Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lecture notes on the multicultural problem in ethics

Ethics: The Multicultural Approach
How moral issues arise in our culture
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Perhaps no statement captures the moral consciousness of our country. On the one hand, human equality is a powerful idea. On the other hand, the author of those words owned slaves, nor was he particularly known for treating women as equals.
Moral debates in America
A lot of moral issues arise in America in an attempt to apply the concept of equality. Consider the issue of slavery, which ripped the country in half in the 19th Century. Or consider the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and even the gay rights movement. The idea in all of these movements is that people shouldn’t be treated as inferiors because of differences that are not morally relevant, or for differences that are not under the person’s control.
Equality and multiculturalism
Our belief in equality is perhaps one of the most significant motivation for looking at things multiculturally. If people are equal, then we might want to avoid treating people or ideas as inferior if they came from some culture other than our own.
Blum’s motives for multicultural educaton
Lawrence Blum mentions three values motivating a multicultural approach: antiracism, a sense of interracial community, and treating persons as individuals.
These values are more common in our own culture than they are in many others. In many other countries race (and gender) is a basis for treating others as inferior, there is no interracial community, and people are not treated as individuals.
Arranged marriages and female genital mutilation
Something that reflects the individualism of our own society is the fact that we select our own mates. We do not countenance the idea, for example, of being given in marriage by one’s parents. But in some cultures not only are marriages are arranged, but people are forced into them as children. Similarly, in some cultures women are forced into genital mutilation, which is the subject of Martha Nussbaum’s essay.
The value of tolerance
We value tolerance in our culture quite a bit. I think historically we found ourselves having to live in a democratic society with many different religious standpoints, so we needed tolerance to get along with one another.
One idea that people think will encourage tolerance is the idea of relativism. If morals are relative, and there is no truth about what is really right or wrong, then we will be less inclined to be judgmental toward others.
Or will it?
One surprising result is that if relativism is true, then it is a virtue to be tolerant of other cultures just in case your culture approves of tolerating other cultures. If it doesn't, then you are supposed to be intolerant. So relativism doesn't lead to tolerance, it can just as easily lead to intolerance.
Dealing with other cultures
How should we respond to things going on in other cultures. One side of us wants to say that we shouldn’t be critical of what other cultures do. On the other hand, sometimes in other societies we find that some people are treated as inferiors, and what we would consider to be their rights are violated. So, how do we respond to that?
The paradox of multiculturalism
The paradox of multiculturalism is the fact that the values that drive us toward multiculturalism are exactly those values that are rejected in other cultures.
For example, we have a conviction that people should be treated as equals, regardless of their origin or background. Otherwise we could look at other cultures and just say “those barbarians.” But other cultures often approve of treating certain peoples as inferiors.
The Caste system in India
Prohibiting women from driving in Saudi Arabia
Arranged marriages, and even child marriages, in India and other countries.
Anti-gay laws in Kenya and Uganda: Both male and female homosexual activity is illegal. Under the Penal Code, "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" between two males carries a potential penalty of life imprisonment and executions/torture are allowed with no legal liabilities for the executioners.”
Criminal punishment for rape victims in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Somalia, and India.
Executing people for adultery in places like Afghanistan
Female Genital Mutilation
The Good Old USA
Well, we had slavery until the Civil War, and women got the right to vote in the 1920s, which means that during most of our country’s history, women have NOT had this right. The civil rights movement culminated in the 1960s, in my lifetime.
Two ways of responding
1)It’s their culture. Who’s to say what’s right or wrong
2)People’s rights are being unjustly violated. It’s wrong no matter whether the culture approves or not.
It comes down to the whole issue of moral objectivity.


unkleE said...

Excellent food for thought. Thanks.

Ilíon said...

Concerning "multiculturalism" and "slavery in the USA" --

The institution of slavery in the Colonies (in thus in the USA) is, in fact, an instance of "multiculturalism", a I discuss here and here

oozzielionel said...

In a world of multicultural relative morality, the culture with the biggest army or economic clout gets to decide.