Alright, first of all, I’m sorry about the somewhat uncoordinated posts this week. I’m afraid that when I was out of the country some things were forgotten and others were accidentally misplaced. What can be fixed has been fixed, and everything else is just going to have to be what it is. I hope that all of you are having a wonderful week. I know that Alayna and I certainly did :). Anyway, let’s talk about cultural identities. Some philosophers (both ethicists and religious philosophers from various traditions) are arguing back and forth concerning the nature of cultural practices, specifically the place of significant cultural rituals (like shaking hands or religious ceremonies), rule (like don’t pick your nose in public), and laws (like don’t take your neighbor’s lawnmower without asking) in the formation of personal character, virtue, and beliefs.

There are three major views:

1) that the adherence to cultural practices simply is personal character and virtue. That is that our cultural practices actually define the kind of character and beliefs that we should have, and thus that virtue is simply living in obedience with such practices. This is an attractive position to some because is seems respectful of cultural differences, and because it can be difficult to distinguish between virtue and adherence to law at times. However, it also raises problems, especially when two cultures seem to have opposite practices or practices that display opposite values. For instance, let us assume culture A views rape as a horrific crime against the victim (who may be male or female), and not only bans it, but punishes it severely, but culture B views rape as the best possible way to prepare a woman for marriage and thus encourages men to rape young women repeatedly. This is obviously an extreme example, but it presents the problem clearly: it is difficult to say that a person from culture A who condemns and avoids rape and a person from culture B who engages in rape frequently are equally virtuous. This is a very problematic claim because it seems that one of the two should clearly be condemned.

2) that personal character and virtue inform and develop adherence to proper practices regardless of whether those practices are culturally acceptable. That is that there is a clearly right and a clearly wrong concept of virtue and character. Though this ‘true virtue’ might not be obvious to everyone it is obvious to some, and it is immutable. Thus, virtue and personal character are identical across all cultures, but some cultures simply get it wrong and don’t actually present true virtue as it should be presented. In fact, some cultures seem to intentionally reject true virtue for vices that they then pass off as virtuous. This idea is attractive to some because it argues for a unified and absolute standard of virtue and personal character. However, many point out that it does not handle cultural differences respectfully (and some who hold this view reject the idea of any legitimate cultural differences, often arguing that all cultures should follow the example of X culture to which they belong). Further, this view seems elitist because it consistently presents a conception of virtue and character that only some or a few can actually understand and pursue, which leaves the masses with no hope of ever being virtuous. Advocates would argue that this conception of virtue engages with the reality that virtue and character are not easy to learn, and that it takes work to understand and pursue them which many people simply are not willing to do.

3) that cultural practices inform and develop our ability to understand and purse virtue, but in turn fully developed virtue and character critiques and alters cultural practices. That is that law, etiquette, etc serves the same purpose across cultures: to inculcate in the individual the virtues that are important in a particular culture by teaching them how to practice those virtues in ways that are specifically designed to suit that culture. Many scholars are attracted to this view because it seems to blend the other two well. Cultural practices serve to tutor the individual in virtue and personal character, but they point to something greater: that is that all cultures effectively pursue the same virtues and the same general kind of character, but do so in ways that are specifically designed to be appropriate to their cultural context and sometimes go astray. Thus, there are criteria to deal with the problem of view 1: cultures can get off track and be wrong, and all cultures are in need to correction to some extent. Thus, we can say that culture A is correct and culture B is simply incorrect and in need of correction. However, there are also solutions to the issues raised in view 2: cultures can have legitimately different or even seeming opposed practices that seek to inculcate the same general virtues in different cultural contexts. Further, since cultural practices serve as the tutor for virtue and character, it is not ‘only a few’ who can develop them. Certainly, some people may stop developing them as they become legalists or anarchists, but the means to develop virtue is clearly and openly available to everyone in the culture. However, some scholars have questioned whether cultural practices can actually be a good or appropriate tutor for virtue, and whether there can be a universal kind of moral character or virtue even on the general level that can be meaningfully described.

So, I would like you to pick one of these three positions, or if you think they are all wrong, then create your own position concerning the interaction of cultural practices and virtue, and write a story of 1000 words to presents and defends your position.


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