Article

Contemporary Crises

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 371-391

Cultural relativism and comparative criminology

  • Piers BeirneAffiliated withUniversity of Southern Maine

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Abstract

The recent spate of comparative studies of crime is long overdue as a potential palliative to the traditional ethnocentrism of American criminology. But their comparative method is uncritically taken from two incompatible propositions derived from Durkheimian empiricism. As such, the generalizations about criminal behavior that these studies advance should be treated more with caution than optimism. This essay discusses the alleged advances over Durkheimian empiricism made by two distinct forms of cultural relativism.

If what every man believes as a result of perception is indeed to be true for him; if, just as no one is to be a better judge of what another experiences, so no one is better entitled to consider what another thinks is true or false... then, my friend, where is the wisdom of Protagoras, to justify his setting up to teach others and to be handsomely paid for it?

Socrates, in Plato'sTheaetetus