Cultural Relativism & Feminism in a Liberal Society

Multiculturalism and feminism are two values held in a liberal society that have stirred controversy for some time. Although we as human beings can relate in many ways,  geography has played a significant role in our ways of life.

Feminism, although mostly misunderstood promotes equality between men and women…Yes, EQUALITY! Women shouldn’t be disadvantaged by their sex but be recognized as having human dignity equally with men. Also, they should have the opportunity to live as fulfilling and as freely chosen lives as men can. The second value Multiculturalism promotes protecting minority groups cultures by granting them group rights.

It is evident that there is a predominance of patriarchal cultures and traditions within minority groups. Given this fact, the dominant theme in minority cultural groups is the fulfillment of the men sexual, reproductive and domestic desires by the women. It’s not shocking that there are many controversial customs within minority groups.
Based on the descriptions of both values, it is evident that they contradict one another. Group rights and human rights cannot coexist in a liberal democracy. By granting group rights to protect multiculturalism, liberal democracies are allowing for denial of liberties to the women in those groups. Not coincidentally, male members are those who are generally in a position to determine and articulate the groups’ beliefs, practices and interests.

The challenges of cultural relativism from an ethical standpoint:

The Cultural Differences Argument is false. It states that different cultures have different moral codes, therefore, there is no objective “truth” in morality. Right and wrong are only matters of opinion, and opinions vary from culture to culture. However, the logical point is that the conclusion does not follow from the premise. Just because two cultures disagree on a matter does not mean that there’s no “objective truth” in the matter. The premise deals with what people believe whereas the conclusion concerns what really is, clearly two different ends of the spectrum.

Cultural relativism not only forbids us from criticizing the codes of other societies, it also stops us from criticizing our own. If right and wrong are relative to culture, this must be true for our own culture just as much as for other cultures. We would have to stop condemning other societies merely because they are “different”. There are some moral rules however, that all societies must have in common because those rules are necessary for society to exist.
Cultural relativism says that a sort of independent moral standard cannot exist. We DO have a method to judge other culture’s moral codes and discover universal truths. We can analyze the situation by using our ability to reason.
By accepting cultural relativism and therefore multiculturalism, the rights of minority groups must be consistent with the fundamental of liberalism. It’s aim is furthering the well-being of its members especially those of the women and children. There can be no assurance that the leaders of the groups, which are mainly elderly men, represent the interests of all the groups’ members.

The challenges of cultural relativism from a political standpoint:

Multicultural defense should not be used if it causes harm to the people whose lives are affected by it. No matter who’s guilty, the women always get the blame and suffer, while the men get reduced charges. The real concern should be that by failing to protect women and children from male violence, their rights to equal protection are violated. When a woman from a more patriarchal culture comes to a liberal state, such as the U.S.A, they are discriminated against and less protected from male violence. futhermore, cultural practices that are oppressive to women can often remain hidden in the private or domestic sphere. Therefore the courts cannot enforce their rights.

I think Susan Okins’ argument is a good argument. She recognizes: the importance of the development of self-respect and self-esteem of the group members; that sexual discrimination occurs more or less in all cultures; patriarchal minority cultures can exist but is dependent on their willingness to become less. Therefore, group rights justifications can be made once they take women’s equality seriously. Finally and most importantly, human rights trump group rights.


 

Rachels, J (1999). “The Elements of Moral Philosophy”. McGraw-Hill, Inc, pp 15-29.

Moller Okin, S. (1999) “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?”. Princeton University Press.

Paradigms, Rhetoric and Social Construction

       Paradigms have been present from the beginning of time. It has distinguished us as a people, brought us together and kept us divided. A precise definition of paradigm is a set of ideas and assumptions that determine the reality of a group or creates values in a community (Mckenzie, 2011). Kuhn (1961) explores this theory by looking at the history of science, which he categorizes into normal and revolutionary science. Normal science, Kuhn (1961) says “is performed by a community of scientists whose members share certain assumptions about what they are doing and what the world is like. They share what is referred to as a paradigm.”
With the emergence of revolutionary science came paradigm conflict and paradigm shifts. Bonnycastle (2007) says that “each paradigm has advantages, and one of the main advantages of the old paradigm is that most people understand and accept it.” With the arrival of revolutionary science came paradigm conflict which involved two parties that did not agree on what the facts are. Another possible outcome of two paradigms clashing is that they can be blended and accepted. According to Bonnycastle (2007), each paradigm is based on “facts”, but since the paradigm itself determines what counts as a fact, the “facts” supporting each paradigm is different. This posed a problem since there was no higher power to decide and it was who had the better argument. Life is much easier if the truth is easily accessible to us, then many doubts can be eliminated and decision making would be easier. We can also use the truth to gain power over other people to our advantage.

