Epistemic Relativism

Edited by Markus Seidel (University of Münster)
Assistant editor: Charlott Becker (University of Münster)
About this topic
Summary Epistemic relativism is the position that knowledge is valid only relatively to a specific context, society, culture or individual. The discussion about epistemic relativism is one of the most fundamental discussions in epistemology concerning our understanding of notions such as 'justification' and 'good reason'.
Key works In Barnes & Bloor 1982, two sociologists of knowledge explicitly endorse a relativist position.   Boghossian 2006 attacks several forms of epistemic relativism. Kuhn 1962 gave rise to epistemic relativist interpretations.  Feyerabend 1999 argues for epistemic relativism in the philosophy of science.  Nagel 1997 gives a Last Word on relativism endorsing an absolutist position.  Rorty 1990 defends a position taken by many to be relativistic.
Introductions Laudan 1990 provides an introduction about the controversy in dialogue-form, For a general introduction, see Swoyer 2008, 2.4 in the Stanford encyclopedia
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  1. Construcción teórica de la posmodernidad: enfoque progresista desde la deslegitimación.Jesús Miguel Delgado Del Aguila - 2021 - Helios 5 (2):475-486.
    Este artículo fundamenta la condición histórica de la posmodernidad, con la intención de dilucidar los enclaves dicotómicos, heterogéneos, irracionales y relativistas que la conforman. Esta se caracteriza por la propalación de paradigmas ambivalentes y polémicos en función de epistemologías estáticas provenientes de las culturas tradicionales y ortodoxas. Por ende, el objetivo es contrastar la configuración de esta etapa al incluir lo intercultural como proyecto social, que postula Beatriz Sarlo, que tiene como propósito enriquecer y resguardar las manifestaciones artísticas, lingüísticas y (...)
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  2. An Ecological Approach to Hinge Propositions.Eros Carvalho - forthcoming - Sképsis.
    In this paper, I argue that hinge propositions are ways of acting that constitute abilities or skills. My starting point is Moyal-Sharrock's account of hinge propositions. However, Moyal-Sharrock's account leaves gaps to be filled, as it does not offer a unified explanation of the origin of our ungrounded grounds. Her account also lacks resources to respond to the issue of demarcation, since it does not provide a criterion for distinguishing ways of acting that can legitimately fulfill the role of ungrounded (...)
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  3. On Concepts and Ideas: Themes From G. W. Leibniz's New Essays.Lucia Oliveri - 2016 - In Christoph Kann David Hommen (ed.), Concepts and Categorization Systematic and Historical Perspectives. Münster, Germania: pp. 141-167.
    The topic of my paper is the virtual controversy between Leibniz and Lockeover concepts and ideas. At the end of the 17th century John Locke made a crucial contribution to semantics and philosophy: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The work represents a decisive turning point for the discussion about ideas and innatism. Indeed, Locke’s aim was to dismantle the Cartesian theory according to which ideas are innate in our soul. Against this onto-epistemological thesis, Locke maintains that all our knowledge starts (...)
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  4. How to Reason About Religious Beliefs.Daniele Bertini - 2021 - Dialogo Journal 8 (1):179-193.
    Intractable disagreements are commonly analyzed in terms of the semantic opposition of (at least) couples of disputed beliefs (purely epistemic view, from here on PEV). While such a view seems to be a very natural starting point, my intuitions are that such an approach is misleadingly unrealistic, and that an empirical modeling towards how individuals hold beliefs in intractable opposition constitutes a strong defeater for PEV. My work addresses disagreements within the religious domain. Accordingly, I will be concerned with developing (...)
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  5. Review of Global Epistemologies and Philosophies of Science. [REVIEW]Robert A. Wilson - forthcoming - Philosophy of Science.
    Review of David Ludwig, Inkeri Koskinen, Zinhle Mncube, Luana Poliseli, and Luis Reyes-Galindo, eds. Global Epistemologies and Philosophies of Science. Routledge, 2021, pp.i-xviii+319.
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  6. Relativismus.Johannes Steizinger - 2021 - In Gerald Hartung Jörn Bohr (ed.), Simmel-Handbuch. Leben - Wirkung - Werk. Stuttgart, Germany: Metzler. pp. 95-103.
