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DCL: Cultural Relativism

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Started: 8/26/2016 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 1 month ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 986 times Debate No: 94318
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (47)
Votes (3)





This debate is for the Debate Champion's League. Many thanks to DK and Max for organizing this tournament, and thanks to our opposing team (Pugna Verborum) for this debate. We're looking forward to an excellent debate.

Due to a recent experience of mine with receiving almost no votes on a high-quality debate, I have decided to make this a judge-only debate. Judges were selected based on their impartiality and on the fact that they were recently active in terms of voting. The judges are Hayd, Tej, Whiteflame, Lexus, Danielle, Max, DK, Raisor, Peep, and Lannan13. If Pro objects to anyone on this list, or wishes to add names, Pro should contact me before accepting the challenge, and we can discuss the issue. Judges, if they accept, agree to adjudicate this debate impartially and without outside assistance; judges are, of course, free to decline their nominations. The voting period is 2 weeks with a select winner system. Pro must accept this challenge by 11:59pm 8/26/2016, EST, or they forfeit the debate.

Full Topic

Cultural relativism, as a description of morality, is likely correct


Description - a analysis designed to define something, or to provide an account of the character and nature of something
Morality - principles of right conduct and/or systems of right conduct
Likely - having a noticeably higher than 50% probability of being true
Correct - true or accurate: conforming to facts, truth, or logic
Cultural Relativism - a philosophical description of morality which asserts the following points:

1. Different human cultures have different moral codes
2. There exist no universal precepts, truths, or beliefs, and/or no objective standards that unite all such codes or allow us to judge one against the other
3. The moral code of our own society is not inherently better than any other; all codes share equal validity
4. The moral code of any given society determines what is right and wrong within that society; if X is right according to a society's code, then it is indeed right and least within that society


1. No forfeits
2. Citations should be provided in the text of the debate
3. No new arguments in the final speeches
4. Observe good sportsmanship and maintain a civil and decorous atmosphere
5. No trolling
6. No "kritiks" of the topic (challenging assumptions in the resolution)
7. My opponent accepts all definitions and waives his/her right to add resolutional definitions
8. For all undefined terms, individuals should use commonplace understandings that fit within the logical context of the resolution and this debate (unless otherwise specified in R1)
9. The BOP is evenly shared
10. Pro must provide arguments/their case in R1, and must waive in the final round
11. Rebuttals of new points raised in an adversary's immediately preceding speech may be permissible at the judges' discretion even in the final round (debaters may debate their appropriateness)
12. Violation of any of these rules, or of any of the R1 set-up, merits a loss


R1. Pro's Case/arguments
R2. Con's Case/arguments; Pro generic Rebuttal
R3. Con generic Rebuttal; Pro generic Rebuttal and Crystallization
R4. Con generic Rebuttal and Crystallization; Pro waives

Thanks... our opponents for this debate. We are looking forward to an excellent discussion on this issue.


In my case I will walk through the 4 points in which Bsh has used to defined cultural relativism in R1 and will show them to be true in order to meet my burden.

1 - Different human cultures have different moral codes.

This point is a truism. Various cultures have different approaches to what is moral. Examples include: intellectualists (who believe that moral actions are ones that foster and promote knowledge); welfarists (who believe that moral actions are ones that foster and promote economic/general welfare) and egoists (who believe that moral actions are those that are done in the best interest of oneself) [1]. Since all of these are “human cultures” and each have different “moral codes”, point 1 is affirmed.

2 - There exist no universal precepts, truths, or beliefs, and/or no objective standards that unite all such codes or allow us to judge one against the other

This is under my opponent’s burden to affirm (if he chooses to do so). I argue that there is no demonstration of any objective standard because if there was a clear objective standard then everybody would be following it. The only logical way in which my opponent can affirm a universal objective precept, truth, belief and/or objective standard that unites different moral codes would be for him to affirm an unclear truth that the vast majority of people are not aware of (since if they did then there wouldn’t be such great difference in the opinions of others). Due to there being no reason for me to assume that there exists a “universal precept” that “allow[s] us to judge one against the other”, I agree with point 2 and judges ought to buy this argument.

3 - The moral code of our own society is not inherently better than any other; all codes share equal validity

Due to how subjective all of these normative ethical theories are there is no way to classify any one theory as “inherently better” than any other. This is also a point that my opponent must affirm in order for me to negate it. The fact that different people believe different normative ethical theories shows that the belief is based on personal opinion (ie. the paraphrased definition of subjective) [2]. Take the following syllogism:

P1: Different people believe different normative ethical theories.

C1: Belief in different views on morality is based on personal opinions/beliefs - so it is subjective.

P2: Inherently and objectively are interchangeable in the context of point 3.

P3: Objective and subjective are antonyms.

C2: Since C1 establishes that different views on morality are subjective and subjective is the equivalent of saying not objectively/inherently (see: P3), point 3 can be affirmed.

I have justified the premises that I believe that my opponent will object to in the paragraph above the syllogism. If any of the other premises/conclusions are challenged then I will be happy to attempt to affirm them later on in the debate (though the unexplained premises are ones that I believe my opponent should/will accept).

4 - The moral code of any given society determines what is right and wrong within that society; if X is right according to a society's code, then it is indeed right and least within that society

This point is fairly self explanatory. In a society of intellectualists it would be preposterous for all of them to go against their core beliefs and follow the system of something that none of them believe themselves. I will form another syllogism in order to attempt to affirm this point:

P1: All normative ethical beliefs are subjective.

P2: Everybody has the right to believe what they want (articles 1, 18 and 19).

C1: A society that believes X is right / wrong is free to believe this.

C2: If a society believes that something is right/wrong then that is right/wrong within that society.

