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The Problem for Normative Cultural Relativism

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The key problem for normative (or moral) cultural relativism arises as soon as we try to formulate it. It resists formulations that are (1) clear, precise, and intelligible; (2) plausible enough to warrant serious attention; and (3) faithful to the aims of leading cultural relativists, one such aim being to produce an important alternative to moral universalism. Meeting one or two of these conditions is easy; meeting all three is not. I discuss twenty-four candidates for the label “cultural relativism,” showing that not one meets all three conditions. In the end I conclude that cultural relativists have produced nothing that threatens universalism.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), 425 University Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46202–5140, USA

Publication date: 1998-09-01

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