Eric Silverman (ERICS@DEPAUW.EDU)
Mon, 25 Apr 1994 09:16:14 -0500

In response to my request for sources that discuss cutlural relativism and
moral choice, D. Read has made several comments.

1. He suggests, basically, that morality and science "are predicated
on different and mutally incompatible epistemologies." Hence, we can
be cultural relativists in one domain, and make moral choice in the
other. Thus, my request, he implies, is silly.

Well, I do not agree. First of all, the distinction between morality and
science is a tricky one, as any perusal of the literature will indicate.
In fact, I find Read's claim to be intellectually lazy. it is a complex issue.
To write that "there is only a conflect between moral choice and cultural
relativism if one wants the moral decisxion and the scientiifc discourse
to be in agreement" simply begs the issue. To write, furthermore, that
"morality is a cultural invention and, for the purpose of scientific
discourse, has no extrinsic reality" is also a bit too quick and slippery.
What, may I ask, in the human experience is _not_ a "cultural invention."
Science? Certainly not.

Thus, Read is a bit too quick to dismiss my claims. Perhaps he is satisfied
with his analytic separation of morality and science, or relativism and
ethics, but I suspect that most anthropoloigsts are not. Indeed, any claim
that morality is unrelated to science, i.e. to anthropology, and hence
cultural or methodological relativism, opens the door to a whole slew
of problems that we are all aware of. Am I to tell a student that, for
the purposes of the intro course (the space of science) he must adhere
to cultural reltivism, but that outside the course he can simply
disregard relativism and assert that his religion is superior to all
others and that, furthermore, he can advocate the missionization of the
world? I think not. Morality and science/knowledge are constitutive
of the world to the same degree as any so-called "extrinsic reality."
Isn't that the point of our discipline?

My request still stands: any good intro-level sources on the relationship
between relativism as a scientific tool and moral decisions? (In my
discussions/presentations next semester, I will however use Read's claims,
so consider this to be a criticism rather than a flame).

-Eric Silverman, Soc/Anthro, DePauw Univ.