference to it”. He also called attention to the fact that one’s culture can limit one’s perceptions. Nazism in Germany is a very prominent example of ethnocentrism. Hitler considered his Nazism best among all other culture and wanted to dominate over other cultures and nations.

It is a belief that our society is “progressive”, while the non-western world is “backward”; our art is beautiful, our religion true, whereas ‘others’ art is not up to the mark and their religion are false. Ethnocentrism is a universal human reaction, found in all known societies, in all groups, and practically in all individuals. It reinforces nationalism and patriotism. It also acts to discourage change. There are three levels of ethnocentrism: a positive one, a negative one, and an extreme negative one: The positive definition defines ethnocentrism as “the point of view that one’s own way of life is to be preferred to all others”. 3] There is nothing wrong with such feelings, for “it characterizes the way most individuals feel about their own cultures, whether or not they verbalize their feeling” [4]. It is ethnocentrism that which gives people their sense of peoplehood, group identity, and place in history-all of which are valuable traits to possess. Ethnocentrism becomes negative when “one’s own group becomes the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it”. It reaches its extreme negative form when “a more powerful group not only imposes its rule on another, but actively depreciates the things they hold to be of value”. 5] The holocaust and the genocide of the American Indian are all examples of this third level of ethnocentrism. We are ethnocentric when we use our cultural norms to make generalizations about other peoples’ cultures and customs. Franz Boas argued that any human science had to transcend the ethnocentrism of the scientist. Boas urged to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in order to overcome their ethnocentrism. Boas developed the principle of cultural relativism as a tool for developing non-ethnocentric studies of different societies.

Hence in a rapidly changing world society where people are in closer interaction with each other comprises of both negative attitudes towards other cultures and/or ethnic groups arise out of ethnocentrism, while positive attitudes are the result of a culturally relativist approach. 3. 2Epistemological analysis of Cultural Relativism The epistemological issues associated with cultural relativism have been hotly debated within and without anthropology throughout the 20th century Cultural relativism.

It is highly complex doctrine surrounded by various epistemological, political, and ethical controversies, can be broadly defined as the view that culture is the key variable to explain human diversity and that an individual’s behavior, thought, emotion, perception, and sensation are relative to and bound by the culture of the group he or she belongs to. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, in particular its foundations, scope, and validity. Epistemology, or theory of knowledge, is the core of any world view.

It is a parameter which explains what is and what is not possible within the range of knowledge; what is possible to know and ought to be known, what is possible to know but is better avoided, and what is simply not possible to know. Now in this section, I will try to find out that to what extent, principle of cultural relativism, contribute itself as research maxim or anthropological tool to make the knowledge regarding human beings and its sources valid, to develop scope of knowledge to establish a particular world view of particular individual, culture, and group. . 2. 1Boas maxim and its epistemological position The German American cultural anthropologist Franz Boas’s epistemological position in the field of Anthropology led him in the development of cultural relativism as a methodological tool. Boas has had an enduring influence on anthropology. All anthropologists today accept Boas’s commitment to empiricism and his methodological cultural relativism. Boas and his students like A. L. Kroeber, R. H. Lowie, E. Sapir, R. Benedict, M. Herskovits, and M.

Mead and other scholars associated with the doctrine of cultural relativism in the 20th century, can be regarded as the heirs to Counter-Enlightenment, rejecting universalism and objectivism, emphasis on the uniqueness of each culture and relativism. In cultural anthropology, he established the contextualist approach to culture – cultural relativism, and the participant-observation method of fieldwork. In his 1907 essay, “Anthropology,” Boas identified two basic questions for anthropologists: “Why are the tribes and nations of the world different, and how have the present differences developed? Amplifying these questions, he explained the object of anthropological study thus: “We do not discuss the anatomical, physiological, and mental characteristics of man considered as an individual; but we are interested in the diversity of these traits in groups of men found in different geographical areas and in different social classes. It is our task to inquire into the causes that have brought about the observed differentiation, and to investigate the sequence of events that have led to the establishment of the multifarious forms of human life.

In other words, we are interested in the anatomical and mental characteristics of men living under the same biological, geographical, and social environment, and as determined by their past. ” Franz Boas de-linked race, language and culture, making arguments that people and cultures do not go from savage, barbarian, to civilize. We see them in terms of relative to each other. [6] Boas continued to speak out against racism and for intellectual freedom. His work against the Nazis in Europe demonstrated when the Nazi Party in Germany denounced “Jewish science”.

