Two senses of cultural relativity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter distinguishes two senses of cultural relativism and discusses their different moral implications. The first sense, called verstehen relativism, means an attempt to understand and “feel one’s way into” another culture, a process that can also produce a deeper appreciation of one’s own culture. The second sense is called here egalitarian or strong relativism, which holds that cultures are to be judged by their own standards, and one culture is not to be viewed as superior to another overall or in any aspect. Arguments are given that egalitarian relativism is both logically inconsistent and psychologically undermined by the fact that cultural practices and norms often work for the benefit of more powerful subgroups within the culture. Difficulties of formulating universal standards are discussed. It is concluded that strong cultural relativism is often unjustified, but cultural comparisons can be made only argumentatively rather than by universal algorithm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMinnesota Symposia on Child Psychology Series
PublisherJohn Wiley and Sons Ltd.
Number of pages43
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

Publication series

NameMinnesota Symposia on Child Psychology Series
ISSN (Print)0076-9266


  • Cultural relativism
  • Egalitarian
  • Gender
  • Inequality
  • Trade‐offs
  • Universalist
  • Verstehen


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