Hi, everyone. I’m not sure if this is the right place to be posting this but what is the difference (if any) between cultural and moral relativism? I’m taking a sociology class and one of the major points is that different cultures have different beliefs and values and understanding that can help us. The given example was that Muslim women willingly wear burghas because of their beliefs while this would be oppressive to Christians. It’s basically implying that we shouldn’t judge people of other cultures if they have different values. Is this contrary to the idea of fraternal correction?

I understand that moral relativism is the idea that there is absolutely no moral truth, and that this statement is self-refuting. So is there a difference between that and cultural relativism? Does cultural relativism lead to moral relativism? Should I be worried about the content of this course being opposed to Catholic teaching?

Thanks for any replies.


In my humble opinion it is important to know that there are two ways to truth.

  1. objective reasoning. 2. subjective reasoning.

Regardless of the form of relativism, it is normally based on a form of subjective reasoning with a bit of objective reasoning thrown in. On the other hand, Catholic teaching is based on objective reasoning with a bit of subjective reasoning thrown in.

Moral relativism is based on the idea that there is no universal objective moral truth. Catholicism is based on universal objective truths, for example, Divine Revelation.

Cultural relativism chooses its moral truths on a number of factors including geographic location, religious preferences, political history, etc. Cultural relativism would not define an universal objective truth which would apply in all geographic locations before we were born and after we die.


The example of burghas is interesting. When and how did this belief become a belief? It would most likely have happened during the pre-verbal or early verbal stages of childhood when the child observes the mother wearing a burgha. This memory stays unconscientiously with the person throughout life regardless of any verbal arguments to the contrary. Other intervening factors during development would determine the importance of the belief.

What other ways do we have to explain why the vast majority of people, even in the modern times, hold tightly to their birth religions? Could it be that early non-verbal unconscious and conscious memories play a determining role?

I don’t think you should worry about the course content as long as you can accept it as theory whose parts that you can reasonably accept or reject. If you go on to be a sociologist you will the need a wide broad based knowledge of the various sociological theories. You are not likely to agree with all of them.



Interesting question. In my opinion, there’s basically no difference. It’s no coincidence that people who adhere to cultural relativism consistently hold a morally relativistic view, or vice versa. In other words, it’s extremely rare to not see the two together, and I invite anyone to give an example where they aren’t joined.

To illustrate my point with an example somewhat like yours, I have a friend who recently commented on some photos I showed her of my visit to a mosque. In one of the photos, I was covered head to toe (I’m female) while a male friend was wearing ‘relaxed’ Western clothing. What was her response to this particular photo? “…I guess it’s just another example of a different culture.” No, it’s not just “a different culture”, it’s a blatantly unfair double standard imposed on women–reflected via different clothing requirements which obviously favor male individuals-- within Islamic cultures.

Regardless of whether her response was right or wrong, however, it seemed typical of the worldview commonly held today. “Oh, people do this in a different culture? Well, I feel guilty about my colonialist/European/imperialistic/Western past anyway and I want to seem like a modern, enlightened person, so I’m not going to judge other people’s cultural practices. Also, I want to be able to protect my own relativistic morals and moral authority, so I don’t want to start pointing out that a culture might be better than another culture.”

Anyway, you get the point. The main point is that following either one of the relativistic view’s line of reasoning inevitably leads to the other.

By the way, yes, cultural/moral relativism is contrary to the idea of fraternal correction, in addition to true compassion (not the false compassion promoted today under the name of “tolerance”) and charity toward one’s neighbor.

If I were you, I would pursue the sociology course just to have a fuller understanding of cultural relativism (as well as different cultures, as a bonus). It’s not wrong to learn what goes against Catholic teaching so long as you don’t reject such teaching for contrary beliefs. It just means you’re better equipped to defend the (absolute) truth! :thumbsup:


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