Relativism and anti-realism

Ratio 9 (1):68-77 (1996)
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Abstract

I characterise a relativist account of truth as one according to which the truth value of a sentence can vary without its meaning changing. Relativism is to be contrasted with absolutism, which states that the truth values of sentences cannot change, so long as their meanings remain constant. I argue that absolutism follows from the realist account of meaning and truth conditions. According to realism, the meaning of a sentence consists in objective truth conditions and sentences are true if and only if certain objective conditions obtain. Relativism is a consequence of anti‐realism. Anti‐realists believe that the meanings of sentences consist in recognisable conditions and that sentences are true if and only if certain recognisable conditions obtain. I contrast the sorts of relativism which results from partial, empiricism‐based anti‐realisms, and global anti‐realism, which is linked to a coherence theory of knowledge. I offer a few remarks on how global anti‐realists can restrict the scope of their relativism.

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James O. Young
University of Victoria

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