William Graham Sumner's Folkways : The True Nature Of Moral Relativism

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A moral standard is a code of conduct that distinguishes actions that are morally correct from those that are not. In his essay, “Folkways”, anthropologist and philosopher William Graham Sumner aims to describe what he believes to be the true nature of moral standards and morality. To achieve this, Sumner uses his theory on the origin of morality, which requires the concept of Cultural Relativism to be sound. Cultural Relativism, also known as Moral Relativism, teaches that there can be no objective or fundamental moral truths because morality is relative to all societies. Moral Realism, a theory in direct opposition to Moral Relativism, teaches that there are certain objective truths that are shared worldwide. In this paper, I will first outline Sumner’s view on the origin of morality, and discuss how he uses this theory in his argument. I will then briefly describe the Moral Realist concerns about relativist theory, and explain why these concerns are relevant. Lastly, by reviewing an objection proposed by a proponent of Moral realism, I will distinguish whether or not Sumner’s view is correct.
Sumner proposes that moral standards, and morality, are inevitable products of natural circumstances. He communicates this through his theory, which transpires as follows. First, there exists a society that has needs. There is significance in this claim because the term ‘need’ denotes that if it is left unsatisfied, the society cannot survive. Second, in order to survive, the

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