Week 3 Discussion Regarding “Trying out Ones New Sword” Reading and a Peer Response

I’m working on a Philosophy question and need guidance to help me study.

Discussion needs to be 600 words.

Reading is Attached.

The Question is :

Midgley presents us with an argument against cultural relativism. She argues that cultural relativist arguments necessarily force their proponents to adopt a standpoint of moral isolationism. Furthermore, if we accept cultural relativist arguments as true, she claims this will equally prohibit us from begin able to praise other cultures as well as criticize them. If there are no standards by which other cultures may be legitimately evaluated or criticized, then it necessarily follows that we are not allowed to criticize our own culture as well. The moral isolationism that cultural relativism entails therefore undermines our ability to engage in any moral reasoning whatsoever. Is cultural relativism defensible? If so, is Midgley’s account of moral isolationism mistaken, or do we rather have to bite the bullet and accept moral isolationism is simply true? If we accept that moral isolation is true, does Midgley’s argument that this stance undermines the ability to engage in any moral reasoning whatsoever hold water? Why or why not.

Peer Response needs to be 300 words

Gabriella Grife

In Midgley’s criticism of moral isolationists, she argues that cultural relativism is the catalyst for this problematic way of which we evaluate other cultures. While I agree with much of Midgley’s insight, I think that cultural relativism is – at least to some extent – unavoidable. As Midgley states, “understanding has degrees” (p. 161).

Having lived in Austin for about a year and a half, many would agree that I have a great understanding of the culture here. I’ve been living, working, studying, and socializing here; what I would consider as being fully immersed in Austin’s culture for a lengthy enough period of time to have a robust comprehension of it (and certainly more than the two-week time stamp that Midgley references on p. 161). However, my experience with Austin’s culture was gained through a lens of over 3 decades on the east coast. One of the things I’ve noticed to be prevalently revered in Austin’s culture is the presence of politeness and good manners. As someone who spent nearly all of my life in D.C., Philly, and New York City, I find that what is considered to be good manners here does not always corelate with the good manners that I learned elsewhere. A silly – and hopefully nonpolarizing – example of this is that I often find myself waiting in a line, such as a grocery store check-out line, and the person in front of me has completed their transaction but is lingering to finish their conversation with the cashier. On one hand, I understand the politeness factor of making friendly conversation with a cashier. I think many Austinites would argue that it is objectively kind to be warm and interact personally with people that you have to come in contact with. On the other hand, in New York City the pace of life is much faster, and many New Yorkers would argue that you don’t know the scheduling demands and time constraints of other patrons in line behind you. Therefore, it is actually considered bad manners to compromise any more time than is absolutely necessary to complete your transaction with a cashier, even if that means sacrificing pleasantries. Never once in an Austin check-out line have I heard someone complaining and urging those ahead of them to hurry up, while this is such a commonplace occurrence in New York that I could argue I may never have been in a line of more than one or two patrons without witnessing something of the sort.

The example that I’ve given does not nearly compare to Midgley’s example of Samurai warriors slicing through a wayfarer with a single blow (p. 161), but I feel that it illustrates how cultural relativism is enmeshed in our ability to experience and perceive other cultures. As Midgley describes it, “we are asking the questions which arise from where we stand, questions which we can make sense of” (p. 164). I don’t think that it’s possible to completely and fully immerse oneself in another culture – for the purpose of making a moral judgement or otherwise – without any preexisting bias. Acknowledging our bias, or cultural relativism, and taking it into account while forming opinions and developing understanding of other cultures is a great step in one’s ability to engage in moral reasoning.

In relation to my example at the check-out counter, I could argue that it is either objectively bad manners to not engage in friendly conversation with a cashier or that it is objectively bad manners to keep the people behind you in line waiting longer than absolutely necessary. Alternatively, I could acknowledge my lens of cultural relativism, and appreciate that neither of these are absolutes, but that under different circumstances, either can be true. While our inability to completely remove the lens in which we have learned of morality does undermine our ability to make completely unbiased moral judgements, we still have a responsibility to come from that understanding and to not assume that our culture is the baseline from which to objectively make all moral assessments.

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