C3: If a society believes in a moral principle then it is logical for them to apply the principle that they believe in to their everyday lives to determine what is right and wrong (at least to them and their society).

P1 is a truism. P2 is justified by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which is self-explanatorily Universal in its application [3]. P2 solely justifies C1. C2 is a truism (with exceptions to situations where people are being deprived of their basic and universal human rights. C3 is also a truism since it wouldn’t make sense for somebody that believed in one thing to then apply a principle that he didn’t believe in to his life - that would be illogical.


I have gone through all of the necessary 4 points that my opponent has used to define cultural relativism and shown how they are valid. Those that I have not addressed in a lot of detail are the points that my opponent needs to affirm. Apologies for the brief argument, I’ve just come back from Spain and have loads to do in terms of unpacking and getting ready for school too - I’ll try to make any clarifications necessary as the debate progresses. The resolution is affirmed.





Debate Round No. 1


Thanks to Pugna Verborum for this debate.

I. Topic Analysis

It is important to establish the burdens in this debate. Pro must assert not merely that cultural relativism is plausibly correct, but that it is likely correct. To do this, Pro must affirm all four points of the R1 definition. As for myself, I must show that cultural relativism is not likely correct. My burden can be met in several ways, including nullifying Pro's reasons for it being likely, arguing for subjectivism, or arguing for objective morality, but also by showing that all cultures share a few basic moral principles, whether or not those principles are objectively correct. Any one (or all) of these can sufficiently negate.

II. Eskimos

Who knew we'd be talking about fur-wearing, seal-hunting, ice-loving Eskimos? I did, of course. They have important lessons to teach us about morality and it's cross-cultural nature. These lessons start with a simple fact: when the elderly of some Eskimo groups become too enfeebled to be fairly self-sufficient, they are cast out into the harsh environment and allowed to die. [1]

First examination of this practice may arouse a sense in disgust from those of us raised in Western cultures; obviously Eskimos lack appropriate respect for life, right? Not really. In an environment as harsh as the tundras of Alaska or the pack-ice of northern Nunavut, resources, particularly in winter, are scarce. To sustain the lives of the healthy, including infants, food must be distributed as wisely as possible; there is simply not enough nourishment to sustain the entire population. By evicting the aged, the Eskimos can maximize the chances of survival for those with better life prospects (i.e. those likely to live longer and healthier lives). It makes sense, even if it bothers you.

But now, the million-dollar question: is Eskimo morality fundamentally different from Western morality? In other words, are there no shared precepts, truths, beliefs, or standards that unite those two moral codes?

The Eskimos are using a very tried-and-true form of moral reasoning in their justification of senicide: consequentialism. This moral theory was pioneered by Western philosophers like Bentham, Mills, and Singer, and has become a core tenet of Western moral principles. When Americans, for instance, support the use of drone strikes despite reasonable concerns about civilian causalities, we do so for consequentialist reasons; we figure that the drone strikes save more innocents than they kill, inasmuch as they eliminate dangerous militants. [2]

The difference between Eskimos and Americans, then, is not a lack of shared precepts, truths, beliefs, or standards, but rather, it is a lack of shared situations.

A set of moral rules that did not share precepts with our own, whatever they be, would not only be different from our own, but utterly incomprehensible to us. It would be as if the very axioms of moral logic had been rewritten. However different the Eskimo moral code is, there are certain basic ideas that allow us to appreciate, understand, and evaluate Eskimo morality. We share certain basic dicta, such as "human life is valuable," and "the greatest good for the greatest number," and so forth. So, while there may be layers of nuance and difference in the application of these principles, the basic value is unchanged, and is a starting point for understanding. If I asked any human to explain their moral beliefs, I could understand them only because we have a common framework for that discussion in the form of those axioms. Thus, all human cultures share basic precepts, values, truths, and ideas, because all cultures can be comprehended by other humans on a moral level. No human culture is utterly beyond the ken of any person.

III. Humanity's Moral Building Blocks (and Seals)

It may do us some good to examine why exactly it is all cultures can be comprehended by all others. This will serve to prove why it is likely--or in some cases, necessary--that cultures share various moral precepts.

A. Drive to Survive

First, of course, there is our survival instinct. Humans are programmed to survive and have evolved rules, norms, and customs to best suit their drive to survive, procreate, and rear young, much like all animals on this Earth. The Eskimos and the seals they hunt are, in this sense, not so different from each other. Seals, like the Eskimos, have a limited supply of food in the harsh winter months. Mothers cannot afford to suckle more than one infant as a result, and so will reject orphan pups who attempt to to steal their milk. [3, 4] Leaving these orphans to starve may appear to be a brutal practice (one may even wonder how something so adorable could be so cold), but, like the Eskimos' senicide, it ensures that scarce resources are conserved for those with the best chance of continued survival.

This drive to survive naturally produces similar moral beliefs among all cultures, because there are certain winning formulas that increase the chances of survival. Both the Eskimos and the seals have created rules and norms to designed to increase the probability of survival.

