Relativism and expressivism offer two different semantic frameworks for grappling with a similar cluster of issues. What is the difference between these two frameworks? Should they be viewed as rivals? If so, how should we choose between them? This chapter sheds light on these questions. After providing an overview of relativism and expressivism, I discuss three potential choice points: their relation to truth conditional semantics, their pictures of belief and communication, and their explanations of disagreement.
Are our beliefs justified only relatively to a specific culture or society? Is it possible to give reasons for the superiority of our scientific, epistemic methods? Markus Seidel sets out to answer these questions in his critique of epistemic relativism. Focusing on the work of the most prominent, explicitly relativist position in the sociology of scientific knowledge – so-called 'Edinburgh relativism' or the 'Strong Programme' –, he scrutinizes the key arguments for epistemic relativism from a philosophical perspective: (...) underdetermination and norm-circularity. His main negative result is that these arguments fall short of establishing epistemic relativism. -/- Despite arguing for epistemic absolutism, Seidel aims to provide an account of non-relative justification that nevertheless integrates the basic, correct intuition of the epistemic relativist. His main positive result is that the epistemic absolutist can very well accept the idea that people using different standards of justification can be equally justified in holding their beliefs: Rational disagreement, he maintains, is perfectly possible. -/- The book provides a detailed critique of relativism in the sociology of scientific knowledge and beyond. With its constructive part it aims at making conciliatory steps in a highly embittered discussion between sociology and philosophy of science. (shrink)
This paper is about two topics: metaepistemological absolutism and the epistemic principles governing perceptual warrant. Our aim is to highlight—by taking the debate between dogmatists and conservativists about perceptual warrant as a case study—a surprising and hitherto unnoticed problem with metaepistemological absolutism, at least as it has been influentially defended by Paul Boghossian as the principal metaepistemological contrast point to relativism. What we find is that the metaepistemological commitments at play on both sides of this dogmatism/conservativism debate do not (...) line up with epistemic relativism nor do they line up with absolutism, at least as Boghossian articulates this position. What this case study reveals is the need in metaepistemological option space for the recognition of a weaker and less tendentious form of absolutism, what we call “environment relativism”. On this view, epistemic principles are knowable, objective, and they can serve as the basis of particular epistemic evaluations, but their validity is relative to the wider global environment in which they are applied. (shrink)
The relativist's central objection to contextualism is that it fails to account for the disagreement we perceive in discourse about "subjective" matters, such as whether stewed prunes are delicious. If we are to adjudicate between contextualism and relativism, then, we must first get clear about what it is for two people to disagree. This question turns out to be surprisingly difficult to answer. A partial answer is given here; although it is incomplete, it does help shape what the relativist (...) must say if she is to do better than the contextualist in securing genuine disagreement. (shrink)
Relativism has been, in its various guises, both one of the most popular and most reviled philosophical doctrines of our time. Defenders see it as a harbinger of tolerance and the only ethical and epistemic stance worthy of the open-minded and tolerant. Detractors dismiss it for its alleged incoherence and uncritical intellectual permissiveness. Debates about relativism permeate the whole spectrum of philosophical sub-disciplines. From ethics to epistemology, science to religion, political theory to ontology, theories of meaning and even (...) logic, philosophy has felt the need to respond to this heady and seemingly subversive idea. Discussions of relativism often also invoke considerations relevant to the very nature and methodology of philosophy and to the division between the so-called “analytic and continental” camps in philosophy. And yet, despite a long history of debate going back to Plato and an increasingly large body of writing, it is still difficult to come to an agreed definition of what, at its core, relativism is, and what philosophical import it has. This entry attempts to provide a broad account of the many ways in which “relativism” has been defined, explained, defended and criticized. (shrink)
Plato argues, at Theaetetus 170e-171c, that Protagoras’ relativism is self-refuting. This argument, known as the ‘exquisite argument’, and its merits have been the subject of much controversy over the past few decades. Burnyeat (1976b) has argued in defense of Plato’s argument, but his reconstruction of the argument has been criticized as question-begging. After offering an interpretation of Protagoras’ relativism, I argue that the exquisite argument is successful, for reasons that Burnyeat hints at but fails to develop sufficiently. I (...) consider Protagorean relativism under both of the two possible readings with respect to its scope: global relativism, according to which all truths are only relatively true, and qualified relativism, according to which the relativistic thesis itself is excepted. Taking into consideration some contemporary work on relativism and self-refutation, I show that Plato’s argument succeeds on both of these readings. Given that Protagoras could avoid self-contradiction simply by denying that an enduring subject exists, I argue that the exquisite argument is best understood as confronting Protagoras with a dilemma between self-contradiction and self-defeat of various sorts, all of which lead to the same result, that Protagoras violates the requirements of rational discourse in such a way that he becomes an absurd figure who has nothing to say to us. (shrink)
Cappelen and Hawthorne present a powerful critique of fashionable relativist accounts of truth, and the foundational ideas in semantics on which the new relativism draws. They argue compellingly that the contents of thought and talk are propositions that instantiate the fundamental monadic properties of truth and falsity.