    Der Relativismus gehört zu den wichtigsten Themen von Simmels Philosophie. Die Bedeutung des Relativismus wird anhand dreier Aspekte skizziert: Erstens betont Simmel selbst die zentrale Stellung des Relativismus für seine philosophische Entwicklung. Zweitens hat Simmel aufgrund seines Bekenntnisses zum Relativismus einen besonderen Platz in der Geschichte der deutschsprachigen Philosophie. Simmel war vermutlich der erste deutschsprachige Philosoph, der seine Position als eine relativistische charakterisierte und diese gegenüber der antirelativistischen Grundhaltung seiner Zeitgenossen verteidigte. Drittens besteht in Simmels Versuchen den positiven Gehalt des (...)
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  7. Fallibilism Versus Relativism in the Philosophy of Science.David J. Stump - 2021 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 52:1-13.
    In response to a recent argument by David Bloor, I argue that denying absolutes does not necessarily lead to relativism, that one can be a fallibilist without being a relativist. At issue are the empirical natural sciences and what might be called “framework relativism”, that is, the idea that there is always a conceptual scheme or set of practices in use, and all observations are theory-laden relative to the framework. My strategy is to look at the elements that define a (...)
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  8. Modernism, Postmodernism, and Ultra-Modernism: The Difference and the Continuity.Muhammad Jalil Arif - 2021 - Academic Letter 1 (Article 3112).
    This paper briefly presents the historical and philosophical link between Enlightenment philosophy and the emergence of Postmodern philosophy, i.e., the transition from modernity to postmodernity. While identifying and recognizing the “difference” and the sharp contrast, I will concentrate on showing the “continuity” between the two philosophies. This paper shows that postmodernism can be understood as ultra-modernism in at least two dimensions 1) in opting for a particular critical methodology and 2) in the intensification of subjectivity. This enactment of deconstructive criticism, (...)
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  9. Extended Rationality and Epistemic Relativism.Natalie Alana Ashton - 2021 - In Nikolaj Pedersen & Luca Moretti (eds.), Non-Evidential Anti-Scepticism.
    In her book Extended Rationality: A Hinge Epistemology (2015), Annalisa Coliva puts forward an anti-sceptical proposal based on the idea that the notion of rationality extends to the unwarrantable presuppositions “that make the acquisition of perceptual warrants possible” (2015: 150). These presuppositions are commonly the target of sceptical arguments, and by showing that they are on the one hand unwarrantable, but on the other are constitutive components of rationality itself, she reveals that they are beyond rational doubt and thus avoids (...)
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  10. Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality.Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah - 1990 - Cambridge University Press.
  11. Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal Reason.Nicholas Rescher - 1997 - University of Notre Dame Press.
    Nicholas Rescher presents an original pragmatic defense of the issue of objectivity. Rescher employs reasoned argumentation in restoring objectivity to its place of prominence and utility within social and philosophical discourse. By tracing the source of objectivity back to the very core of rationality itself, Rescher locates objectivity's reason for being deep in our nature as rational animals. His project rehabilitates the case for objectivity by subjecting relativistic and negativistic thinking to close critical scrutiny, revealing the flaws and fallacies at (...)
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  12. A Critique of Political Correctness.Francis J. Beckwith - 1996 - In Philosophy: The Quest for Truth, 3rd ed. pp. 582-588.
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  13. A Defense of Objectivity.Margarita Rosa Levin - 1999 - In Louis P. Pojman (ed.), The Theory of Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Readings, 2nd ed. pp. 631-642.
  14. A Abordagem Ecológica das Habilidades e a Epistemologia dos eixos.Carvalho Eros - forthcoming - In Plinio J. Smith & Nara Figueiredo (eds.), A epistemologia dos eixos: uma introdução e debate sobre as certezas de Wittgenstein. São Paulo:
    In this paper, I argue that hinge propositions are ways of acting that constitute abilities or skills. My starting point is Moyal-Sharrock's account of hinge propositions. However, Moyal-Sharrock's account leaves gaps to be filled, as it does not offer a unified explanation of the origin of our ungrounded grounds. Her account also lacks resources to respond to the issue of demarcation, since it does not provide a criterion for distinguishing ways of acting that can legitimately fulfill the role of ungrounded (...)
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  15. Présentation. Mεtascience et l’alternative Bunge.François Maurice - 2020 - Mεtascience 1:5-14.
    En 1982, John Wettersten, dans un texte à propos du malaise et de la frustration qu’on peut ressentir à la lecture de l’oeuvre de Bunge, tentait de comprendre pourquoi son oeuvre n’est pas consi- dérée comme une alternative aux travaux d’autres philosophes. La réponse proposée par Wettersten a trait au problème d’acquisition de la connaissance. Si la connaissance est contextuelle, relative à un cadre de pensée, comment pouvons- nous alors évaluer rationnellement ce cadre de pensée lui-même ? Wettersten identifie deux (...)