Our innate survival instinct has given birth to such cultural mores as prohibitions on murder. No culture could survive if people could kill others at will, with no social sanctions against the action. In such a "culture" no one would feel safe, and anyone who wanted to live would either be forced to live by themselves (a much harder task than living with a group) or to band together with people they trusted not to kill them. But this act of joining with others who would not kill you is significant: it is forming a smaller culture that does have norms against murder. Therefore, by necessity, all cultures have contrived moral prohibitions on wanton murder; there may be certain loopholes in these rules, but the basic principle against murder is shared universally by all cultures. [1]

James Rachels summarizes this logic brilliantly: "There is a general theoretical point here, namely, that there are some moral rules that all societies will have in common, because those rules are necessary for society to exist. The rules against lying and murder are two examples. And in fact, we do find these rules in force in all viable cultures. Cultures may differ in what they regard as legitimate exceptions to the rules, but this disagreement exists against a background of agreement on the larger issues. Therefore, it is a mistake to overestimate the amount of difference between cultures. Not every moral rule can vary from society to society." [1]

B. Common Biology

The human has hardwired into him certain capacities that direct his moral thinking. Mirror neurons, for example, are strongly linked to feelings of empathy in the human experience. [5, 6, 7] They allow us to simulate in ourselves how others are feeling. So, if you saw someone get cut by a knife, you could imagine the pain, and may even feel that pain with the person, hence the name "mirror" neurons. [8] Human capacity to feel less complex emotions like pain and even more complex emotions like love also shape how we create moral rules. Pain is a signifier born of thousands of years of evolution which is programmed to turn us away from specific courses of action, and our desire to avoid it has led to a system of rules dedicated to minimizing it. These common emotions and sensations are bound to give rise to common impulses and desires, which in turn give rise to common rules and principles. For instance, the realities that pain is bad, that human's can feel each other's pain, have fashioned norms against causing needless suffering within all cultures. Again, while their may be variations in the application of or loopholes in this principle, the principle itself is universal.

C. Shared Experience

These biological commonalities are also reinforced by experiential learning, that tired and worn-out mantra of high schools and colleges all over the nation. I have been lied to before, for instance, and my feelings from these past experiences gives me an idea of what it is like to be lied to. When I see others lied to, I can use my experiences to give me a sense of what that means for them, so that I can empathize (three cheers for mirror neurons) with them better. The fact that most humans have similar collections of experiences (all have been lied to, all have been hurt, etc.) give rise to similar rules that stem from that experiential wisdom and (yes) learning.

IV. Conclusion

In my first contention, I established that what may appear to be vastly different moral rules/norms may in fact be the rooted in the exact same moral rule or principle. Senicide for the Eskimo's is justified by consequentialism, and stems from the reality that resources for them are scarce. In a culture with a resource glut, it is consequentialist to help the elderly continue to live. Different practical results are achieved, but the moral principle is shared. Cultural relativism, therefore, is only a superficial and shortsighted analysis of morality. It sees the surface difference between the Eskimos and ourselves and stops there, without looking deeper. A closer inspection unearths the commonalities which underpin both moral systems. I also showed how our mere ability to understand different moral systems is evidence of shared moral precepts. In my second contention, I established that common instincts, biology, ways of thinking, and experiences lead, inevitably, to common moral systems. Humans are too alike to produce totally dis-analogous moral systems. Thus, element two of the definition of cultural relativism is negated.

V. Sources

1 -
2 -
3 -
4 -
5 -
6 -
7 -
8 -

Thanks! Please Vote Con!


As you can probably tell from the brevity of my first round that I’m very short on time to work on this (I’ve had to start writing this within the last hour of time left for me to post - thankfully I can touch type at a reasonably fast speed), so I apologise for that.


The point that my opponent attacks here is point 2:

There exist no universal precepts, truths, or beliefs, and/or no objective standards that unite all such codes or allow us to judge one against the other

My opponent uses Eskimos and Americans as an example. There are two problems here. He links the two by showing that they both abide by consequential ethics. However as this premise is a follow up of point 1 in the definition of cultural relativism we have to view the context. The first premise states that different human cultures have different moral codes. The second goes on to say that there exist no universal precept, truths, or beliefs, and/or no objective standards that unite all such codes or allow us to judge one against the other. It should be noted that P2 refers to “all such codes” meaning that one example (ie. the Americans and the Eskimos) is not sufficient to negate the point. This means that I’ll move on to the last part of my opponent’s argument which states that there must be a common framework between all moral codes or else they would be beyond our comprehension. This logic doesn’t follow. Take the example of an atheist and a theist. An atheist is somebody that does not believe in the existence of God [1]. A theist is somebody that believes that God does exist [2]. The two cultures are both this simple in their definitions and are completely different. The same applies to nihilists and moral absolutists and various other contrasting belief systems. Having a common truth or objective standard is not necessary for comprehension. My opponent will need to do more than assert it to affirm it.

The second problem is semantical - particularly with the word unite however I won’t choose to zoom in on that particular problem in my rebuttals.

Humanities Moral Building blocks (and seals)


My opponent makes an axiomatically false claim in this contention. He states that there are moral rules. Particularly using murder as an example. In two major moral codes / cultures murder is not wrong (at least not wrong as a moral rule). Those are ethical nihilists and anarchists. In ethical nihilism, nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral - so my opponent’s example of murder being wrong as a moral rule is false [3]. Furthermore, we can apply my opponent’s example to the political belief / moral philosophy of anarchism. In this belief system, there is no state (and therefore no laws) so whilst murder can be frowned upon in anarchistic societies, there is certainly no law against it and it is not intrinsically considered to be immoral in this philosophy [4].

My opponent’s attempt at a pre-emptive rebuttal to the point above is virtually a copy of his source 1 (see page 6/7). Anyhow, the argument is still flawed. Just because people won’t feel safe in societies without murder, doesn’t mean that these societies should be considered to be non-existent. My opponent’s burden still requires him to prove that there are “objective standards that unite all [moral] codes”. The objection regarding the majority believing that murder is wrong doesn’t change the fact that my opponent’s only way to object to this premise to show that there are objective standards that unite ALL codes. Most =/= all.


