Cultural Diversity and Moral Judgment

ray scupin (scupin@LC.LINDENWOOD.EDU)
Wed, 18 May 1994 14:40:59 -0500

I thought that this was an interesting comment from the pages of the
Chronicle of Higher Ed regarding our discussion of ethical relativism..
I believe it offers some food for thought regarding this question.

"Will cross-cultural inquiry and experience nurture a more subtle capacity
for moral judgment, or by exposing the student to alternative cultural
worlds, will it persuade the student that there are no firm grounds for
such judgment?

The case could be made that superficial encounters with a range of
human diversity can leave the student with the impression of a set of
contradictory cultural moral alternatives that admit no common ground upon
which to found a personal system of values, and therefore such superficial
encounters erode the basis for moral decision. Yet thorough and sustained
engagement with another cultural world is likely to lay the foundation for
a more firmly grounded, explicitly tested, consciously discerning, and
independent moral vision.

Serious and sensitive embrace of the personal and ethical
struggles of individuals of another cultural world will reveal an array of
deeply similar human concerns--at the individual level, for example, over
health, family, security, happiness, respect, appropriate responsibility
to others, freedom from oppression, fairness, compassion, and truth; at
the societal level, for example, over the appropriate balance between
individual freedom and social equality or between the expression of
subgroup identities and committment to the society as a whole.

Experience of this kind will also reveal significant differences
in how those underlying concerns are constructed, in how they are weighted
with respect to one another across the range of life situations, in how
they are translated into specific expectations adn specific definitions of
responsibility and appropriate behavior....

Concepts of personal fulfillment, social responsibility,
intellectual coherence, and aesthetic quality offered by other cultural
worlds will come to provide instructive perspectives on issues that are at
the center of the student's own intellectual and moral inquiry. These
insights will spark, in turn, a clearer recognition of the particular
patterns of interpreting, valuing, and judging that lend structure to her
or his own cultural world. He or she is at once more conscious and
confident in ethical judgment, better able to recognize and grapple with
ethical complexities, and more analytic and independent in shaping
responses to them.

Here the intellectual shift to broader cultural consciousness
generates a powerful ethical legacy."

Alfred H. Bloom
president of Swarthmore College, in his most recent report to alums.

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