Some Key Controversies in the Philosophy of Science Larry Laudan. the mouths of my realist, relativist, and positivist. (By contrast, there is at least one person who hews to the line I have my prag- matist defending.) But I have gone to some ...
There are a number of debates that are relevant to questions concerning objectivity in science. One of the eldest, and still one of the most intensely fought, is the debate over epistemic relativism. —All forms of epistemic relativism commit themselves to the view that it is impossible to show in a neutral, non-question-begging, way that one “epistemic system”, that is, one interconnected set of epistemic standards, is epistemically superior to others. I shall call this view “No-metajustification”. No-metajustification is (...) commonly taken to deny the objectivity of standards. In this paper I shall discuss two currently popular attempts to attack “No-metajustification”. The first attempt attacks no-metajustification by challenging a particular strategy of arguing in its defence: this strategy involves the ancient Pyrrhonian “Problem of the Criterion”. The second attempt to refute No-metajustification targets its metaphysical underpinning: to wit, the claim that there are, or could be, several fundamentally different and irreconcilable epistemic systems. I shall call this assumption “Pluralism”. I shall address three questions with respect to these attempts to refute epistemic relativism by attacking no-metajustification: Can the epistemic relativist rely on the Problem of the Criterion in support of No-metajustification? Is a combination of Chisholmian “particularism” and epistemic naturalism an effective weapon against No-metajustification? And is Pluralism a defensible assumption? (shrink)
In Foundations for Moral Relativism, J. David Velleman shows that different communities can indeed be subject to incompatible moralities, because their local mores are rationally binding. At the same time, he explains why the mores of different communities, even when incompatible, are still variations on the same moral themes. The book thus maps out a universe of many moral worlds without, as Velleman puts it, "moral black holes”. The five self-standing chapters discuss such diverse topics as online avatars and (...) virtual worlds, lying in Russian and truth-telling in Quechua, the pleasure of solitude and the fear of absurdity. Accessibly written, Foundations for Moral Relativism presupposes no prior training in philosophy. (shrink)
The beginning of the twenty-first century saw something of a comeback for relativism within analytical philosophy. Relativism and Monadic Truth has three main goals. First, we wished to clarify what we take to be the key moving parts in the intellectual machinations of self-described relativists. Secondly, we aimed to expose fundamental flaws in those argumentative strategies that drive the pro-relativist movement and precursors from which they draw inspiration. Thirdly, we hoped that our polemic would serve as an indirect (...) defence of a traditional and natural picture concerning truth. According to this picture, what we call ‘Simplicity’, the fundamental structure of semantic reality is best revealed by construing truth as a simple monadic property of propositions that serve as the objects of belief, assertion, meaning and agreement. Our project was not a straightforward one. So-called relativists are not uniform in their key ideology, are often sloppy, casual, obscure or confused in their self-characterization, and differ in their argumentative emphasis among themselves and over time, thereby presenting a target that is both amorphous and shifty. This is an area where parties will frequently claim not to understand each other and where certain parties will sometimes accuse others of failing to make any sense at all. In such a situation, any effort to impose order will inevitably strike some parties as tendentious and unfair. That said, we felt that we had enough of …. (shrink)
Moral relativism is an important topic in metaethics. It is also widely discussed outside philosophy (for example, by political and religious leaders), and it is controversial among philosophers and nonphilosophers alike. This is perhaps not surprising in view of recent evidence that people's intuitions about moral relativism vary widely. Though many philosophers are quite critical of moral relativism, there are several contemporary philosophers who defend forms of it. These include such prominent figures as Gilbert Harman, Jesse J. (...) Prinz, J. David Velleman and David B. Wong. The term ‘moral relativism’ is understood in a variety of ways. Most often it is associated with an empirical thesis that there are deep and widespread moral disagreements and a metaethical thesis that the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to the moral standard of some person or group of persons. Sometimes ‘moral relativism’ is connected with a normative position about how we ought to think about or act towards those with whom we morally disagree, most commonly that we should tolerate them. (shrink)
This enlightening new introduction examines the history and development of moral relativism, considering the arguments for and against, and also covering such key topics as terrorism, and the rights of women in oppressive cultures.
