Rachel also understood the power of peer pressure and the need to know, love and be true to herself. It was this understanding that helped her respect and appreciate the people around her; especially those who were in pain or different from her. She did this by looking deeper than the surface into the relatedness we all share. Rachel wrote, “Look hard enough and you will always find a light, and you can even help that light grow.” Being comfortable in her own skin allowed her to fight injustice for others. The understanding that we are all uniquely important was so central to Rachel’s life that in an undated letter to her cousin she wrote:
We are hopeful that you will decide to continue Rachel's legacy by helping us get her message to more students and adults. As Rachel wrote in her final school essay:
A look at down-ticket races suggests that things may get worse. The large crop of antiscience state legislators elected in 2010 are likely to bring their views into mainstream politics as they eventually run for Congress. In North Carolina this year the state legislature considered House Bill No. 819, which prohibited using estimates of future sea-level rise made by most scientists when planning to protect low-lying areas. (Increasing sea level is a predicted consequence of global warming.) The proposed law would have permitted planning only for a politically correct rise of eight inches instead of the three to four feet that scientists predict for the area by 2100.
Walter Pater (Fig. 1) is known as the chief theorist of the Aesthetic movement. His essays laid out the serious and subversive ideas underpinning an art movement whose rebellion was enacted through an embrace of beauty and strangeness. Art historians today are not in the business of proposing to us controversial new ways of living and thinking; yet that is what happened in 1873, when Pater published his collection titled Studies in the History of the Renaissance. He used the art-historical essay as a platform to describe indirectly a lifestyle freed from Victorian conventionalities, especially those surrounding the human body. While many authors before Pater had used art history to meditate more broadly on modern values—most influentially, the art critic John Ruskin, promoting the moral worth of Gothic architecture—Pater puts his own unique spin on the practice. Though Pater has often been assimilated into an apparently normative group of Victorian essay writers that includes Ruskin and Matthew Arnold, this piece will highlight some of his more rebellious tendencies, describing how he critiques and even ironizes the scholarly tradition to which he contributes. His double vision is at once serious and transgressive, using the canon of Renaissance art to offer his own idiosyncratic impressions and to implicitly defend the right of others to experience a similar freedom.
How to Accept Rachel's Challenge
Rachel was born in Denver, Colorado, in August 1982. She was the middle of five children with two older sisters: Bethanee and Dana; and two younger brothers: Craig and Mike.
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An anthropologist would have asked different kinds of questions: what function those customs might have served, or how they fit into the structure of the society. Finally, from the anthropologist's point of view, Rachels fails to understand that ethnocentrism governs his understanding of morality. It is the philosophers from our culture—people like Rachels—not the philosophers of other cultures—who assume the right to pass judgment on other cultures, and decide that some universal standard [End Page 792] of morality, yet to be determined, is the real goal. Thus, cultural and moral relativism stand in the way of discovering those universals.
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What, exactly, was wrong with what James Rachels said about cultural relativism? From an anthropologist's point of view, the most serious flaw in Rachel's notion that cultural relativism presents a "challenge" to philosophy is that he simply hasn't done his homework, and knows little about anthropology or its central purpose—to understand and learn about the variety of human cultures, past and present. Rachels says nothing about the objectives of anthropology in his essay. His main criticism of cultural relativism is simple: relativism contains no idea of universal morality, "only various cultural codes and nothing more" (Rachels 1993:15). As a result, for Rachels, cultural relativism leads to moral relativism. Finally, having cited several well known examples of customs our society would never condone, such as sharing of wives among some Eskimo, Rachels has one generous thing to say about cultural relativism: even though the concept is flawed, it promotes tolerance of other cultures (Rachels 1993). Questions about why certain customs continue to be practiced and transmitted to each generation, or even whether those customs fit into the fabric of the society are never discussed. Rachels is not a social scientist. For Rachels, however, differences in the morality or value of customs—the relativity of moral values—become the central problem of cultural relativism (Rachels 1993:15).