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  16. Présentation. Mεtascience et l’alternative Bunge.François Maurice - 2020 - Mεtascience 1:5-14.
    En 1982, John Wettersten, dans un texte à propos du malaise et de la frustration qu’on peut ressentir à la lecture de l’oeuvre de Bunge, tentait de comprendre pourquoi son oeuvre n’est pas consi- dérée comme une alternative aux travaux d’autres philosophes. La réponse proposée par Wettersten a trait au problème d’acquisition de la connaissance. Si la connaissance est contextuelle, relative à un cadre de pensée, comment pouvons- nous alors évaluer rationnellement ce cadre de pensée lui-même ? Wettersten identifie deux (...)
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  17. Presentation. Mεtascience and the Bunge Alternative.François Maurice - 2020 - Mεtascience 1:online.
    More than any other philosopher, Mario Bunge is unclassifiable. In 1982 John Wettersten wrote about the discomfort and frustration that one might feel when reading Bunge’s work. He was trying to understand why his work was not seen as an alternative to the work of other philosophers. Wettersten’s answer relates to the problem of knowledge acquisition. If knowledge is contextual, relative to a frame of thought, how can we then rationally evaluate this frame of thought itself? Wettersten identifies two tendencies: (...)
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  18. Umstrittene Wahrheit. Die Frage nach der Wahrheit in Philosophie und Religionen.R. Rothenbusch & Oliver Wiertz (eds.) - forthcoming
  19. Talking About Tolerance: A New Strategy for Dealing with Student Relativism.Dominik Balg - 2020 - Teaching Philosophy 43 (2):1-16.
    Student relativism is a widespread phenomenon in philosophy classes. While the exact nature of student relativism is controversially discussed, many authors agree on two points: First, it is widely agreed that SR is a rather problematic phenomenon, because it potentially undermines the very purpose of doing philosophy—if there is no objective truth, arguing seems to be pointless. Second, it is widely agreed that there will be some close connection between SR and a tolerant attitude towards conflicting opinions. In this paper, (...)
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  20. Relativism. [REVIEW]Ali Hossein Khani - forthcoming - The Philosophical Quarterly:1-3.
  21. Descriptive Psychology and Völkerpsychologie—in the Contexts of Historicism, Relativism, and Naturalism.Christian Damböck, Uljana Feest & Martin Kusch - 2020 - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 10 (1):226-233.
  22. Are Knowledge Ascriptions Sensitive to Social Context?Alexander Jackson - forthcoming - Synthese 199 (3-4):8579-8610.
    Plausibly, how much is at stake in some salient practical task can affect how generously people ascribe knowledge of task-relevant facts. There is a metaphysical puzzle about this phenomenon, and an empirical puzzle. Metaphysically: there are competing theories about when and how practical stakes affect whether it is correct to ascribe knowledge. Which of these theories is the right one? Empirically: experimental philosophy has struggled to find a stakes-effect on people’s knowledge ascriptions. Is the alleged phenomenon just a philosopher’s fantasy? (...)
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  23. Democracy and Inquiry in the Post-Truth Era: A Pragmatist Solution.Daniel Labrador Montero - 2020 - Disputatio. Philosophical Research Bulletin 9 (13).
    Post-truth has become a commonplace strategy. No longer are objective facts viewed as having evidentiary value; scientific knowledge is on a par with emotions or personal beliefs. We intend to show that in the context of post-truth, those proffering and receiving an assertion do not care about the truth-value of the assertion or about the best way to gather evidence concerning it. Such attitudes raise several questions about how relativism can be a corrupting influence in contemporary democracies. We will analyse (...)
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  24. Aspectos epistemológicos y ético-políticos sobre la aplicación de vacunas en contextos plurales.Mónica Gómez - 2018 - Horizontes Filosóficos 8 (8):63-80.
    From the refusal of some parents to apply some vaccines to their children, in this work we will show that to act properly it is not enough with a good intellectual justification to validate a belief as accurate, it will be necessary to take into account also the systematic actions in relation to which we are constituted, as well as the feelings that accompany those actions. We begin by exposing the notion of belief that Villoro presents from authors such as (...)
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  25. Scientific Perspectives, Feminist Standpoints, and Non-Silly Relativism.Natalie Ashton - 2020 - In Michela Massimi (ed.), Knowledge From a Human Point of View. Springer Verlag.