Pain and love are not intrinsically good or bad actions. Whilst subjective opinions within specific cultures may have similar subjective beliefs with other people that belong to different cultures, the teaching of the cultures themselves can be different in regards to their approaches to pain and love. Going back to ethical nihilism, due to their being nothing that is intrinsically right or wrong in ethical nihilism - suffering is not intrinsically right or wrong; good or bad. Going back to the words that my opponent uses to define cultural relativism (specifically in point 2 - which he seems to be addressing here), he uses the words “all [moral] codes”. You cannot say that a universal truth exists amongst all moral codes when there are exceptions to it. My opponent makes an odd claim, stating that “while their may be variations in the application of or loopholes in this principle, the principle itself is universal.” This doesn’t make sense and is incorrect (not just grammatically). We are talking about universal truths, precepts, objective standards, etc. uniting moral codes. The universal truth my opponent brings up here are biological similarities between opinions on pain/suffering and love. The point my opponent needs to affirm is that there are universal truths uniting moral codes. The key word here being moral. So the fact that mirror neurons exist is irrelevant since this debate isn’t about whether two cultures can experience the same sensations or feel the same experiences - it is about moral codes being united by universal truths. Just because one can experience pain, does not mean that these two people have the same moral opinions on pain and the morality of it. So the principle is not universal.

The point on empathy is more of a jump to conclusions than an actual observable fact. This is the syllogism used from our knowledge of the mirror neurons and human empathy:

P1: Mirror neurons allow us to experience specific things that others feel - ie. pain.

P2: Mirror neurons exist in the vast majority of humans.

C1: Because we can experience what others feel, we know what it feels like when they feel negative emotions and as a result feel empathy as we know how they must be feeling.

Now this logic works for most people (which is why this logic is generally accepted - despite it being not entirely accurate). Though there are groups of people that, even with mirror neurons, do not necessarily feel empathy. Egoists, for example, believe that moral actions are those that are done in the best interest of themselves. In the belief of egoism, the believers do not necessarily have mirror neuron problems or psychological issues. They simply experience what the other person is feeling and they learn from the other person’s experiences so that it doesn’t happen to them. Their is no reason for them to be kind to the other person as that won’t necessarily lead them to self satisfaction (though there are exceptions, even in the belief of egoism) [5]. Or if we take an even more extreme believe - metaphysical solipsism. This is the belief that only the self exists and that everybody else is feigning consciousness and that they are the only conscious being. In this belief system it would be highly illogical to empathize with others as they would be feigning consciousness - and therefore, feigning pain or whatever negative emotions they are supposedly feigning to be experiencing [6].


This is thoroughly refuted due to the above. Just to quickly expand though, just because we have all shared experiences such as being lied to, or being robbed, does not mean that we all share the same moral views on them. Particularly when there are cultures and moral codes that people belong to that dictate what their moral beliefs should be - regardless of their experiences (such as the example of the mother who still loved their son’s murderer because Jesus preached that you should love your enemy and allow God to judge people) [7].








Debate Round No. 2


Thanks, Pro!

I. Overview

Ethical theories are not cultures. There is no "ethical nihilist culture" or "anarchist culture." There may be individual nihilists or anarchists, but they are part of other, existing societies, whose moral rules differ from their own personal beliefs. Cultures, however, are amalgamations of many people with different views on morality. Because societies are blendings of different individual perspectives, historical events, and political realities, societies' moral views are more of a hodgepodge of different values, rather than any particular moral theory. No country, for example, makes decisions solely based on egoism or solely based on consequentialism, but they may incorporate aspects of both. The US, for example, may make consequentialist decisions in regards to drone strikes, but acts deontologically when it prohibits torture. Societies are not morally monochromatic.

Because individual persons aren't cultures either, arguing for individual subjectivism/relativism does not affirm the topic. If moral views are particularized to the individual, rather than societal level, Pro is not affirming cultural relativsm. Therefore, (1) Pro must support that a culture's moral views ought to be imposed on individuals who disagree with those views but are within that culture, and (2) Pro cannot use individual subjectivism or different ethical theories as evidence for his position.

II. Pro's Case

A. Different Moral Codes and Precepts

I'll agree that different societies have different moral codes--the superficial differences there are obvious.

Pro offers no positive reason to affirm the idea that there are no universal precepts, truths, or beliefs uniting all moral codes, saying that it is my job to negate that. Keep in mind that he needs to prove that cultural relativism is likely, and if he can't provide positive evidence in support of this point, he cannot prove that this point is likely true.

B. Moral Codes

Pro seems to misunderstand what this debate is about when he writes, "[d]ue to how subjective all of these normative ethical theories are there is no way to classify any one theory as 'inherently better' than any other." This debate is NOT about different ethical theories. This debate is about different cultural moral codes. See the overview; talking about theories is a redherring.

Pro also talks about what "people" believe, not what cultures believe. Cultural relativism is not the same as individual relativism. Again, see the overview.

Since all cultures must, for instance, include consequentialist moral norms, or norms against murder, I can use these shared precepts or norms as a basis for cross-cultural judgement. I can judge the Eskimo practice of senicide, for instance, by whether it truly produces the best results for the greatest number. So, even if I could not compare the ethical theory of consequentialism to the ethical theory of deontology, that is not what the topic is asking me to do, because no culture is solely deontological or solely consequentialist. And even if we were talking about theories, I can still use logic to critique those theories.

Even so, the fact that all cultures, by necessity, share some basic moral beliefs means that they can be compared using those beliefs as a basic framework for comparison.

C. Society's Right

Pro defeats himself in his own syllogism. In his own P2, Pro affirms a universal right for everyone to believe what they want to believe. If Pro agrees that such a universal right exists, then the second element of the definition of cultural relativism is negated; such a universal right would constitute a universal precept, truth, or belief shared by all cultures.

If Pro backtracks from P2, then his syllogism collapses, because he cannot show that anyone has a right to believe anything. Either he (a) agrees that the right to believe what you want is a universal moral truth or (b) says that not everyone has a right to believe what they want to believe. It's a catch-22.

