James Rachels is a renowned philosopher that is best known for his significant contribution in moral philosophy. He has made a significant contribution on the issue of cultural relativism, which he defines as the aspect of having different cultures holding varying moral codes.
What Rachels says about the subject
Rachels begins his article by stating that the idea of universal truth does not exist but what exists are varying customs belonging to varying societies, and they cannot be said to be correct or incorrect. He states that there is no universal right or wrong as what is right in one society can be absolutely wrong in another. What is right in a society is dependent on ancestral perceptions, which are often handed down through traditions. He realizes that what seems right in one culture seems to be so natural that its members cannot conceive the idea of other communities living differently, which explains why such communities would only think of their moral codes as the correct and most acceptable. He further argues that there is no universal truth that can hold all societies together but each society has its distinct moral codes that are used to define what is acceptable within that society. On this note, he argues that people should practice tolerance towards other people’s cultures rather than judging the conduct of individuals within that culture. This indicates that societies should not judge moral codes of others as morally inferior simply because they are different from theirs. Rachel’s further explains that cultures may have as many differences from others as it may seem particularly in instances when they may explain their reasons for believing that certain actions are correct while others are incorrect. He realizes that all cultures may however have certain values in common particularly those that are bound to enhance continuity of a society. He thus concludes that judging others’ culture may be wrong as this may simply be perpetuated by application of one’s cultural standards. Rachels however realizes that thoughtful people do not usually criticize of judge other people’s cultures. He realizes that such situations may be attributed by the fact that thoughtful people may be reluctant to interfere with the customs and moral practices of other communities. People may also resist interfering with others’ cultures on the thought of the fact that other communities may as well perceive their moral codes as being inferior. They thus avoid criticizing them as they desire to have a peaceful coexistence with them. He further found out that people could as well avoid criticizing others’ cultures because they would not want to portray contempt of the community exhibit “inferior” moral codes.
Rachel is supportive of the concept of cultural relativism, which states that there is no culture that should be perceived as being better than the other. This is because he realizes that a society’s moral standards are founded on its ancestral roots and are often handed down through tradition. Each society should respect others’ culture since there is no universal standard through which right and wrong can be measured.