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Louis Pojman on the Challenge of Multiculturalism

"A Critique of Moral Relativism", in Ethical Theory (Wadsworth, 1998), 39.

Eskimos allow their elderly to die by starvation, whereas we believe that this is morally wrong. The Spartans of ancient Greece and the Dobu of New Guinea believe(d) that stealing is morally right, but we believe it is wrong. A tribe in East Africa once threw deformed infants to the hippopotamuses, but we abhor infanticide. Ruth Benedict describes a tribe in Melanesia that views cooperation and kindness as vices, whereas we see them as virtues. Sexual practices vary over time and place. Some cultures accept cannibalism, while the very idea revolts us. Cultural relativism is well documented, and “custom is the king o’er all.” There may or may not be moral principles held in common by every society, but if there are any, they seem to be few, at best. Certainly, it would be very difficult to derive any single “true” morality by observing various societies’ moral standards.