       This is where rhetoric is very useful. It is believed by Bonnycastle (2007) that someone who refused to acknowledge the existence of paradigms, did so because they wanted to know the “absolute truth”, in other words absolute truth cannot be established; anything we know is relative to a paradigm therefore knowledge cannot be absolute. However, Mckenzie (2011) opposed to this belief by stating that though different paradigms have their own facts, “absolute paradigms” would have their “absolute truths”. I gave it more thought and it started to make more sense to me. Another of Bonnycastle’s (2007) theory was that we are more likely to argue with people we share a paradigm with. As this may be true, Kuhn (1996) making reference to scientists, says that they can agree in their identification of a paradigm without agreeing or even attempting to produce a full interpretation or rationalization of it.

       As with Bonnycastle, Kuhn(1996) also made reference to normal science and said that “it can be determined through direct inspection of paradigm but does not depend upon the formulation of rules and assumptions”. In other words paradigms can stand strong on their own.
I’ve learnt that it’s okay for different groups of people to have their own paradigms as long as those groups show some level of respect for one another, and I say it like that because we have free will and freedom of speech, therefore compromise is critical between the parties in determining what is acceptable and what’s not. Without compromise, a lot of unnecessary wars may occur.

“A paradigm is acceptable as long as there’s supporting “facts”.”

       There is a distinct relationship among paradigms, social construction and rhetoric. Most of our beliefs and values come from ideas that have been made by man and can be changed by man to maintain the status quo, hence making them socially constructed. We all are considered social constructionists in that we make arguments with intentions of making changes to accommodate our agenda. When ideas are accepted, they begin to have consequences in the world. (Hacking,1999).


With the close relation between social construction and paradigms an important question one might ask is does social construction create paradigms or do paradigms create social constructions? (Mckenzie, 2011) What do you think?

Definition : Rhetoric is the ability to ascertain and analyze, in any given context, the available means of persuasion. In other words, how humans use language to persuade people to think like we think, change their minds, or to enlist their aid and recognize the uses.(The Rhetorical Tradition—Bizzel,Herzberg).

 

Mckenzie, C. (Spring 2011). “Rhetoric Lecture”.

Kuhn, T. (1962/1996). “The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions” 3rd Ed. University Of Chicago. Pp 43-51

Bonnycastle, S. (2007) “Paradigms, Paradigm Change, and Interpretation”. In Search Of Authority, 3rd Ed. Toronto : Broadview, P. pp 71-82

Hacking, I. (1999). Excerpt from “The Social Construction Of What”. Lingua Franca, pp 65-72.

 

Paradigms, Paradigm Change and Interpretation

       Paradigm for me is knowledge from events that have been translated into beliefs of different groups which they live by. They can be shifted or altered over a period of time and be passed down for generations. Many groups may share similar paradigms but the facts behind them may also be different. Overall I think paradigms give a different perspective of looking at things in life and can make a significant change in one’s life.

       Kuhn describes paradigm as theories accumulated from a group of scientists who individually shared how they perceived the world. He uses two theories, heliocentric; which states that the sun was the center of the universe and geocentric; which stated that the earth was the center of the universe to illustrate differences in paradigms. The geocentric theory was directly related to the Catholic Church. They believed that god created the universe for humans and therefore we had to be the focal point. They church felt obligated to maintain this theory since biblical scriptures coincided with it and they had to keep strength in people’s faith. The heliocentric theory was related to science and technology. The paradigm conflict came about when the telescope was invented which shifted paradigms from normal science to revolutionary science. People started to rise up and did things they would have never done. In the heliocentric paradigm the issue of what was” wrong” and “right”, “facts” and “truths” came about. There was no higher power to decide, it was basically who had the better argument and how many people were willing to convert, whereas in the geocentric paradigm everyone didn’t necessarily agree but accepted it.

       There have been so many paradigm conflicts with respect to paradigms such as education, culture, politics & religion, which have influenced communities worldwide since the beginning of time. From those experiences, people from different parts of the world developed their paradigms which in turn formed their “absolute truths”. It’ll be foolish to make assumptions and proclaim something as “truth” about events that happened 100 years before you were even born. Many paradigms have been passed down for decades and respect should be shown to all of them.

       My awareness on the existence of paradigm differences would undoubtedly alter conversations with various people. But as a scientist it’s always been instilled in me to be open-minded and objective, so it’s nothing new. Nevertheless, I would approach unbiased, cautious and with a “cool” demeanor. For there to be a significant or any little change in how the awareness of paradigms would impact my conversation with someone, firstly, there are some things I would have to improve on. One is being more patient (a virtue I haven’t mastered yet), and not interrupt every 10 seconds. Another, by being more attentive, though it may not be a topic of my interest or one that I even care about, but at least nod occasionally. I would try my best to refrain from derogatory statements and be mindful that many factors influence our paradigms, for example which part of the world we come from.

Kuhn, T. (1962/1996). “The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions” 3rd Ed. University Of Chicago. Pp 43-51