    Defences of perspectival realism are motivated, in part, by an attempt to find a middle ground between the realist intuition that science seems to tell us a true story about the world, and the Kuhnian intuition that scientific knowledge is historically and culturally situated. The first intuition pulls us towards a traditional, absolutist scientific picture, and the second towards a relativist one. Thus, perspectival realism can be seen as an attempt to secure situated knowledge without entailing epistemic relativism. A very (...)
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  26. Rethinking Epistemic Relativism.Natalie Alana Ashton - 2019 - Metaphilosophy 50 (5):587-607.
    ‘Relativism’ is often treated as a dirty word in philosophy. Showing that a view entails relativism is almost always considered tantamount to showing that it is nonsensical. However, relativistic theories are not entirely unappealing – they have features which might be tempting if they weren’t thought to be outweighed by problematic consequences. In this paper I argue that it’s possible to secure the intuitively appealing features of at least one kind of relativism – epistemic relativism – without having to accept (...)
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  27. John Gillott and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat From Reason. [REVIEW]Sean F. Johnston - 1996 - Public Understanding of Science 5:179-181.
  28. Relativising Epistemic Advantage.Natalie Alana Ashton - forthcoming - In Martin Kusch (ed.), Routledge Handbook to Relativism.
    In this paper I explore the relationship between social epistemology and relativism in the context of feminist epistemology. I do this by focusing on one particular branch of feminist epistemology - a branch known as standpoint theory - and investigating the connection between this view and epistemic relativism. I begin by defining both epistemic relativism and standpoint theory, and by briefly recounting the standard way that the connection between these two views is understood. The literature at the moment focuses on (...)
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  29. The Relativistic Legacy of Kuhn and Feyerabend.Howard Sankey - 2020 - In M. Kusch (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Relativism. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 379-387.
    Relativism in the philosophy of science is widely associated with the work of Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. Kuhn and Feyerabend espoused views about conceptual change and variation of scientific method that have apparent relativistic implications. Both held that scientific theories or paradigms may be incommensurable due to semantic variation. Two ways that truth may be relative because of semantic incommensurability will be distinguished. Davidson’s criticism of the idea of an untranslatable language will be discussed, as well as a response (...)
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  30. Rationality, Relativism and Methodological Pluralism.Howard Sankey - 1996 - Explorations in Knowledge (1):18-36.
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  31. Do Deep Disagreements Motivate Relativism?Victoria Lavorerio - 2018 - Topoi 40 (5):1087-1096.
    In his 2014 article “Motivations for Relativism as a Solution to Disagreements”, Steven Hales argues that relativism is a plausible disagreement resolution strategy for epistemically irresolvable disagreements. I argue that his relativistic strategy is not adequate for disagreements of this kind, because it demands an impossible doxastic state for disputants to resolve the disagreement. Contrarily, Fogelin’s :1–8, 1985) theory of deep disagreement does not run into the same problems. Deep disagreements, according to Fogelin, cannot be resolved through argumentation because the (...)
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  32. Reasons for Relativism: Feyerabend on the ‘Rise of Rationalism’ in Ancient Greece.Helmut Heit - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 57:70-78.
  33. Kuhn, Relativism and Realism.Howard Sankey - 2018 - In Juha Saatsi (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Scientific Realism. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 72-83.
    The aim of this chapter is to explore the relationship between Kuhn’s views about science and scientific realism. I present an overview of key features of Kuhn’s model of scientific change. The model suggests a relativistic approach to the methods of science. I bring out a conflict between this relativistic approach and a realist approach to the norms of method. I next consider the question of progress and truth. Kuhn’s model is a problem-solving model that proceeds by way of puzzles (...)
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  34. Relativism Refuted. A Critique of Contemporary Epistemological Relativism.Harvey Siegel - 1987 - Peeters Press.
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  35. Lakatos’s Epistemic Aspirations.Jarret Leplin - 2001 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 16 (3):481-498.
    Imre Lakatos argued that a theory of scientific method must be empirical, and therefore self-applicable; the standards it imposes on scientific theories must be ones it satisfies itself. But in relying on this standard of self-referential consistency to protect his theory from criticism, Lakatos becomcs vulnerable to relativism. He escapes by hypothesizing that scientific changes which are methodologically progressive according to his theory are also progressive epistemically. The question is whethcr his theory of method has the resources to warrant this (...)
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  36. Knowledge and Relativism an Essay in the Philosophy of Education.F. C. White - 1983 - Van Gorcum.
