The Relationship between Cultural Relativism and Human RightsJune 28, 2021
Today, the main objection to the “universality” of human rights is the objection of those who defend cultural relativism. This is basically the idea that the idea of human rights is the product of a certain culture, Western culture and cannot be valid for every culture.
On the one hand, it is emphasized that the source of thought is a certain culture, on the other hand, the validity or general validity of this thought is opposed. Not being universally accepted is based on the fact that the idea has emerged in a certain culture. While accepting the universality of the idea of human rights by adopting a way that is sometimes more difficult to understand theoretically, it is tried to find a middle way between cultural relativism and the universality of human rights by saying that changing conditions from society to society, culture to culture should also be taken into account.
Cultural relativism is the idea that no principles and values are universal or “universal”, that they vary according to cultures or societies.
Cultural relativism opposes “ethical truths” and general validity in ethics, as do the views advocating similar relativism. Therefore, the debate is essentially a discussion of ethics, whether there is truth in ethics and whether ethical norms have transcultural validity. Advocates of cultural relativism deny that there can be principles and norms that are “universal valid”, that is, valid in every culture and at any time, as is said for human rights norms. Although there are different types and degrees of cultural relativism, their main argument is that things such as values, ethical principles, ethical norms are the product of a culture, bear the stigma of a culture, but are “validity” and “validity” within the conditions of that particular culture or of similar societies. truth”. Even if there are some general principles, these principles will be understood and applied according to the perspectives of each culture. Each culture will have its own ethical principles, or the principles of other cultures will be interpreted and applied differently in this culture.
In the international human rights debate, “cultural relativism” is the idea that cultural traditions (including religious, political and legal practices) determine the extent and extent of civil and political rights enjoyed by individuals, and that there is no universality. Therefore, an action that is a violation of human rights in one society may be found to be completely lawful or legitimate in another. As a result, it is opposed to the Western society’s imposition of the idea of human rights on Third World countries (Teson 2001, p. 380).
The idea of ”universalism” regarding human rights can be understood in at least three different ways. Sometimes a demand for the moral justification (justification) or universal validity of human rights is expressed by this, sometimes universality is used to express the status of human rights in international law, and sometimes “universality” can be an argument about the generality of human rights. Most human rights theoretical discussions focus on the question of validity. Accordingly, human rights reflect timeless and absolute moral truths, whereas for those who advocate cultural relativism, moral truth or validity refers to the beliefs or values of a particular culture. In short, according to those who defend cultural relativism, there are no such timeless, social and supracultural truths and principles (Goodhart 2005, pp. 353-356).
If cultural relativism were content with merely the assertion that human rights emerge in a particular culture, there would be nothing to dispute about it. Every thought, knowledge, or artistic and technical achievement originated in a particular culture. It is not possible for it to be otherwise. On the other hand, in this sense, it is not possible to talk about a supracultural, suprahistorical thought. Every thought is a thought of a certain period, it emerged in a certain time period, in a certain cultural environment. For this reason, a demand for “absoluteness” understood in this way is meaningless. But cultural relativism is not satisfied with this, it goes further and claims that the validity of ethical truths and ethical principles cannot be mentioned. This is based on the assumption that there are no ethical facts and that there is no common human “nature”. Despite the important differences between cultures and the great differences between individuals of the human species, it is not difficult to see that there are some common features and opportunities in humans, as well as some ethical principles common in different societies and cultures. The problem arises from the fact that the word ethics or morality is seen as univocal, and the principles called moral principles are perceived as homogeneous principles. It can be mentioned that some ethical principles derived from human nature and therefore common in different periods and cultures, and their validity. Human rights norms, if they deserve this name, this is it.