There are also some prominent non-sequiturs in his logic. Firstly, his premises refer to individual persons ("everybody"). Persons are not societies; Pro has not demonstrated societies have a right to believe what they want to believe.

Secondly, in his first syllogism, Pro claims that different normative ethical theories are subjective because people believe in different ones (they have different opinions on the matter). In his second syllogism, Pro builds off the idea that normative ethical theories are subjective in order to reach his conclusion. Unfortunately, in both of these syllogisms, Pro commits another non-sequitur fallacy. Pro basically assumes that because people do believe different things/have different opinions, objective morality must be false. I may believe that 1 1 = 2, and you may believe that 1 1 = 3, but does this mean that there is no objectively right answer? Obviously not. The mere fact that people disagree is not evidence against their being an ultimately right answer.

James Rachels explains further, "To make the point clearer, consider a very different matter. In some societies, people believe the earth is flat. In other societies, such as our own, people believe the earth is (roughly) spherical. Does it follow, from the mere fact that they disagree, that there is no 'objective truth' in geography? Of course not; we would never draw such a conclusion because we realize that, in their beliefs about the world, the members of some societies might simply be wrong. There is no reason to think that if the world is round everyone must know it. Similarly, there is no reason to think that if there is moral truth everyone must know it. The fundamental mistake in the Cultural Differences Argument is that it attempts to derive a substantive conclusion about a subject (morality) from the mere fact that people disagree about it." [1]

Pro's conclusions do not flow from his premises, so he has not substantiated any of the arguments which rely on the syllogisms as evidence for their veracity or likelihood.

III. Con's Case

A. Eskimos

Pro makes two response to this argument (a) that I only discuss 2 cultures, which is not enough to negate element two of the definition, and (b) that the a/theism example shows that codes without similar axioms would still be mutually comprehensible.

Regarding the first point, this misunderstands the purpose of my Eskimo argument. The purpose of that argument was not to survey "all such codes," but rather to do three things: (1) to illustrate that vastly different practical outcomes could still be rooted in a shared moral precept, (2) to illustrate that superficial analysis of cultural differences was insufficient to affirm, and (3) to act as a concrete example of the analysis in my second contention. Pro doesn't rebut any of these impacts.

As for the second point, the atheist example is not analogous at all. The atheist can understand the theist because they share a common logical framework. For both the atheist and the theist, 1 + 1 continues to equal 2. The basic axioms of logic and math form a common framework for both of them to understand each other in the context of that discussion.

In moral reasoning, we can distinguish between moral logic and pure logic insofar as moral logic also uses human emotion to reach its outcomes. Because all humans share the same emotions, we have the mutual framework for understanding which is necessary for understanding. If we met aliens who shared none of our emotions, logic, or instincts, we would not be able to understand them at all. It would be like hearing something without any context, such that you are always missing the background needed to truly appreciate what you heard. There must be some common ground as a basis to build understanding.

B. Moral Building Blocks

i. Drive to Survive

Pro has not offered a viable counterexample to my argument per my overview. He talks only about theories, not societies/cultures. Furthermore, I talks about moral "norms against murder." A "norm" is a standard of proper behavior, which is not the same as a rule. [9]

Pro says that, "just because people won't feel safe in societies without murder, doesn't mean that these societies should be considered to be non-existent." Pro offers no reason to believe why a society with no norms against murder could feasibly exist, while I have provided amply logic as to how such norms are not only good for society, but are a necessary prerequisite to a society's existence. Even for a group of nihilists, if they didn't have norms against killing each other they would (a) die out, (b) break up (ending the society/culture), or (c) be forced to agree not to kill each other, thus making killing "wrong" by their culture's rules and norms. Morality, per the R1 definition, refers to rules or systems of right conduct, and so if the nihilists choose option (c), they have, wittingly or not, developed a moral rule against killing.

ii. Common Biology and Experiences

The purpose of these arguments was twofold: (1) to demonstrate that humans all share certain experiences or emotions, and (2) to illustrate how these shared experiences and emotions lead to shared moral norms. Pro doesn't rebut the first of these. His rebuttal to the second is to cite an ethical theory (cross-apply the overview) and to say that there are different approaches to these shared feelings.

Suppose that we have two cultures who, as a result of their biology, share empathetic desires. In one, this empathetic desire manifests as an obligation to give alms. In the other, it manifests as a duty to rescue. Though the application of the empathetic urge differs, there is a basic, unifying moral rule that arises from it: people should do good to others/people should be empathetic in their interactions with others. The principle that people ought to be empathetic is universal.

IV. Sources

9 -

Thank you. Please Vote Con!


Thank you Bsh.

Overview Objections

Con states that ethical theories aren’t cultures. This is irrelevant since I was referring to point 2 which refers to human moral codes [2]. A moral code is a synonym for an ethical theory.

The definition of a moral code is: A written, formal, and consistent set of moral rules, accepted by a person or by a group of people [1]. Both ethical nihilism and anarchism coincide with the definition of a moral code so con’s objection is invalid.

Con assumes that I was referring to these beliefs (ethical nihilism and anarchism) as cultures and uses this as his basis of rebuttal here. My point still stands on the basis that the definition refers to the uniting of “moral codes” not cultures. If you buy the fact that these beliefs are moral codes then you ought to presume Pro.

Different Moral Codes and Precepts

Whilst I did say that it is under con’s BOP to affirm the existence of universal and objective truths uniting all moral codes, I’ve affirmed this point.

