Cross Cultural Ethics & International Development


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Cross Cultural Ethics & International Development

  1. 1. Cross-Cultural Ethics & International Development: Ethical relativism vs. ethical universalism Dr. Michael McDonald W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics, UBC
  2. 2. Overview <ul><li>This class – shared expertise </li></ul><ul><ul><li>I work in applied ethics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>You work in international development </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Sources </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Hinman lecture and PowerPoint </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Richard Rorty, “Moral universalism and economic triage” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cross-cultural experiences </li></ul></ul>
  3. 4. When in Rome <ul><li>Do as the Romans do? </li></ul><ul><li>Do what be done in your homeland? </li></ul><ul><li>Looks like an uncomfortable choice: </li></ul><ul><li>Option #1: seems too relativist for major choices, e.g., human rights </li></ul><ul><li>Option #2: seems too imperialistic, paternalistic & arrogant </li></ul>
  4. 5. Ethical Relativism <ul><li>Ethical relativism has several important insights: </li></ul><ul><li>The need for tolerance and understanding </li></ul><ul><li>The fact of moral diversity </li></ul><ul><li>We should not pass judgment on practices in other cultures when we don’t understand them </li></ul><ul><li>Sometimes reasonable people may differ on what’s morally acceptable </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>From ©Lawrence M. Hinman </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  5. 6. Two Types of Relativism <ul><li>Descriptive ethical relativism </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Claims as a matter of fact that different cultures have different moral values </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Normative ethical relativism </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Claims that each culture is right unto itself </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>From ©Lawrence M. Hinman </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  6. 7. Descriptive relativism <ul><li>Plus: members of a culture do have </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“shared understandings” or ways of interacting </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>That can be studied & taught </li></ul></ul><ul><li>But </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cultures change & are not static </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>There are sub-cultures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Avoid “boxifying” people through the use of cultural labels </li></ul></ul>
  7. 8. Normative relativism <ul><li>Faces a dilemma: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Either it endorses universal tolerance </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Or it treats normative relativism as just one more relativistic assertion </li></ul></ul><ul><li>View #1 is a form of normative universalism </li></ul><ul><li>View #2 is consistent but practically self-frustrating </li></ul>
  8. 9. Ethical Relativism: Limitations <ul><li>Involves a solipsism </li></ul><ul><li>Is unhelpful in dealing with overlaps of cultures--precisely where we need help. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Commerce and trade </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Media </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>World Wide Web </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Is self-defensive: if we can’t judge others, neither can they judge us </li></ul>
  9. 10. Ethical Relativism: Solipsism (Hinman) <ul><li>Sometimes we say that we can’t judge other cultures because we can’t fully understand them. </li></ul><ul><li>Do we need full understanding to judge something? </li></ul><ul><li>Do we even have full understanding of ourselves? </li></ul><ul><li>Would this eliminate anthropology as a discipline? </li></ul><ul><li>Does it deny a main goal of multiculturalism? </li></ul>
  10. 11. Ethical Relativism: Overlapping Cultures, 1 (Hinman) <ul><li>Ethical relativism suggests that we let each culture live as it sees fit </li></ul><ul><li>This is only feasible when cultures don’t have to interact with one another. </li></ul>
  11. 12. Ethical Relativism: Overlapping Cultures, 2 (Hinman) <ul><li>The challenge of the coming century is precisely overlapping cultures: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Multinational corporations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>International media--BBC, MTV, CNN </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>International sports--Olympics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>World Wide Web </li></ul></ul>
  12. 13. Ethical Relativism: Overlapping Cultures, 3 (Hinman) <ul><li>The actual situation in today’s world is much closer to the diagram at the right. </li></ul>
  13. 14. Local ethical cultures
  14. 15. Ethical authoritarianism <ul><li>Pluses </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We need to make judgements </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Some actions are intolerable, e.g., abuses of human rights </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Minuses </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Claim of privileged access to moral truth </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Claim of moral infallibility </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t learn from unbelievers </li></ul></ul>
  15. 16. A via media? <ul><li>Ethical fallibilism as a middle way </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Moral claims can be mistaken </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>We can learn from our errors and each other </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Need for both humility in face of uncertainty and confidence to act in face of significant choices </li></ul></ul>
  16. 17. Revisiting the Romans <ul><li>When in Rome, do as </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The worst Romans do? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The average Roman does? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The best Romans do? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Lane & Simpson, “Bribery in international business: Whose problem is it?” JBE 1984 </li></ul></ul></ul>
  17. 18. Richard Rorty <ul><li>The basic question is not “what are we?” (metaphysical) but “who are we?” (political) </li></ul><ul><li>“Who are we?” involves a commitment to a community of reciprocal trust </li></ul><ul><li>Reciprocal trust depends on feasibility, not just good will </li></ul>
  18. 19. Conclusion <ul><li>Time for stories & exchange of ideas </li></ul><ul><li>How do you navigate cross-cultural ethical differences? </li></ul><ul><li>How can we improve in these areas? </li></ul><ul><li>For an ethical decision-making guide see </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul>