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MOTION: A reasonable claim can be made that Western civilization is superior

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/4/2017 Category: Society
Updated: 3 months ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 292 times Debate No: 104283
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First off, I will start by making my claim crystal-clear. I am by no means saying that Western civilization is inferior. I am merely claiming that there is no hard proof that it is superior.

I cite five reasons for this claim:

1) I believe in God. As we do not all share the same beliefs, I will not use this argument again unless my opponent turns out to be Christian, and preferably Protestant. But if my opponent does acknowledge a divine Creator, why would He make one culture or civilization superior?

2) "Western civilization" is very loosely defined. Ask pretty much any two people and they will have a different view of who gets to be included. It's almost like a "secret club" of cultural supremacy that no one can do anything to join or leave. Furthermore, a reasonable argument can be made that "Western" civilization is the amalgamation of many cultures, and not one entity.

3) How is "superior" measured? How can any reasonable person look at an entire culture and claim it is superior to all others? The way I see it, we're all human, and humans are very complicated. Entire cultures have many practices, and it's quite subjective to an extent which are more important than others. Furthermore, when you look at subjective, amoral matters, it is not fair to judge another culture's practices by your own culture's standards. Just so my opponent knows, there are absolute morals, but within those, there are many differences the world's cultures have.

4) The perceived superiority and supremacy of Western civilization has been used to justify moral atrocities committed by European imperialists in less developed parts of the world up until about a hundred years ago. While I do not like having to invoke things that no one was alive to remember, the truth is, as Winston Churchill supposedly said, "Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it." We have to look to historical mistakes for guidance. Our own forefathers willingly exploited millions of people all over the world based on this idea that I am claiming no one can prove. Not only that, only ten years after this ended, World War I broke out, and they used this "supremacy" to slaughter fifteen million of their own! Talk about hypocritical.

5) I am sure that most people agree that individuals should be judged by their own actions. To be prejudiced against other cultures just because they are not like us is not only wrong, it relegates members of other cultures (and us) to slaves, slaves to their cultural beliefs. Furthermore, if the fact that a person could be judged by his culture was indeed the case, then his culture would then justify any evil acts he commits, and any judgment that the culture is inferior because of the person's evil acts becomes an effect of circular reasoning and is thereby self-refuting.

Furthermore, terms that my opponent could call me, such as "globalist," mean nothing. They're just words, and I don't even know if I am a globalist or not, so my opponent definitely wouldn't.

I eagerly await a response.


It is of course dubious and calls into mind colonialist claims, to call one civilisation superior to another. Nevertheless, that does not mean that some normative standards (some measures of judgement) cannot be asserted to help us decipher what it is we value in each type of social organisation and foundation that makes it better than those who do not hold these qualities. For instance, I'm sure we're not putting Stalinist Russia on par with John Major England, and likewise we shouldn't put 'Western Civilisation' on par with types of society that do not embody the qualities which we value.

Firstly, we need to elucidate what it is 'Western Civilisation' is, to make a distinction clear between just an abstract category we label ourselves with and the historic-social development of a certain tradition and trajectory. If we take it that 'Western Civilisation' roughly entails a European heritage, linked to the Roman Empire and Ancient Greece, from which our society has developed, then it follows that what we have inherited from the past in both our institutes and values defines how the West is different from other social traditions. For instance, Habermas tracks the notion of the 'public' and debate being a central part of the West, through all of its forms, from the exclusive nature of Athens to modern day Germany. We might also add that the Aristotelian virtues, many of which taken up by the latter sects of Christianity, have marked the development of Western history as well as Christian assumptions as well, broken by the trajectory of reason humanism set out post-Luther. To write about all the things the West had embodied would require a book, and not a informal debate on the internet, to set out. But the crux is this: Western Civilisation is a set of conditions under which nations have thought and developed under and that other types of society (usually reduced down to Eastern Civilisation) do not necessarily possess, somewhat geographically or culturally isolated from it.

Today it may be argued that the West and namely the capitalist economy that emerged from it has colonised nearly all world cultures, meaning that this specific way of viewing and doing things has become the dominant form of existing worldwide (especially post 1989). This still does not mean that the West does not exist as a broad limitation on it's members worldviews and behaviours, as an overarching category in-itself.

With this in mind, I will now respond to your five claims:
1) Theistic arguments have no place in a common sphere of reasons recognisable to everyone, and thereby should not be included as justification for the state of affairs of things on earth.
2) This is nonsense. Whilst it may be an abstract category construed by academics and anthropologists, that does not mean that it doesn't refer to a very real and existent set of social conditions, developments, and traditions.
3) "Superiority" can be measured by certain normative standards we possess: we value debate, wealth, liberty, aesthetic culture, technology. Thereby, whichever form of society is most ideal in producing that which we value, can be deemed better. I'm sure you'd agree that a cultural system that produces mass technological innovations is technologically superior to than those tribal societies who do not make them.... Now, problematically, there is the question whether we have just devised these values themselves and that for another type of society their own values are primary. In response, we can compare the functional successes of Western civilisation (in terms of freedom, quality of life, ability to create) compared to other societies, and ask whether this is sufficient grounds to measure its superiority.
4) Quoting Winston Churchill , a fervent believer in the British Empire, is counter-intuitive to the point you're making: he supported British colonialism. But, in essence, I agree, the standards by which anyone or collective deems themselves to be superior needs to be based on highly rational and substantial claims. If it is arbitrary racism, nationalism, sexism, and so forth with no basis behind it, one is not justified in claiming that individual or collective superior. For if one permits superiority by such standards, it does entail that one can subordinate all those exempt from this superiority for 'superior' ends.
5) Whilst most liberalists would agree that culpability is at the level of the individual, I don't see how this advances your argument and in fact exemplifies that you are writing within a 'Western' mindset. Individuals always individuate within their cultures and the set of beliefs and norms contained within them: we are all slaves of our cultural beliefs, products of our time. and subject to socialization. The doctrine of the soul does not change the fact that personality is profoundly affected and influenced by the disciplinary and circumambient social pressures around it: we do not judge other societies from a perspective outside our own, and our our perspective does not transcend that which has influenced us.

Out of interest, I would ask: what do you think of Ancient Greek slavery? Ought they be judged as inferior because they held slaves and on what grounds? If you want to permit that all standards civilisations live under are equal, then it stands to reason that if they believed it was not wrong that they were not socially inferior (entailing our superiority) but living under another standard.
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