Every now and then I hear conservatives rail against relativity in our society and especially against preaching relativity in the academic quagmires that abound.
The relativity that is disparaged is the idea that all positions in all societies are equally valid. The conservatives who promote this anti-relativity view argue that sending someone to jail for theft is not equal to cutting off their hand, as might be done in similar circumstances in a Muslim country.
This is not what relativity is about.
Relativity in its simplest form is the statement that: if you wish to judge another culture you have no place to stand in which to compare your culture to theirs.
That is a fairly reliable honest and accurate statement that is hard to dispute. It does not say that all cultural moral positions are the same. It says that there is no simple or obvious basis to have an outside objective perspective.
What this means is that we have our own values. We can consider our own values to be at the top of a hierarchy or pyramid. That is fine. That is the way the world works. We should simply be intelligent and wise enough to know that other people in other cultures may not accept our position.
Many people have tried to find absolute values that apply everywhere in the world. In philosophy this was Immanuel Kant. He failed. Anthropologists have traveled the planet and they too have failed to find anything of importance that is universal, other than a few biological similarities among Homo sapiens.
That’s it. Like it or lump it. Anti-relativity is not a political position that justifies serious respect.