I’ve affirmed this point through two key arguments:

A - If we have no evidence to assume that universal, objective truths uniting all moral codes exists then we shouldn’t assume that it exists. Take the Russell's teapot analogy to explain my point in a better way: If I asserted that a teapot orbits the Sun somewhere in Space between Earth and Mars should we believe it? The object is too small to find so the notion cannot be proven or disproven completely. But what the Russell’s teapot analogy teaches us is that the BOP is on the affirmer of a statement. Just because we cannot disprove something, does not mean that this exists or we should assume that it exists (especially if there is no more evidence in support of its existence as there is against it) [3].

B - I contradicted the entire premise that there exist universal truths, precepts, etc. uniting all moral codes with examples of nihilists; moral absolutists and theists; atheists.

Moral Codes

Con makes the same error as he makes in the objection. He states that the debate isn’t about ethical theories and that it’s really about cultural moral codes. The premise that I am attacking doesn’t say cultures. It doesn’t say cultural moral codes. It says “all such codes” ( it follows on from P1 which refers to human cultures having different moral codes).

Con refers to me talking about what people believe in, not cultures, and he uses this to attack these points and states that this is a debate on cultural relativism (CR) - not individual relativism. If we look at the definition of CR once more we can see that P1 states that different human cultures have different moral codes. And that P2 states that there aren’t any universal precepts, truths, objective standards, etc. that unite these moral codes. As we can logically conclude from these two premises, we are not talking about the cultures - we are talking about the moral codes from these human cultures. Look back at the definition of moral code(s) above and the one from Google below:

A written, formal, and consistent set of rules prescribing righteous behavior, accepted by a person or by a group of people.[4]

Both of these sources state that they need to be accepted by a person or a group of people. Meaning that con’s objections regarding me talking about what people believe as opposed to cultures is invalid due to the debate definitions that both of us have accepted upon instigation and acceptance of the debate.

Con states that no culture solely belongs to one ethical theory. He (once again) forgets that we are talking about premise 2 of the definition of the CR definition. We are talking about moral codes within human cultures. This means that we are still talking about the moral codes - not the cultures themselves. So when comparing the actual moral codes (which we should be doing since we’re talking about whether or not there exist universal truths that unite them all), we shouldn’t be talking about whether different cultures are only partly members of that since we are talking about the moral codes (I cannot stress this point enough).

Con asserts that all cultures by necessity share moral beliefs so that they can be compared. You cannot always compare cultures and moral codes. Though you can always contrast them (since if they had nothing different about each other then they’d be the same culture / moral code). Atheist cultures and theistic cultures have no similarities (since atheists don’t believe in God and theists believe in God) - and yes atheistic culture and theistic culture are both cultures as well as beliefs [5].

Society's Right

Con states that I am conceding point 2 of CR when I state that everybody has the universal right to the freedom of speech. When I state this, I say it because it is part of the UDHR (as is evidenced by my direct citation to the website and the articles). Whilst it is commonly believed that everybody has these universal rights in the Western world this belief isn’t universal (and it isn’t applied in the world universally - it is a subjective belief that is accepted by the majority of the Western world). Con’s assumption that this is a concession of point 2 of CR is a jump to conclusions. Take note of the logical fallacy in a syllogism of his argument:

P1: The UDHR states that everybody has universal human rights.

P2: The UDHR is accepted by the Western world.

P3: I correctly stated that the UDHR states that we have these rights.

C1: I’ve conceded that there exist universal truths that unite all moral codes.

The problem here is that I never stated that I personally agreed that the UDHR, I said that it exists and it is accepted by the Western world. Take another analogy, if somebody tells me to steal something and I respond by saying that stealing is illegal, does this mean that I am against stealing? I might agree with it, I might not - if somebody were to say that I believed that theft should be illegal based on this analogy alone, they would be jumping to conclusions because all I did was acknowledge that it is the law. The same applies to the UDHR problem that Bsh claims to exist (NOTE: I do not believe in theft - this was purely an analogy).

Con then refers to the consequences of backing from my original claim. Just to make this clear, I am NOT backing down on my syllogism from my previous round. I am clarifying with the above. Just as I can say that everybody in the UK aren’t allowed to steal according to the law. I can also say that everybody has the right to believe what they like according to the UDHR. Neither of these claims state or imply that I believe that stealing or believing what you want are right or wrong according to me, since I say: “according to the law” and “according to the UDHR”.

Con complains about the fact that I refer to “everybody” since this refers to the plural of individuals and he claims that I need to affirm these points for societies.

A - If we look at the definition of “culture” we can see that cultures aren’t only societies - they can be single people).

B - “Everybody” refers to multiple people who can make up societies.

Next con misses out key parts of my case. He states that I use the fact that different people believe different things in order to negate the existence of objective morality. This isn’t true. I did use this as a mitigation since if most people do not believe in the same thing then there is no “clear” objective moral code. The fact that normative ethical beliefs are subjective is usually considered to be a truism. This is because morality is evolutionary (and evolution is a truism) and the general human sense of morality has been evolving for survival purposes [6]. This means that there is no objective or absolute morality since our sense of morality is constantly evolving and changing in order for us to best adapt and survive in our conditions (which is a great demonstration of mental / psychological evolution as opposed to the general models of evolution being physical).

Con goes on to make a long quote attempting to refute the mitigation when he could have requested for me to affirm P1 (I did say that I could clarify). I stated that it was a truism because I thought that he’d agree (most people do).


I assumed that he would be trying to negate CR. His impacts, as he describes in this round, are irrelevant impacts. In agree with (1) - though I don’t believe that it is always the case - only sometimes. (2) - I agree. (3) - regards the next contention. (1) and (2) are irrelevant to negating my case. (3) will be responded to in the next contention.

Con needs to show how there exist universal truths that unite the two cultures. The problem is that neither the definition of atheist or theist require one to accept that 1+1 = 2. So that doesn’t necessarily mean that all atheists or all theists believe in these truths by definition. For example, a theist can still believe in the simulation hypothesis and reject the laws of logic - including 1+1 = 2.

