The Elements Of Moral Philosophy, By James Rachels

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In “The Elements of Moral Philosophy” James Rachels discusses the positives and negatives regarding the concept of cultural relativism, but his overall position is that cultural relativism is not a strong philosophy. On the flip side of that Immanuel Kant has a completely different ethical theory that is based around deontology. Despite its positives, cultural relativism cannot be defended against Rachels’ criticism, but Kant’s ethical theory cannot necessarily defeat cultural relativism either.
Cultural Relativism is the idea that moral practices and social norms change from culture to culture, and so morality and ethics are relative and are determined by our culture. The idea is that if moral practices and social norms vary from culture to culture then this implies that if morality and ethics are universal there should be no variation in moral practice across cultures. Therefore, morality and ethics are relative because the above is not true and morality and ethics are determined by our culture. An example of this would be polygamy. In our culture we believe that polygamy is wrong and unethical because man is only meant to have one wife. However, a cultural relativist would say that because this is a common practice in a polygamist society then it is morally right. Rachels says that this argument is not really sound because “for an argument to be sound, its premises must all be true, and the conclusion must follow logically from them” (Rachels 18). In this case the

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