Relativism, Context, and Truth

The Monist 67 (3):341-358 (1984)
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Recently there has been a revival of philosophic interest in, and discussion of, ‘relativism’. Debates concerning relativism, however, tend to have an odd air of unreality. It is odd that while most everyone wants to refute relativism, just about no one wants to be identified as a relativist. There is even a tendency to use ‘relativist’ as an epithet of abuse. But, if relativism is universally acknowledged to be refuted, even self-refuting, then why is there so much discussion of it, and why is there such a temptation to accuse opponents of this sin? The answer to this question which I wish to propose in this paper is that there are two sources for this situation. First, the fact that while no one sees themselves as relativists, many are seen as relativists suggests that there is a fair amount of current confusion in regard to what precisely ‘relativism’ is. Whenever there is a high degree of disagreement about the extension of a term, especially a term used to describe a philosophical position, it is reasonable to investigate whether there is some equivocation in the use of that term. Such an equivocation by itself, however, would not account for the present state of affairs. That ‘relativism’ is only applied to opponents suggests that there is some similarity between ‘relativist* positions, in at least some senses of that word, and some other positions that people are interested in defending.



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The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.Mark Okrent - 1993 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 36 (4):381 – 404.

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