Human Rights, Singapore

ray scupin (scupin@LC.LINDENWOOD.EDU)
Wed, 20 Apr 1994 11:50:33 -0500

Hello Colleagues:

I would like to recommend a book that relates to the discussion of
Singaporean justice, human rights, and relativism. See Elvin Hatch's
*Culture and Morality: The Relativity of Values in Anthropology*. Columbia
U. Press. 1983. After summarizing the history of relativism of all types
within anthropology, Hatch makes a useful distinction between "cultural
relativism," the recognition that different societies have different
values, norms, etc., and "ethical relativism," the belief that one cannot
evaluate another society's value system and impose one's own value

As anthropologists I believe that we need to be careful to distinguish the
two types of relativism and make the public aware of this
distinction. In many cases the public conflates cultural relativism with
ethical relativism and accuses anthropologists of ethical permissiveness
and with the slogan that "everything goes." Alan Bloom reinforced this
notion in his book *The Closing of the American Mind*.

There are probably some ethical relativists within our field, but
I think that they represent a minority. By the way, Hatch also discusses
how difficult it is to make ethical judgements regarding cultural
practices and norms. I think that his book lays some groundwork for
thinking carefully about this issue. The theme of the Atlanta meetings is
Human Rights. Hopefully, we'll see some thoughtful presentations on this
important issue. Is anyone organizing a session on relativism? A
session dealing with Hatch's work, along with Retseln, et al. would be a
treat for Jimmy Carter in Atlanta...

Ray Scupin
Sociology/Anthropology Dept.
Lindenwood College
209 S. Kingshighway
St. Charles, MO 63301
314-949-4730 (Office)
314-949-9244 (Home)
314-949-4910 (Fax)

Not chaos-like, together crushed and bruised,
But, as the world harmoniously confused:
Where order in variety we see,
And where, though all things differ, all agree

Alexander Pope