Moral logic isn’t universal. Going back to ethical nihilists - they do not believe in any sort of morality objective or subjective existing.

Drive to survive

In nihilistic societies murder is allowed - nothing is right or wrong. The reason that these cultures / societies / moral codes can feasibly exist is because that they exist within countries that have laws against murder. So whilst the society has no problem with murder, the countries that they exist in usually do.

Common Biology and Experiences

Con’s (1) is false. I said: “the vast majority of humans” not all, “have mirror neurons”. So these experiences aren’t universal. There are problems with the mirror neuron in humans - notably in autism [7].

Point (2) is contingent on (1) so there is no need to provide further rebuttal.

The resolution is affirmed. Vote Pro!








Debate Round No. 3


Thanks for the debate, Pro.

I. Overview

Point 1 says: "Different human cultures have different moral codes."

The definition doesn't refer to any "human moral codes" as Pro erroneously thinks it does. It refers to moral codes that have been adopted by cultures.

Therefore, Pro needed to do one of two things to show that his ethical theories were adopted by human cultures. Either he needed to show that these theories were a culture, or he needed to give examples of cultures that used them exclusively. Pro did neither of these things.

Pro dropped that ethical theories are not the same thing as cultures, and Pro gives no example of a specific culture which exclusively (or even partially) uses any of these theories he cites. Pro also drops my analysis that society's are not "morally monochromatic." The impact of Pro's failures in these regards is simple: ethical theories are not topical to this debate (they are not cultures nor have they been adopted by cultures). Talk of ethical theories is simply a redherring that should be entirely disregarded.

II. Pro's Case

A&B. Difference, Precepts, and Codes

On the "Moral Codes" argument, Pro is still conflating ethical theories with culture and cultural norms. "All such codes" refers to the moral codes of human cultures cited in point 1. Thus, the overview can still be cross-applied.

As I explained earlier, this debate is about moral systems adopted by a culture, not moral systems adopted by an individual. Point 1 of the definition of cultural relativism (CR) proves this. I may be a part of the American culture, but that does not mean that I agree with all of the moral norms our culture has adopted. An individual's moral beliefs are not the same as a culture's moral beliefs; it is Pro's job to affirm differences on the culture, not individual level. Thus, individual subjectivism is also a redherring, and not a source of positive offense for Pro.

Pro incorrectly assumes that Point 2 of the definition of CR means we are talking about moral codes within human cultures. If you buy this interpretation, this debate would be about individual subjectivism (the idea that each individual has a different moral code) because all of these codes are "moral codes within human cultures." That is a highly skewed an unreasonable reading of the set-up of this debate.

Judges should prefer the most common-sense, widely accepted reading of the definitions. CR has always and widely referred to variations in cultural norms, and beliefs held on the cultural, not individual level. I highly doubt that anyone reading this debate thought (or thinks) that CR means individual subjectivism, which underscores how desperately Pro is contorting the resolution. The fact that experts like James Rachels [1] talk about CR as differences in societies' moral standards is further evidence that we are talking about societies' moral codes, not about all codes that exists within those societies. Finally, point 3 of the definition shows that we are talking about comparing one society's moral code (notice that it is a society's "moral code" not "moral codes"), against another society's moral code, indicating that we are talking about the one, overarching moral code in use by the society, and not all the various theories or individual beliefs that may be bouncing around inside that society.

Point one of the definition of CR means that different cultures have different moral codes. The American culture has its moral code, Eskimo culture has its moral code, etc. Point two of the definition asks whether these moral codes--which have been adopted by cultures--have any shared precepts. So, yes, we are talking about moral codes, but we are only talking about those moral codes which have been adopted by cultures and societies; anarchism and ethical nihilism have never been adopted by any society (Pro has not proven that they have been), and so even if they are "moral codes" they are not topical to this debate.

Firstly, atheism and theism are not moral beliefs. I need to show that cultures have similar moral beliefs, which is different from similar theological beliefs. Secondly, saying that atheists and theists agree on nothing because they disagree on god is also absurd--disagreement on one issue does not preclude disagreement on all issues. Thirdly, atheists and theists are not organized into discrete societies and cultures anyway; they exist inside many different cultures and societies. It is not a reasonable interpretation of the definition of culture to call atheists and theists "cultures." Both the experts (Rachels) and point 3 of the definition of CR tell us that we're talking about societies's and their overarching moral codes. Fourthly, even if they were a culture, they would still, by necessity, have to share some moral rules as an extension of the "drive to survive."

C. Society's Right

There are 2 reasons Pro's syllogisms fail (legal =/= moral & Rachels).

If Pro is relying on the legal nature of the UDHR, he's conflating morality with legality; these concepts are not the same. This is a debate about morality, so even if Pro can demonstrate that everyone has a legal right to freedom of belief, he has not demonstrated a moral right to freedom of belief. Pro cannot use a legal reality to prove that "if X is right according to a society's code, then it is indeed right and least within that society." Legality realities do not prove moral truths. The only way Pro's syllogism works is if he argues for a moral right for everyone to believe what they want to believe; if he does that, he concedes to a universe moral truth and loses the debate. Either way, his arguments fail.

By saying that not every cultures accepts the UDHR on a moral level, Pro invalidates his own second premise, because then not everyone has a recognized moral right to believe what they want to believe. This causes his syllogism to collapse, because he cannot show that anyone has a right to believe anything. Even legally, not all countries have ratified the UDHR, so it cannot be said to apply to everyone. [10]

Next, Pro talks about what most people believe. That is an ad populum argument, and fallacious. On the issue of the non-sequitur itself, Pro says that his argument was just mitigation. But, his argument that normative ethical beliefs were subjective because different people believe different things were the underpinning factor of his two syllogisms. If that argument of his is false, then his syllogism's conclusions cannot follow from their premises, and two of Pro's major arguments collapse entirely. Pro wasn't just using this as mitigation, he was basing his entire last two contentions on this.

