But, just because an argument is invalid does not mean that its conclusion is therefore false.

At this point in our investigation, it still may be the case that the thesis of NCR is true, but that the arguments given for it simply fail to establish it. Having noted that the argument is invalid we turn today to investigate two more questions: 1. The truth of the premise. 2. The potential consequences of ascribing to the NCR thesis. --Ideas have consequences, some more than others. It is often especially true that serious consequences follow from accepting certain ideas in ethical theory. So, let’s discuss the consequences that must inevitably follow from accepting the conclusion of NCR. --Rachels attempts to point out several things that come hand in hand with accepting NCR. He says, suppose we took this seriously. What might follow from such a thesis? He raises several points here. They are: 1. We could no longer criticize the practices of other cultures that we find morally objectionable. --We could not say of other societies that their practices are “right” or “wrong”, we could only passively observe that they are “different” than our own. --At first blush, the defender of cultural relativism might say: yes, precisely! This is my point. We have no right to say of others that their practices are “right or wrong”, this is a strength of cultural relativism. It keeps us humble and tolerant. --Rachels says, watch the sophistry, be careful. For if this is to be accepted then we not only cannot comment on more benign issues like the roles of the sexes or the family structures of a society, but we must also remain silent in the face of much more grave practices. --Slavery, for example. Or the singling out of one group of people as being intrinsically “inferior” to others. --Thus, the buying and selling of people as chattel or the events of such magnitude of horror as the holocaust are things that we must simply accept. For according to NCR such practices are neither better or worse than our own, they are simply different. --But as Rachels points out, surely such a position is unacceptable and could hardly be considered “enlightened”. 2. Not only could we not criticize other cultures, but we would not be in a position to criticize our own. --Once again, recall that according to NCR the only test of whether a thing is right or wrong is to look to what is practiced in a particular society, and this by definition would include one’s own society. --So, if one lived in a country where people are mutilated for petty crimes, and one wondered whether such a practice is “right” they would simply need to see if this practice conformed with what their society has deemed acceptable. If once the answer is obtained, the question is closed.

--But once again, such a conclusion is hardly acceptable. We would like to think that their remains room for improvement not only in “other” societies, but in our own. 3. The idea of “moral progress” is called into doubt. This is a consequence that follows from number two. --Our own history bears witness to our desire to be self correcting and to bring about reform regarding policies and practices that have been either stopped or changed. --Consider for example the right for women to vote, or the reform of child labor laws, or the long and painful process of national repentance in this country for the practice of slavery. --If Cultural relativism is correct, all such changes could not be said to be either for the better or the worse, but simply changes. We could merely point out that what happened at one time is now no longer practiced. --But the very notion of progress, by definition, entails a change for the better. However, terms like “better” are evaluative, and according to the reasoning of the cultural relativist, we are not in a position to make such evaluative judgments. For there is no universal standard on which to base them. Note that all of Rachels objections here are appealing to the same form of argument. He is saying, 1. If NCR is true then previously held belief X is false. (If P then Q) 2. But, previously held belief X is not false. (Not Q) 3. Therefore, NCR is not true. (Therefore not P) This method of argument is represented in your handout on validity. It is called modus tollens, and it is a valid form of argument. But we need to move on. As I said, today we are discussing not only the undesirable consequences that follow from NCR, but also the truth of the premise that is used to support the NCR thesis. As you saw, in arguing for the NCR thesis, the cultural relativist puts forward the claim that different cultures have different moral codes. Rachels wants to examine this claim and ask just how dramatic the “differences” that are appealed to really are. He says, let’s take another look at these differences of behavior and it will turn out that the moral principles motivating them may in fact be held in common cross culturally, but it just so happens that they manifest their workings differently in different regions. For example, (Give the cow example)

Greeks and Callatians: (Speak of the principle of honoring the dead behind different funerary practices, and that neither Greek nor Callatian would hold that “it doesn’t matter” whether the dead are honored. They just do it differently.) Appeal to my own examples— disagreement about whether to fight, yes, cowardice in battle, never, --There is no society in which betrayal of one’s closest friend is considered praiseworthy. --There is no society in which being habitually deceptive in important matters is considered honorable. --Further, there exists no society in which it is considered noble to torture children for fun. This is not to say that such practices have not occurred. That’s not the point. The point is that if or when they do occur they do not occur in the name of nobility and virtue. (Rather sick or perverse pleasure) --So, The point is, while it may be true that there are disagreements about customs, these do not necessarily indicate disagreement about values. --You see, Rachels is distinguishing between customs themselves and the principles or values that underlie custom. He is pointing out that this is a distinction that is lacking in the argument for NCR. --For example, one society could value life and justice and therefore choose to go to war against a nation who they consider to be an unjust pursuer and a threat, while another society could chose pacifism on the basis of their also valuing life and justice. Thus, while the same values are held in common, the practice being carried out is different. --Now, it may turn out that the reasoning of one of these societies for choosing one action instead of another may be flawed, but this does not indicate that they are appealing to some radically different set of values than their counterpart. --So, the upshot of all this is that the raw data of the sociologist could be misleading. I.e., while there may be differences in custom, these are not indicative of people whose moral codes are so radically different than our own that they are operating according to fundamentally different principles and values. --Rachels points out that if certain moral principles were not acknowledged then societies would invariably self-destruct. (e.g. lying, murder, etc.) He’s right, but I consider this a more tangential point of his essay. After all of this, is there anything left to be gleaned from NCR? (or the reasons that people may find it appealing? 1. Some practices are neither moral nor immoral, they are simply cultural practices that are amoral. As such, one good motivation behind this rather bad argument is to remind us that not all cultural practices should be regarded as stemming from an absolute rational standard. (e.g. certain forms of dress, rituals surrounding our meals, etc.) Tell them about Pojman, similarities and differences, his is a better essay with some similar concerns but others in addition. We’ll take part of the second day to discuss expectations for the upcoming essay. (Going slow because you will be writing on the matter.)