Boas responded with a public statement signed by over 8,000 other scientists, declaring that there is only one science, to which race and religion are irrelevant. Boas published his views on the comparative method in 1896. The article, “The Limitations of the Comparative Method of Anthropology,” was the first exposition of cultural relativism. According to Boas, there are four major limitations to the comparative method of ethnocentrism: It is impossible to account for similarity in all the types of culture by claiming that they are so because of the unity of the human mind.

The existence like traits in different cultures is not as important as the comparative school claims. Similar traits may have developed for very different purposed in differing cultures. The view that cultural differences are of minor importance is baseless. The differences between cultures are of major anthropological significance. Boas did not stop his critique of the comparative school at that point he also delineated a methodology to replace it. According to the tenets of cultural relativism, there are no inferior or superior cultures; all cultures are equal.

All premises of good and bad and/or upper and lower are culture bound and ethnocentric. His new method of cultural relativism emphasized the following: 1. Culture traits have to be studied in detail and within the cultural whole. 2. The distribution of a culture trait within neighboring cultures should also be looked at. This suggests that a culture needs to be analyzed within its full context. Boas thought that this approach would help the anthropologist to ???Understand the environmental factors that shape a culture, ???Explain the psychological factors that frame the culture, and ???Explain the history of a local custom.

Boas was trying to establish the inductive method in anthropology and abandon the comparative method of ethnocentrism. Boas emphasized that the primary goal of anthropology was to study individual societies. His importance within the discipline is that anthropology should be objective and inductive science. One of his most important books, The Mind of Primitive Man (1911), he established that in any given population, biology, language, material and symbolic culture, are autonomous; that each is an equally important dimension of human nature, but that no one of these dimensions is reducible to another.

He established that culture does not depend on any independent variables. He emphasized that the biological, linguistic, and cultural traits of any group of people are the product of historical developments involving both cultural and non-cultural forces. [7] He established that cultural plurality is a fundamental feature of humankind, and that the specific cultural environment structures much individual behavior. This orientation led Boas to promote a cultural anthropology characterized by a strong commitment to ???Empiricism to attempts to formulate “scientific laws” of culture ???A notion of culture as fluid and dynamic Ethnographic fieldwork, in which the anthropologist resides for an extended period among the people being researched, conducts research in the native language, and collaborates with native researchers, as a method of collecting data, and ???Cultural Relativism as a methodological tool while conducting fieldwork, and as heuristic tool while analyzing data. Boas argued that in order to understand “what is” in cultural anthropology, the specific cultural traits (behaviors, beliefs, and symbols), one have to examine them in their local context.

For this, there is need to conduct ethnographic/ ethnological fieldwork in order to overcome ethnocentric attitude. This has to be done, according to Boas, by using the principle of cultural relativism as a methodological tool. While describing the epistemological position of Boas ‘maxim of Cultural Relativism, it is necessary to look into the epistemological origin of Cultural Relativism. So a brief understanding regarding epistemological origin is given below. 3. 2. 2 The Epistemological Origin of Cultural Relativism The development of cultural relativism has its origin in the German Enlightenment.

The main discourse of cultural anthropology is grounded in the age of Enlightenment, with its vast implications for rethinking and acting on the nature of being human. [8] It was the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that human beings are not capable of direct, unmediated knowledge of the world. All of our experiences of the world are mediated through the human mind, which universally structures perceptions according to sensibilities concerning time and space. Kant considered these mediating structures universal.

But his student Johann Gottfried Herder argued that human creativity, evidenced by the great variety in national cultures, revealed that human experience was mediated not only by universal structures, but by particular cultural structures as well. Explanation In Germany the Enlightenment was dominated by Kant himself, who sought to establish principles based on universal rationality. Kant wants reason to be objective and universal. Kant argued that human mind is a structure of fundamental categories through which human beings can constitute and understand the world appears in front of them.

This is Kant’s most original contribution to philosophy which is called “Copernican Revolution”, as he puts it; it is the representation that makes the object possible rather than the object that makes the representation possible. So for him, human mind is constructed on the same patterns universal to all humans. Man’s basic concepts (e. g. causality, time, space, entity, quality, quantity, etc. ) do not originate from experience or reality but from an automatic system of concepts, categories, and filters in his consciousness. According to Kant, there is only one type of human mind that is universally the same .

