Title

On a common misconception of Ruth Benedict's moral relativism

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1-1-2012

Department

History & Political Science

Abstract

In philosophy textbooks for undergraduates the cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict is often cited as a proponent of moral relativism, and her writings are not infrequently excerpted to illustrate the view that the individual's moral values are culturally determined. Because Benedict established that significant differences can exist in the underlying cultural patterns of different societies, her work is commonly construed as providing evidence for the arbitrary and non-rational basis of morals. The author of the present essay argues that this popular reading of Benedict is mistaken. He draws a distinction between two different forms of moral relativism - the objective and the subjective - and then contends that Benedict is widely viewed as a subjective relativist when in fact her relativism was of the objective variety. He shows that her position actually has much in common with the pragmatic meliorism of John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. © Teaching Philosophy, 2012. All rights reserved.

DOI

10.5840/teachphil20123513

First Page

29

Last Page

40

Publication Title

Teaching Philosophy

Share

COinS