Rachels begins his argument by outlining a few examples of cultural relativism and furthers to describe how there is no actual right or wrong to a society’s cultural norms; every standard is culture bound. With no objective standard that can be used to compare and contrast cultural right and wrongs, it is impossible for there to be one, universal truth that all humans follow. It is the society that determines the moral codes, and it is the social responsibility for each society to accept and tolerate the cultural norms of various other societies.
Yet, if we adopt this attitude towards cultural relativism, we miss a fundamental piece of the puzzle. If a society imposes war on another as a means of obtaining slaves or violently seeks to exterminate Jews, the cultural relativism theory could just waive off the action as neither right nor wrong even though we, as all humans know there is something inherently wrong with that. Secondly, in order to determine what’s right and wrong, all we have to do is use our society as a means of reference. Morally speaking, if it conforms with the standards of our society then there is nothing more to worry about and it wouldn’t have to be criticized under the ideals of cultural relativism. Lastly, if we deem progress upon a society, we must judge the newer society as better than the older one which is a judgment that cannot apply to cultural relativism.
The fundamental difference in cultural customs lie in our belief systems, not our values. Analyzing raw data from anthropologists can be misleading because it can appear that values between cultures are greater than they are. “There are some moral rules that all societies will have in common, because those rules are necessary for society to exist”. Infant care, truth telling and the prohibition of murder are all three essential facets of every society, otherwise it’d be impossible for the society to exist and function.
However, even if we reject cultural relativism, there is something to be said about its benefits. It allows us to stretch our imaginations by expanding our perception to include possible reasons for the different practices of other cultures. “We can come to understand that our feelings are not necessarily perceptions of the truth— they may be nothing more than cultural conditioning”