Educator Allan Bloom argues against moral and cultural relativism

“It is important to emphasize that the lesson the students are drawing from their studies [in the last 3 decades] is simply untrue. History and the study of cultures do not teach or prove that values or cultures are relative. All to the contrary, that is a philosophical premise that we now bring to our study of them. This premise is unproven and dogmatically asserted for what are largely political reasons. History and culture are interpreted in the light of it, and then are said to prove the premise. Yet the fact that there have been different opinions about good and bad in different times and places in no way proves that none is true or superior to others. To say that it does so prove is as absurd as to say that the diversity of points of view expressed in a college bull session proves there is no truth. On the face of it, the difference of opinion would seem to raise the question as to which is true or right rather than to banish it. The natural reaction is to try to resolve the difference, to examine the claims and reasons for each opinion…Herodotus was at least as aware as we are of the rich diversity of cultures. But he took that observation to be an invitation to investigate all of them to see what was good and bad about each and find out what he could learn about good and bad from them. Modern relativists take that same observation as proof that such investigation is impossible and that we must be respectful of them all…History and anthropology cannot provide the answers, but they can provide the material on which judgment can work…Historicism and cultural relativism actually are a means to avoid testing our own prejudices and asking, for example, whether men are really equal or whether that opinion is merely a democratic prejudice…One has to have the experience of really believing before one can have the thrill of liberation…Error is indeed our enemy, but it alone points to the truth and therefore deserves our respectful treatment. The mind that has no prejudices at the outset is empty…Only Socrates knew, after a lifetime of unceasing labor, that he was ignorant. Now every high-school student knows that. How did it become so easy? …Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason. It now means accepting everything and denying reason’s power…Cultural relativism destroys both one’s own [relativism] and the good… Nature should be the standard by which we judge our own lives and the lives of peoples. That is why philosophy, not history or anthropology, is the most important human science…History and anthropology were understood by the Greeks to be useful only in discovering what the past and other peoples had to contribute to the discovery of nature.” ~ Allan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind.

About budbromley

Bud is a retired life sciences executive. Bud's entrepreneurial leadership exceeded three decades. He was the senior business development, marketing and sales executive at four public corporations, each company a supplier of analytical and life sciences instrumentation, software, consumables and service. Prior to those positions, his 19 year career in Hewlett-Packard Company's Analytical Products Group included worldwide sales and marketing responsibility for Bioscience Products, Global Accounts and the International Olympic Committee, as well as international management assignments based in Japan and Latin America. Bud has visited and worked in more than 65 countries and lived and worked in 3 countries.
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