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Multiculturalism and Value Relativism

Anno XXXIV, n. 150, maggio-agosto 1999
Centro Einaudi


Abstract disponibile solo in lingua inglese

The word “multiculturalism” describes a diffuse doctrine grounded in a few interrelated principles. National, ethnic and other social groups commonly have and are entitled to a distinctive culture of their own. Such cultures include systems of values which cannot be ranked because values cannot be grounded objectively. Hence, the theory concludes, to endorse multiculturalism is, implicitly, to endorse value relativism. Whether we should accept this mutual implication of recognising the rights of groups, notably cultural minorities, and relativism is the question addressed in this essay. Partly as a consequence of the influence of multicultural ideas, relativistic theories of value are widespread among intellectuals, but they would appear to clash with empirical observations of the actual axiological feelings of social subjects. Recently proposed naturalistic theories may be considered as a reaction against relativistic theories. They cannot be seen, however, to be opening a very promising path, as far as the explanation of axiological feelings is concerned. On the whole, rationalist theories of axiological feelings appear, scientifically, to be much more valid and promising than culturalist or naturalist theories. Finally, recognising the cultural needs and rights of groups does not imply that a relativistic view of axiological feelings and values ought to be endorsed. After all, multiculturalism does not imply value relativism.