Re: Human Rights and Relativism

Mon, 25 Apr 1994 18:46:00 PDT

Scupin writes:

"... but as moral beings qua
anthropologists we have a role to play in helping improve social
realities. "

As anthropologists, I doubt that we really understand enough to say what
constitutes "improving social realities;" as persons raised in our own
culture which imbues us with a set fo moral values (however diverse these
may be), we each probably have some view or notion of what "improving social
realities" might mean. That seems to be the dilemna; we want anthropology to
be in sync with our personal view of how things should or ought to be.
Persoanlly, I am not sure that we know enough to justify using anthropology
as the basis for what are essenatilly moral actions or decisions. I would
rather justify those actions on their own ground.

The above quote sounds a
lot like what I imagine missionaries must have said to each other; "... but
as moral beings qua christians we have a role to play in helping improve
social realities." Do we reject the actions of missionaries who changed
social realities on moral grounds because we take different moral positions?
I think not. I think as anthropologists we reject those actions of
missionaries precisely becuase we temporarily suspend moral valuation that we
can recognize the difficulty in proclaiming that one society or another
has the higher moral position. But we also are members of our own society
and culture and so we do have and take moral positions. That seems to be the
dilemna; we are not automatons doing anthropology, but humans who must also
react as humans.

D. Read