Relativists believe that there are no universal truths about what’s right or wrong. They believe that right and wrong are culturally dependent (Fire of Relativism).
Why a Fire?
Fires (e.g. bonfires, campfires) are often created by and for groups. The Fire represents the Relativist’s idea that each group/culture decides what is right for them (their own fire), and that there is no independent standard of what’s right, just different opinions (different fires). Relativists believe that right and wrong are dependent on culture. They think that there are no universal truths about what’s right, just cultural customs and opinions. Relativists believe that the morals of a culture cannot be wrong, just different. They may live by some of these sayings: “It’s all relative”, “To each their own”, “Live and let live”, or “When is Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Some cultural practices are customs, and are neither right nor wrong (e.g. the best way to perform a wedding or a funeral). By asking: “Who am I to judge?” Relativists remain open-minded and focus on the idea that some things are culturally dependent. They accept different ways of viewing the world and get beyond imposing their views on other groups. They avoid the assumption that one cultural perspective (Fire A), including their own, is based on some universally accepted objective standard and that it is better than another culture’s perspective (Fire B). Some behaviors and ideas are just based on culture.
In their efforts to be open-minded, Relativists may not consider that there can be very good reasons and solid evidence why one viewpoint is more right than another. There are things that many would agree are clearly wrong regardless of a culture’s customs (e.g. food waste, not recycling, sexism, homophobia, slavery). For example, a person may be accepting of another culture discriminating against people who are gay (“Who am I to judge their cultural practices?”), but this person changes their mind when their own child shares that they are gay and wants to visit that other culture. Then they decide that it is clearly wrong to discriminate against people who are gay.
Fire’s Theoretical Background:
Moral Relativism, Cultural Relativism
Fire’s Conclusions and “What do I do now?”
Cultural Relativism highlights a valuable lesson: that many practices and attitudes are culturally created and are neither right nor wrong. However, this does not mean that there is nothing that is right or wrong. Most of us would agree that slavery is wrong regardless of where it occurs, therefore we must look to other perspectives (e.g. Pluralism) when deciding what is right.
To better understand this focus area, see the PDF Handout.