“Morality differs in every society and is a convenient term for socially approved habits” “What is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like, and immorality is what they dislike” (Alfred North Whitehead) The question of morality is one which begs a hundred questions. How can one judge what is moral and what is not? Who decides where the line is drawn? What standing ground does one have when question the morals of another? Where is the benchmark?
This essay shall examine the statement aforementioned, firstly by engaging with cultural relativism, then critically discuss cultural relativism and lastly examine the implications for educational practices in South Africa. With regards to the statement, it is first important to note the definition of morality. “Morality speaks of a system of behavior in regards to standards of right or wrong behavior. The word carries the concepts of: (1) moral standards, with regard to behavior; (2) moral responsibility, referring to our conscience; and (3) a moral identity, or one who is capable of right or wrong action. ”(http://www. allaboutphilosophy. rg/morality. htm) In other words morals are what is considered to be right or wrong. The real question is right or wrong to whom? What is considered acceptable in Kenya is considered immoral in South Africa. To engage with the topic, cultural relativism needs to be visited. Cultural relativism is “the form of moral relativism that holds that all ethical truth is relative to a specified culture. According to cultural relativism, it is never true to say simply that a certain kind of behavior is right or wrong; rather, it can only ever be true that a certain kind a behavior is right or wrong relative to a specified society. (http://www. philosophyofreligion. info/christian-ethics/moral-relativism/cultural-relativism/) This is a fairly attractive theory to buy into as it holds idea’s of freedom of choice and non judgment. The theory is based on the thought that “there is no objective standard of evaluation, no universal standard of truth and right” (Horsthemke, 2010, pg,14) As there is no universal benchmark of wrong vs right, the theory states that one will be unable to cast blame upon another culture. It too cast’s doubt apon the theory of normality.
One needs to consider what is normal “the concept of normal is properly a variant of the concept of the good. It is that which society as approved” (Benedict, Ruth, 200 as cited in Horsthemke, 2010, pg. 15) If society can dictate what is normal then society too has the power to set the foundations are morality. “Different societies or cultures have different conceptions of ‘normal’. It follows that there is no universal standard or set of principles in morality” (Horsthemke, 2010, pg. 5) Therefore it is fair to say that morality differs in every society as every society has a varying standard of normalcy and there a varying set of morals. Whilst the statement seems incredibly attractive there is a critical examination of the thoughts. The first critical evaluation one can make is about having the ‘inborn’ urge to be judgmental. Humans are fallible creatures and this feature allows for others to find and pick on what they consider weakness.
To be a true cultural relativist one needs to remain neutral about other cultures “Cultural relativism excuses us from judging the moral status of other cultures in cases where doing so seems to be inappropriate, but it also renders us powerless to judge the moral status of other cultures in cases where doing so seems to be necessary. ” (http://www. philosophyofreligion. info/christian-ethics/moral-relativism/cultural-relativism/) Cultural relativism contains key points which could allow one to turn a blind eye to acts which are universally immoral. The slaughter of millions of Jewish people in Nazi Germany is now considered wholly unsavory.
With cultural relativism in place the world has no stand point from which to condemn Hitler and his Nazi army’s. “On cultural relativism, our moral code applies only to our own society, so there is no pressure on us to hold others to our moral standards at all. ” (http://www. philosophyofreligion. info/christian-ethics/moral-relativism/cultural-relativism/) Over all the idea seems pleasing and fair but when engage with cultural relativism critically it seems to lack key points and the world would be come anarchy with societies cropping up everywhere claiming their morals are to kill all women.
In a less extreme version a society with the morals against schools could be equally dangerous. But how does one go about teaching morals and what are the implications for educational practices in South Africa if cultural relativism is or is not taught? In the South African Council for Educators (here on known as SACE) chapter 3, point 1 says “an educator – respects the dignity, beliefs and constitutional rights of learners and in particular children, which includes the right to privacy and confidentiality. (SACE, pg. 116) This conforms with the belief of cultural relativism as it says that educators must respect the belief’s of learners. This is to say that if the learner follows Muslim religion then he/she must be accommodated to pray at the set times. This is an extremely positive aspect of cultural relativism as it not only provides learners a space to express freely their personal beliefs but gives other learners the opportunity to experience another culture or religion.
With educational practices it would be a good thing if all teachers could take a leaf out of this book and be understanding and encourage acceptance of all races, religions and cultures. The world could do with adults who have more respect for cultures foreign to their own. However within SACE chapter 3, point 5 says “avoids any form of humiliation and refrains from any form of child abuse, physical or psychological. ” (SACE, pg, 116) Again this is where cultural relativism ‘catches itself out’ so to speak.
Public humiliation is a well-known ‘technique’ (for lack of a better word) of disciplining children. In some cultures (particularly in the Afrikaans culture) a good ‘hiding’ is believed to be a cure- all for disobedient children. Who are the South African Council for Educations to suddenly make new ‘society’ rules? Culturally some things cannot be over-seen and by following a policy of cultural relativism one is opening the door to many many problems. Whilst cultural relativism has very good intentions of freedom to act, and anti-judgment it is not a cure-all. Some things, like hitting a child, is an