This chapter explores arguments, ideas, and practices related to relativism in social and cultural anthropology. It covers discussions about cultural relativism, methodological relativism, conceptual relativism, relativism about rationality, moral relativism, epistemic relativism, and ontological relativism.
'Relativism versus absolutism' is one of the fundamental oppositions that have dominated reflections about science for much of its history. Often these reflections have been inseparable from wider social-political concerns regarding the position of science in society. Where does this debate stand in the philosophy and sociology of science today? And how does the 'relativism question' relate to current concerns with 'post truth' politics? In Relativism in the Philosophy of Science, Martin Kusch examines some of the most (...) influential relativist proposals of the last fifty years, and the controversies they have triggered. He argues that defensible forms of relativism all deny that any sense can be made of a scientific result being absolutely true or justified, and that they all reject 'anything goes' – that is the thought that all scientific results are epistemically on a par. Kusch concludes by distinguishing between defensible forms of relativism and post-truth thinking. (shrink)
I begin with some familiar conceptions of epistemic relativism. One kind of epistemic relativism is descriptive pluralism. This is the simple, non-normative thesis that many different communities, cultures, social networks, etc. endorse different epistemic systems (E-systems), i.e., different sets of norms, standards, or principles for forming beliefs and other doxastic states. Communities try to guide or regulate their members’ credence-forming habits in a variety of different, i.e., incompatible, ways. Although there may be considerable overlap across cultures in certain (...) types of epistemic norms (e.g., norms for perceptual belief), there are sharp differences across groups in other types of epistemic norms. (shrink)
ABSTRACT Contemporary relativists often see their view as contributing to a semantic/post-semantic account of linguistic data about disagreement and retraction. I offer an independently motivated metasemantic account of the same data, that also handles a number of cases and empirical results that are problematic for the relativist. The key idea is that the content of assertions and beliefs is determined in part by facts about other times, including times after the assertion is made or the belief is formed. On this (...) temporal externalist view, speaker behaviours such as retraction of previous assertions play a role in making it the case that a past utterance has a given meaning. (shrink)
Are there absolute truths that can be gradually approached over time through rational processes? Or are all modes and systems of thought equally valid if viewed from within their own internally consistent frames of reference? Are there universal forms of reasoning and understanding that enable us to distinguish between rational beliefs and those that are demonstrably false, or is everything relative?These central questions are addressed and debated by the distinguished contributors to this lively book. Some of them - Hollis, Lukes, (...) Robin Horton, and Ernest Gellner - discuss new directions in their thinking since their earlier articles appeared in 1970 in the seminal volume Rationality. They are now joined in the debate by Ian Hacking, W. Newton-Smith, Charles Taylor, Jon Elster, Dan Sperber, and, in the jointly authored lead article, by Barry Barnes and David Bloor.Emerging from the debate are a variety of supportable interpretations and conclusions rather than a single, distinct "truth." The contributors represent the complete spectrum of positions between a relativism that challenges the very concept of a single world and the idea that there are ascertainable, objective universals. (shrink)
We advance an approach to logical contexts that grounds the claim that logic is a local matter: distinct contexts require distinct logics. The approach results from a concern about context individuation, and holds that a logic may be constitutive of a context or domain of application. We add a naturalistic component: distinct domains are more than mere technical curiosities; as intuitionistic mathematics testifies, some of the distinct forms of inference in different domains are actively pursued as legitimate fields of research (...) in current mathematics, so, unless one is willing to revise the current scientific practice, generalism must go. The approach is advanced by discussing some tenets of a similar argument advanced by Shapiro, in the context of logic as models approach. In order to make our view more appealing, we reformulate a version of logic as models approach following naturalistic lines, and bring logic closer to the use of models in science. (shrink)
