Encyclopædia of religion and ethicsBy Louis Herbert Gray
While perusing for more history of cultural relativism and human rights through
book sourcesI discovered this book by Louis Herbert Gray published in the
subheading philosophy in 1915.I thought excellent. So I cited a few selected
texts from the book,and posted them to show that this notion of cultural relativism
and human rights really does date modern human rights and
cultural relativism all the way back to ancient Greece.
This principle of relativism runs throughout all the speculation of the Sophists, and, as is well known, reached its highest point in Protagoras. But a justification had to be provided for positive law; even the Sophists had to recognize the fact that society and law continue to exist in spite of the divergent tendencies of individualism. This was to be explained, they said, by the social instinct: man is led by nature to evaluate his own actions — hence the feeling of shame (cu'Sus)—and at the same time to strike a balance between conflicting rights—hence justice (SUii) (Plato, Protag. 322B). How was this to be reconciled with relativism? According to Plato, Protagoras held that the laws were the result of conventions imposed by each city according to its own particular standards (Thetct. 172 A, B). It was useless to dispute concerning the truth of these different views of law ; but the event would show which of them was useful and which not. In this system, therefore, individual- jam is supplanted by pragmatism. The doctrine of the Si|a TTJt r&\eus, fully developed by Protagoras, remains one of the corner-stones of Sokrates' teaching. The citizen who has been nurtured by the irti.Nis, and chooses to remain in it, must abide by its decrees ; at the same time, freedom must be allowed to individual thought, and Sokrates was optimistic as to the ultimate triumph of right knowledge in politics and jurisprudence as well as in science; his standard for the examination of laws is a logical standard, and his method necessarily dialectical. Plato follows upon much the same lines as Sokrates. The S&S-a. r/,s r6\eox, in his view, means that the State, not the individual, is to set the standard of morals and law.
The general result was an acute realization of the relativity of all human affairs, which in practical life acted as a powerful social dis solvent. It became a common contention that law was merely the product of force, or an arbitrary and artificial arrangement which superior persons were entitled to disregard.