Ruth Benedict's Theory Of Normality In Other Culture

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Ruth Benedict, an anthropologist, argues that morality is relative and based on one's culture or society. What could be morally acceptable in one culture is not necessarily acceptable in another culture. She believes that “the most spectacular illustrations of the extent to which normality may be culturally defined are those cultures where an abnormality of our culture is the cornerstone” (134). James Rachels, a philosopher, argues that Benedict’s argument is fallible. The conclusion of her argument does not follow from the premises. Rachels summarizes William Graham Sumner in that “there is no measure of right and wrong other than the standards of the society” (142). Benedict evaluates a number of “simpler peoples” to support her theory…show more content…
Hallucinations, to us, are seen as a mental illness. For some cultures, it is seen as a calling to a higher power and honorable. Benedict describes a tribe of Melanesia. They see one another as “prime manipulators” of black magic. In most cultures, it seems a bit like paranoia or negativity. Sometimes people seem so unnecessarily paranoid that it could be a mental illness. If someone gives them food they immediately think it has been poisoned. This way of thinking is normal to them. We may see it as paranoia but this is just a typical Monday for them. Murder usually seems to be unacceptable all over the world but the e Kwakiutl tribe responds to deaths by killing. If the person who has lost a loved one does not kill in response, they are seen as deviant to the rest of their village or tribe. They also do not even care about the actual killer if it was a murder situation, they only care about the killing of another. Killing after the death of a loved one is noble to this tribe. Benedict argues that “an adult shaped to the drives and standards of either of these cultures, if he were transported into our civilization, would fall into our categories of abnormality” (136). Many things that we see as outrageous can actually be the strength or foundation of another culture. Cultures…show more content…
Rachels gives the argument that just because one thing is acceptable in one culture does not always mean it was right or correct. Who could say that the tribes who ate the dead did it for virtuous reasons? Even Benedict argues that it is not so much what is right but what is common that seems to be acceptable. If morality was dependent on culture, it would not give us the right to criticize others. Rachels gives the example of the genocide of Jews. German Nazi’s saw that assassinating them was okay but it does not mean that it was okay. It was still a world outrage. He proposes that cultural relativism would manifest three significant consequences. The first is that one society cannot say they are better than another. We would not be allowed to say that a Communist country is inferior to us. The second is that one would be able to decide if our actions were right or wrong based on the standards of our society. In some cultures, the kidnapping of a girl or a woman is actually a traditionally common marriage practice. Taking someone without their consent is not right. The third consequence that Rachels proposes in the acceptance of cultural relativism is that all progress of morality could be questioned. According to Rachels, it does not seem like people disagree with the theory of cultural relativism as much as it would seem to be. The arguments he proposes as to why
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