Each person has the same categories and thus constructs the world in the same way. As members of the same species, we each have the same processing apparatus. [9] Kant contended that reality (as far as we can know it) depends on the cognitive functioning of the human mind in total. In reaction to Kant, German scholars such as Johann Gottfried Herder argued that human creativity is as important as human rationality. The “validity” of knowledge depends on historic, social factors and reality becomes social because people create reality.

Herder’s insight is that human beings are simultaneously shaped by their culture. He was one of the first thinkers to recognize the interrelationship between language, culture, identity, and recognition, and its significance for our ploitico-philsophical thought and the way we ought to live together as moral and ethical beings. [10] He originated sophisticated concept of the social construction of reality, ethnocentrism, and its flip-of-the-coin counterpart, cultural relativism, but he was not a relativist in the present sense of the term.

Finally he concludes that that people have their own world views, their own universe of experience, and each of them is unique to the others, each of them is situated in their own histories. Truth is not universal. It is uncompromisingly plural, scattered, made by cultures themselves. Here an epistemological debate of Kant and Herder take us to another dimension which is very crucial for the broader understanding for the principle of cultural relativism which is whether facts or values, objective reality or subjective emotions are the main characteristics of the pistemology of modern science or not. How does culture affect the objective rationality of scientific knowledge and religious revelation? This question is to be discussed in following lines. 3. 3. Challenge of Cultural Relativism to the objectivity of scientific knowledge and Religious Revelation First, I will see the cultural challenges faced by scientific knowledge which claims to be objective. “Science is a part, a characteristic part, of human activity at large. ” Bronowski (1908???1974) Polish-born British scientist

Science can be defined as the process of examining the relationship between the elements of the phenomenal world. [11] It is the study of nature to control it and make it more useful for us. It is done through Reason, Observation, and Experience. Science, in this way is said to be a pathway to help us understand the natural world. But the scientists and science critics are engaged in a crucial battle over whether science is a body of objective truth or subjective constructs influenced by prevailing social beliefs and values. 12] Broadly speaking, scientific knowledge has universal beneficiary applications for human beings in areas of life. So it is considered as objective knowledge. On the other hand, Culture is not the only or primary factor in human experience; it is but one essential condition of human experience”. [13] It makes a great contribution in making the consciousness up to the mark so that we can make our experience of life scientific and rationalistic. Associated with culture, Anthropology is probably the most liberalizing, as it is the most recent, of the sciences.

Modern anthropology regards as differences of culture and not differences in culture; it is equally true that every existing culture has its own age-old history of development behind it. [14] It has its own perspective and the way it evolved. It is deeply structured in such conditions that develop such a way of life. So a contextual analysis is always required to establish a view point about a particular culture, group or society. There are different ways to look at, interpret, and develop knowledge about the world. Science is only one way. It is based upon the presumption that knowledge can be value free, that it can explain the actual orkings of the empirical world, and that it can be revised on the basis of careful observations of empirical events. [15] In his book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, historian Thomas Kuhn based on a historical review of the development of certain scientific theories, raised some philosophical objections to claims of the scientific knowledge being truly objective. He tried to present a profoundly relativistic view of scientific progress, but denied being a relativist. Khun argued that competitive paradigms involve some sociological and psychological factors.

The paradigmatic shift in our concept of the solar system from a geocentric one to a heliocentric one (Copernican revolution) is example. Newton concept of absolute Space and Time is replaced by Einstein’s theory of relativity is another example of paradigm shift in scientific theory. Scientists generally maintain that these types of changes in theoretical structure move us toward better accounts of the truth, because “science is a human endeavor, restricted by human limitations, and scientific theories are not absolute truths but are subject to revision. [16] Philosopher like Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger have changed the philosophy of science by showing concepts do not exist in nature, but we are born into a conceptual world insofar as language is the means through which we learn about life. Thus, scientific researchers become scientific researchers through socialization and training; the socialization and training are themselves constituted historically and conceptually, changing through time. [17] Thus understanding is situated and developed in general historical, cultural and linguistic contexts.

Postmodern thinkers also challenge the view that science gives us objective knowledge about reality on a universal scale. They take the position that “all knowledge is produced by social interactions, deeply influenced by social prejudices, and therefore valid only in temporary, localized contexts. ” [18] It is impossible for Objectivity is to escape from social and historical conditions, and objective knowledge is the product not only of impartial theoretical inquiry, but of particular kinds of social practice.

