Cultural relativism

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Cultural relativism is the idea that morals, ethics and philosophies change between cultures. And that is entirely acceptable. It is the idea that each culture has its own unique perspective.

In 1887 an anthropologist named Franz Boas made up the idea of cultural relativism. But he did not give it a name yet. Another person named Alain Locke, who was a philosopher, made the name in 1924. Later, many other anthropologists began using the idea.

Method[change | change source]

Boas explained that people who study other cultures are ethnocentric even if they do not mean to be. To be ethnocentric means to believe the way you do things in your culture is the right way. An example of this is when people called linguists (linguists are people who study languages) were studying Native American languages. They thought they heard people say the same sound differently for no reason. The linguists thought this meant that the Native American language did not have rules for pronunciation. The linguists said Native American languages were less developed than their own languages. Boas proved that the linguists were wrong. He said they were not used to hearing the Native American languages and could not hear what was being said correctly.[1]

Boas and his students said the best way to stop being ethnocentric was to live with the people they were studying for a long time. They said if a person does this they can learn the language and culture better. Then they can understand how each part of the culture makes sense together. They said this was how cultural relativism can be used to study another culture.

Morality[change | change source]

Ruth Benedict also thought that the different ways that people believe in right and wrong was because of how they grew up in their culture. She believed that no one’s morals were more right than another’s.[2]

References[change | change source]

  1. Boas, Franz (1889). "On Alternating Sounds". American Anthropologist 2 (1): 47–54. https://www.jstor.org/stable/658803. 
  2. Benedict. "In Defense of Ethical Relativism" (PDF).