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Ethical universalism and cultural relativism

Sam, a graduate student in anthropology, received a summer grant to study tribal life in the Amazon River basin. Before he embarked on his scholarly journey, Sam visited his family physician. The doctor warned Sam that malaria outbreaks often reached epidemic proportions in the Amazon basin and prescribed a three-month supply of medications.

Sam packed the medicine and arrived in an active malaria region. After settling into a village, Sam saw that many local people were quite ill with malaria. Since he had a large supply of medicine, much more than he needed for his personal use, he wondered if he had a moral obligation to distribute the surplus to the sick villagers or whether doing so would be ethically wrong. Giving the medicine would interfere with the tribal people's time-honored ways of healing the sick through religious rituals involving dances, chants and animal sacrifices. Briefly explain how ethical universalism and cultural relativism¬Ě are relevant to the situation; (2) raise two questions that you feel Sam should ask as he decides whether or how to share his anti-malaria medicine; (3) offer your judgment as to what Sam should do. Provide two reasons why he should take your recommended course of action.

Solution Preview

The way in which you should respond to the problem is as follows:

The first question is how are these two perspectives relevant to the position; for that you need to identify that the situation presents an ethical dilemma that can be approached from either (or a mixed) point of view. We would all agree that making sick people better is a good thing, which puts the ethical relativist in a bit of a pickle, which I think is the point that the person who framed the question is after.

Then, identify the issues involved from each perspective. How would a person who held a Universalist position answer the problem? What would be the type of reasoning they would employ? Then do exactly the same thing, in a new paragraph, from the position of cultural ...

Solution Summary

Provides concise advise in tackling the problem (see above) in particular the relevance of ethical universalism and cultural relativism to the problem.