Postmodernists claim that experience cannot be a source of objective knowledge. “Experience” is not a self-evident or even reliable source of knowledge and cannot be seen as grounding a social identity. [19] It is because the fact that scientist is not a robot, but a human being with human values that often play a major role in their selection of problems and in their conclusions. “Values are such an intimate part of every step of forming hypothesis, selecting measures, and evaluating conclusions. ” Finally, I think an objective, value-free, and neutral science does not exist.

Due to cultural and biological differences the scientist can not be objective and get rid of the ethnocentric attitude and cultural influence. And above all the aim of the science then should not be objectivity but to find truth and useful knowledge for the human kind. Religious or Divine revelation is another source of knowledge, claims, objectivity. It speaks to humankind in sacred writings, such as the Bible, the Torah, the Quran or Bhagavad-Gita, out of which emerge diverse cultural values. These sacred writings are understood by human beings through their own cultural experience.

When Islam emerged in Arab, it tried to focus on the Arab culture and context to which people can understand Islam. The language, a career of culture, is used in Quran to teach and preach Arabs is also their own language ??? Arabic. The Christian, for example, when confronting social ethics, must recognize the importance of cultural relativism, as well as the fact that God speaks to humankind within their own specific cultural context. So a particular cultural context plays very crucial role in order to make Religious Revelations an understandable source of knowledge.

In short, a detailed epistemological debate which includes Boas’s saying about cultural relativism as another source to get knowledge, its philosophical foundation and its implications in scientific knowledge and religious revelation, It helps to develop a corollary that studying cultural relativism- the principle as an alternative way (Ethnography and Ethnology) to get knowledge in the area of anthropology for human study is valid, full of scope tool for research work. It is useful to study different cultures, not really judging cultures, but try to understand them in their own social-politico and historical perspectives.

But Cultural relativism as methodological tool which we derived from its epistemological analysis, is one of the most controversial challenges to the study of social ethics comes from a methodological approach of the social sciences. Thus, cultural relativism, as a new way of seeing, is a necessary optic to perceive the socio-cultural reality in today’s multicultural, world society. It is “new” in the sense that most people tend to be socialized within an ethnocentric perspective. This is the goal to attain as a cultural relativist to become a world citizen.

This is the demand of e 21st century and nothing less. Reference: [1]:Solomon, Robert C. “‘THE BIG QUESTIONS ??? A SHORT INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY” 6th Edition, p-6. [2]: Microsoft Encarta World English dictionary. [3]:Herskovits, Melville, J. 1973. Cultural Relativism: Perspectives in Cultural Pluralism. p. 21, New York: Vintage Books. [4]: ibid. [5]:Sumner, William Graham. 1979. Folkways and Mores. p. 13, New York: [6]:Lee D. Baker is an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. Professor Baker specializes in the history of U. S. nthropology and has published articles about Franz Boas. He is the author of From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954 [7]:Cultural Relativism by ark Glazer Mark Glazer:Professor of Anthropology, Department of Psychology and Anthropology, The University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburg, Texas, 78539 [8]:Zammito, John. “Kant, Herder and the Birth of Anthropology” University of Chicago Press, 2002 Comments by: Ivan Brady, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the State University of New York in Oswego [9]:Younkins, Edward. Why the World is the Way It Is: Cultural Relativism and It’s Descendents” Professor of Accountancy and Business Administration at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia and author of Capitalism and Commerce. [10]:Spencer,Vicki. In Defense of Herder on Cultural Diversity and Interaction The Review of Politics 69 (2007), 79???105. University of Notre Dame [11]:Cirit, Remzi. “Science, Objectivity, and Religion”, 1992. [12]:Dadachanji , Dinshaw K . “The Cultural Challenge to Scientific Knowledge” Vol. 13, the World & I, 01-01-1998, pp 172 He is Editor for the Natural Science section of The World & I. 13]:Bidney, David. “The Philosophical Presuppositions of Cultural Relativism and Cultural Absolutism. ” p. 67 Book: “Ethics and the Social Sciences”, 1959. [14]:De Laguna, Grace A. “Cultural Relativism and Science” American Philosophical Association, Vol. 15. (1941) Pp. 141-166. [15]: Turner, Jonathan H. 1986, Book, “The Structure of Sociological Theory”, p. 3. [16]:Rasch, Fisher Jr. “Philosophy of science and objectivity” p. 22-3 [17]:ibid. [18]:ibid. [19]:Mohanty, Satya P. “The Epistemic Status of Cultural Identity: On Beloved and the Postcolonial Condition”.

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