  37. Victorian Relativity: Radical Thought and Scientific Discovery. [REVIEW]Theodore Porter - 2002 - Isis 93:311-312.
    Christopher Herbert, provoked by the Alan Sokal affair and by bullying critiques of “relativism,” has written this study to demonstrate the prominence of relativistic thought in the sciences of the last two centuries. Although he draws back from any claim that relativity and its opposite, philosophical realism, lead of necessity to particular political positions, he associates the former with liberal tolerance and the latter with mandatory worship in a repressive “church of ‘absolute truth’”. Nazi physicists such as Philipp Lenard, he (...)
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  38. The Historian and the Philosophy of Science.Thomas Cowan - 1947 - Isis 38:11-18.
  39. Integral Epistemology in "Naturalistic Epistemology: A Symposium of Two Decades".A. Shimony - 1987 - Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 100:299-318.
  40. Critical Study of Thomas Nagel's "The Last Word". [REVIEW]Andrew Melnyk - 1999 - Philosophical Books 40 (1):14-17.
    This critical study takes Nagel's book to task for its obscurity, and for its under-argued rejection of naturalism.
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  41. Constructivisms and Relativisms: A Shopper's Guide.Mark H. Bickhard - 1997 - Science & Education 6 (1-2):29-42.
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  42. The Sokal Hoax.Paul Boghossian - 1999 - In Robert Klee (ed.), Scientific Inquiry: Readings in the Philosophy of Science. Oxford University Press. pp. 265-274.
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  43. Response to the Commentaries.Eric Gillett - 1998 - Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 5 (1):61-65.
  44. Relativism and the Social-Constructivist Paradigm.Eric Gillett - 1998 - Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 5 (1):37-48.
  45. Relativism Versus Realism - All but a Specious Dichotomy.Fiona J. Hibberd - 2001 - History of the Human Sciences 14 (3):102-107.
  46. Universality and Particularity in the Philosophy of E. B. Bax and R. G. Collingwood.Mark Bevir - 1999 - History of the Human Sciences 12 (3):55-69.
    This article examines the ways in which E. B. Bax and R. G. Collingwood attempted to avoid relativism and irrationalism without postulating a pure and universal reason. Both philosophers were profound historicists who recognized the fundamentally particular nature of the world. Yet they also attempted to retain a universal aspect to thought - Bax through his distinction between the logical and alogical realms, and Collingwood through his doctrine of re-enactment. The article analyses both their metaphysical premises and their philosophies of (...)
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  47. O labirinto do relativismo moral.Paul Boghossian - 2011 - Revista Inquietude 2 (2):238-245.
    Portuguese translation of "The Maze of Moral Relativism" by Janos Biro.
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  48. Relativism Due to a Theory of Natural Rationality. The Research for This Article Was Fully Funded by Tafresh University, Tafresh, Iran, and I Should Therefore Acknowledge Their Kind Support.Zibakalam Saeid - 1997 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 28 (2):337-357.
    Edinburgh School's theory of natural rationality, enunciated to render symmetrical explanation plausible, thereby providing support for its relativism, is presented and evaluated. I have endeavoured to demonstrate that there are gross misinterpretations of Hesse's theory of science, network model, and her conceptions of classification of objects and of universals; that Edinburgh School's theory of natural rationality suffers from a considerable area of ignorance concerning its foundation. I have further shown that not only the theory is not descriptive of the actuality (...)
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  49. O Que o Embuste de Sokal Nos Deve Ensinar. As Consequências Perniciosas e as Contradições Internas do Relativismo «Pós-Moderno».Paul Boghossian - 1997 - Disputatio 2 (1):1-14.
    No Outono de 1994 um físico teórico da Universidade de Nova Iorque, Alan Sokal, submeteu um ensaio à Social Text, a principal revista de estudos culturais. Intitulado “Transgressing the boundaries: Toward a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity” (“Transgredir fronteiras: para uma hermenêutica transformativa da gravidade quântica”), pretendia ser um artigo erudito sobre as implicações filosóficas e políticas “pós-modernas” das teorias da física do século XX. Contudo, como o próprio autor revelou mais tarde na revista Lingua Franca, o seu ensaio não (...)
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  50. Lakatos's Epistemic Aspirations.Jarret Leplin - 2001 - Theoria 16 (3):481-498.
    Imre Lakatos argued that a theory of scientific method must be empirical, and therefore self-applicable; the standards it imposes on scientific theories must be ones it satisfies itself. But in relying on this standard of self-referential consistency to protect his theory from criticism, Lakatos becomcs vulnerable to relativism. He escapes by hypothesizing that scientific changes which are methodologically progressive according to his theory are also progressive epistemically. The question is whethcr his theory of method has the resources to warrant this (...)
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