Health Care Analysis

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 321–327 | Cite as

Cultural Diversity and the Case Against Ethical Relativism

  • Michael Brannigan


The movement to respect culturaldiversity, known as multiculturalism, poses a dauntingchallenge to healthcare ethics. Can we construct adefensible passage from the fact of culturaldifferences to any claims regarding morality? Or doesmulticulturalism lead to ethical relativism? Macklinargues that, in view of a leading distinction betweenuniversalism in ethics and moral absolutism, the onlyreasonable passage avoids both absolutism andrelativism. She presents a strong case againstethical relativism and its pernicious consequences forcross-cultural issues in healthcare. She alsoprovides sound criteria for the assessment of aculture's moral progress.

absolutism autonomy cross-cultural ethics cross-cultural healthcare cultural diversity ethical universals human rights informed consent moral progress multiculturalism postmodernism principles relativism 


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  1. Macklin, R. (1999) Against Relativism: Cultural Diversity and the Search for Ethical Universals in Medicine. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Potter, K. (1988) Metaphor as Key to Understanding the Thought of Other Speech Communities. In G.J. Larson and E. Deutsch (eds.) Interpreting Across Boundaries: New Essays in Comparative Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Quine, W. (1960) Word and Object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Brannigan
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for the Study of EthicsLa Roche CollegePittsburghUSA

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