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In discussion with various people cultural egalitarianism seems to be very popular. One guy claimed that: one cannot judge another culture by one's own culture. there are different systems of thought in each culture that will bring different value judgments.

If our aim is to evaluate and judge other cultures what would be an appropriate response to such a claim?

asked Feb 26 '11 at 23:25

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edited Feb 27 '11 at 10:15

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦


Don't fall into the collectivist trap of focusing on "judging cultures." Humans act individually; their actions are judged morally on an individual basis. If an individual acts to violate the rights of another person then claims a "defense against being judged" (being recognized as being morally corrupt) because "his culture allows his rights-violating action" he is simply an intellectual "conman" trying to argue that large-scale "group" irrationality or corruption absolves individual immoral (rights-violating) behavior.

(Feb 26 '11 at 23:56) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

Beautifully put.

(Feb 27 '11 at 00:33) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

Great answer!

(Jan 05 '13 at 21:37) dagny dagny's gravatar image
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...one cannot judge another culture by one's own culture. there are different systems of thought in each culture that will bring different value judgments.

A substitution of terms in this formulation makes its origin and meaning more clear: one cannot judge reality by one's own view of it, because there are different views for each observer that will bring different judgments of reality.

If one has been reading Ayn Rand long enough, one will recognize who said that: Immanuel Kant.

Objectivism points out that existence exists, whether an observer wants it to exist or not -- and it is what it is, whether an observer understands what it is or not.

Just as reality is what it is, so too is a culture. A is A. This isn't an issue of reality and identity being "relative" to a particular culture; they hold for all cultures (and all beliefs of individuals), whether a culture (or the individuals who represent it) choose to see it or not.

answered Feb 27 '11 at 00:42

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

But aren't people who live in different cultures essentially living in different realities? For example, a Westerner lives in a heavily technological environment whereas a tribesman in Papua New Guinea lives in a primitive environment. In the former environment, division of labor and individualism are possible because the problem of finding food to eat has essentially been solved. But in the primitive environment, all members of the tribe need to contribute in the quest for food for everyone's survival; thus, tribal people have a more collectivist mindset as a response to the environment.

(Jan 06 '13 at 21:25) user890 user890's gravatar image

I should also mention that division of labor is possible in very large societies. But if you live in a small tribe, you are more likely to survive if you and everyone else puts in effort at foraging and shares the fruits of the hunt. Notice that this is similar to communist ideals ("From each according to his abilities...).

(Jan 06 '13 at 21:30) user890 user890's gravatar image

All cultures exist in the same reality. But of course, survival at different levels of technological advancement requires different methods. Individualism, however, is a view of the nature of man. Man's nature is the same, regardless of his culture. So, individualism is a good idea, regardless of culture or technology level.

The need of working together and sharing the product is not necessarily communistic. What's communistic is exploiting the capable for the sake of the less capable.


(Jan 06 '13 at 22:13) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Collectivism is not the necessary result of one's environment. Collectivism basically treats individuals as interchangeable and equivalent. Such a view of people is never necessary.

Even in a primitive society, there are the expert hunters, and the beginners. There is plenty of opportunity to distinguish oneself from the collective, and opportunity for young people to worship excellence rather than slavishness to the group.

Do not equate primitive economy with collectivism. They are two different things.

(Jan 06 '13 at 22:16) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image
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The mistake here is the assumption that a man's thinking is determined by his culture.

The result of accepting that assumption is the idea that judgments of a culture are simply one culture's views against another. That is, that there is no way to objectively judge a culture.

Also note that such an assumption nullifies any individual man's judgment by treating his ideas as an inescapable cultural product.

These ideas are the essential ideas of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is false.

It is right to judge cultures -- and not just other cultures. One must also judge one's own culture.

One can do this because even though one has been brought up in one's own culture, one can judge any culture according to standards which are not the product of a culture, but the product of any individual's rational thought about the nature of man, and of life.

One such standard is the extent to which any given culture respects each person's right to live his own life. Does the culture treat its members as slaves? Does the culture acknowledge and respect individual achievement? Does the culture deny freedom to any sub-class of its populace? Is the culture aggressive towards rights-respecting cultures? Does the culture encourage physical abuse and harm towards any of its innocent members? Is the culture improving or declining according to this standard?

Answering the above questions gives you a lot of information by which you can judge any culture.

Those who claim that you cannot judge a culture are trying to get you to think that freedom and slavery are not importantly different. The only thing that that can achieve is to get otherwise good people to tolerate the advance of slavery in the world.

"Well, you can't prove that freedom is better. You just prefer it because you were born free."

That's basically the whole argument of the cultural relativist. Its goal is to render any rational argument toothless. Once that is done, the only thing remaining are irrational arguments, which aren't really arguments at all, but are instead rationalizations of physical force.

Never stop judging cultures -- rationally.

answered Jan 06 '13 at 22:04

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John Paquette ♦

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Asked: Feb 26 '11 at 23:25

Seen: 5,888 times

Last updated: Jan 06 '13 at 22:16