His evolution argument does not rebut Rachels. Because even if our beliefs change, that doesn't mean that morality changes. Rachel's whole argument was that moral beliefs are not the same as morality. If my belief that the Earth is flat changes to a belief that the Earth is conical, that does mean that the objective truth that the Earth is spherical has been altered. Therefore, the Rachels argument stands, as does the impact flowing from it: Pro's conclusions do not flow from his premises, so he has not substantiated any of the arguments which rely on the syllogisms as evidence. Pro has not proven either of his last two contentions to be likely correct.

The evolution argument is also fallacious in that some beliefs will never change. It will never be socially useful for human cultures and societies to change norms against wanton murder and lying, because these would spell the end of people's ability to cooperate effectively, and would thus destroy society and culture.

Moreover, Pro source 6 is a blog that, as far as I can tell, sites literally no scientific data to substantiate its claims about moral evolution.

III. My Case

A. Drive to Survive

There is no such thing as a nihilist society. A society is defined as: "people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values." [9] There may be individual nihilists, but there is no organized community of nihilists with shared laws, traditions, and (not or) values (the same is true of atheists/theists). Again, ethical theories =/= cultures. This counterexample fails.

Pro offers no (topical) reason to believe why a society with no norms against murder could feasibly exist, while I have provided ample logic as to how such norms are not only good for society, but are a necessary prerequisite to a society's existence. Nihilists could not organize into a society, per the definition, because without norms against murder, they would either die out or be forced to adopt such norms, thus creating a moral rule.

B. Common Biology

Even if only the vast majority of humans have mirror neurons or share experiences, that is sufficient to develop shared moral values, because society's moral codes are blendings of the views of people within them (as I said in the R3 Overview). Since the vast majority of the collective share these commonalities, societies would invariably lite on shared norms and values.

IV. Conclusion

Per my dropped R2 topic analysis, Pro must show that CR is likely correct (not just plausibly correct) and must affirm all 4 elements of CR to win; I can win by negating just one of CR's 4 elements. Pro fails to meet his BOP because (a) he was confused on what this debate was about, resulting in a lot of non-topical arguments/examples which left his arguments unsupported, and (b) Pro's syllogisms have been thoroughly rebutted, leaving him with no evidence to support that elements 3 and 4 of cultural relativism are likely correct. He hasn't affirmed all elements of CR. I have met my BOP by showing that the drive to survive is going to generate universal moral precepts (like norms against murder), which negates element 2.

V. Sources

10 -

Thank you. Please VOTE CON!
Debate Round No. 4
47 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by bsh1 1 month ago
S'okay Lannan. Don't worry about it.
Posted by lannan13 1 month ago
Sorry I wasn't really able to get a vote in on time, I had other IRL issues going on, but I do have to say that I did enjoy the debate and it actually changed my belief to now believing in more of a Cultural ethical absolutism.
Posted by famousdebater 1 month ago
Thanks for the votes WF and Hayd! :)
Posted by bsh1 1 month ago
Thanks, whiteflame.
Posted by famousdebater 1 month ago
Thank you for voting Hayd.
Posted by bsh1 1 month ago
Thanks for the vote Hayd.
Posted by canis 1 month ago
You forgot about the god idea. It can be a "relativism". But also urelated to any form of "present non relativism". if cultural relativism implies a god you have a culture, but humans and realety become unrealted to realety, and relativism exist in itself.
Posted by dsjpk5 1 month ago
Your rfd is two paragraphs long. That's about long enough to render it valid.
Posted by Peepette 1 month ago
RFD: PRO was at a disadvantage from the start to prove cultural relatism. CON needed only provide a few examples and logically link significance cross-culturally, which he succeeds in doing. Consequentialism with Eskimo"s & Americans which impacts were for the good of the whole- was one tenant that can be understood cross-culturally. The drive to survive, prohibiting murder and lying, as well as empathy furthered his side. PRO stance was there are no universal precepts for relatism, since morality is subjective; no objective means for cultural comparison. Since individuals subscribe to different ethical theories, it's personal opinion. Intellectualists, welfarist, atheists, anarchist, nihilist, egoist etc. each has its own set of moral codes; individuals are cultures on to themselves due to their individual beliefs. Also, that if there are exceptions to cultural norms; there cannot be a universal truth that is commonly understood. These arguments were adequately rebutted by CON that philosophical doctrine is off topic. There are no anarchist or nihilist cultures. PRO also drops CON"s impact arguments that further put him in a weaker position.

I read the debate feeling ambivalence toward the topic. I had a difficult time with PRO"s logic, especially using ethical theories as a base for his contention and individuals being autonomous cultures. There might be anarchists or nihilists within a culture but, I could not see through that they are cultures onto themselves as CON pointed out. With PRO"s moral code definition provided in R3, I almost came around to at least one of his points. But in context of all other arguments I remained unswayed. Logically, to agree to something is not done with one"s self, but occurs with another individual, group, culture or society. Without the process of agreement with another on what is righteous, it is merely an individual"s thought, not a moral code. The act of acceptance or agreement requires a secondary player.
Posted by bsh1 1 month ago
That's fine. We got it done, so that's good.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by whiteflame 1 month ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: RFD given here:
Vote Placed by Hayd 1 month ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Sorry I didn't give my full effort. I guess I just hate subjective vs. objective morality discourse. RFD here
Vote Placed by Peepette 1 month ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: RFD in Comments