Aggregative moral theories face a series of devastating problems when we apply them in a physically realistic setting. According to current physics, our universe is likely _infinitely large_, and will contain infinitely many morally valuable events. But standard aggregative theories are ill-equipped to compare outcomes containing infinite total value so, applied in a realistic setting, they cannot compare any outcomes a real-world agent must ever choose between. This problem has been discussed extensively, and non-standard aggregative theories proposed to overcome it. (...) This paper addresses a further problem of similar severity. Physics tells us that, in our universe, how remotely in time an event occurs is _relative_. But our most promising aggregative theories, designed to compare outcomes containing infinitely many valuable events, are sensitive to how remote in time those events are. As I show, the evaluations of those theories are then relative too. But this is absurd; evaluations of outcomes must be absolute. So we must reject such theories. Is this objection fatal for all aggregative theories, at least in a relativistic universe like ours? I demonstrate here that, by further modifying these theories to fit with the physics, we can overcome it. (shrink)
My thesis is that morality arises when a group of people reach an implicit agreement or come to a tacit understanding about their relations with one another. Part of what I mean by this is that moral judgments - or, rather, an important class of them - make sense only in relation to and with reference to one or another such agreement or understanding. This is vague, and I shall try to make it more precise in what follows. But it (...) should be clear that I intend to argue for a version of what has been called moral relativism. (shrink)
John MacFarlane has formulated a version of truth-relativism, and argued for its application in some cases – future contingents, knowledge attributions and epistemic modals among them. Mark Richard also defends a version of relativism, which he applies to vagueness-inducing features of the semantics of gradable adjectives. On MacFarlane’s and Richard’s characterization, truth-relativist claims posit a distinctive kind of context-dependence, the dependence of the evaluation of an assertion as true or otherwise on aspects of the context of the evaluation (...) itself – in contrast with the context of the assertion. The paper follows Evans in distinguishing two forms of truth-relativism, a moderate one concerning the evaluation of contents or propositions, an a radical one concerning the evaluation of acts; it argues against Richard’s truth-relativist proposals for gradable adjective, which is understood to be of the second kind, while accepting a form of moderate content-relativism for those cases. (shrink)
This book provides an analysis of the debate surrounding cultural diversity, and attempts to reconcile the seemingly opposing views of "ethical imperialism," the belief that each individual is entitled to fundamental human rights, and cultural relativism, the belief that ethics must be relative to particular cultures and societies. The author examines the role of cultural tradition, often used as a defense against critical ethical judgments. Key issues in health and medicine are explored in the context of cultural diversity: the (...) physician-patient relationship, disclosing a diagnosis of a fatal illness, informed consent, brain death and organ transplantation, rituals surrounding birth and death, female genital mutilation, sex selection of offspring, fertility regulation, and biomedical research involving human subjects. Among the conclusions the author reaches are that ethical universals exist, but must not be confused with ethical absolutes. The existence of ethical universals is compatible with a variety of culturally relative interpretations, and some rights related to medicine and health care should be considered human rights. Illustrative examples are drawn from the author's experiences serving on international ethical review committees and her travels to countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where she conducted educational workshops and carried out out her own research. (shrink)
Relativism, an ancient philosophical doctrine, is once again a topic of heated debate. In this book, Maria Baghramian and Annalisa Coliva present the recent arguments for and against various forms of relativism. -/- The first two chapters introduce the conceptual and historical contours of relativism. These are followed by critical investigations of relativism about truth, conceptual relativism, epistemic relativism, and moral relativism. The concluding chapter asks whether it is possible to make sense of (...)relativism as a philosophical thesis. -/- The book introduces readers to the main types of relativism and the arguments in their favor. It also goes beyond the expository material to engage in more detailed critical responses to the key positions and authors under discussion. -/- Including chapter summaries, suggestions for further reading, and a glossary, Relativism is essential reading for students of philosophy as well as those in related disciplines where relativism is studied, such as anthropology, sociology, and politics. (shrink)
I investigate the implication of the truth-relativist’s alleged ‘ faultless disagreements’ for issues in the epistemology of disagreement. A conclusion I draw is that the type of disagreement the truth-relativist claims to preserve fails in principle to be epistemically significant in the way we should expect disagreements to be in social-epistemic practice. In particular, the fact of faultless disagreement fails to ever play the epistemically significant role of making doxastic revision rationally required for either party in a disagreement. That the (...) truth-relativists’ disagreements over centred content fail to play this epistemically significant role that disagreements characteristically play in social epistemology should leave us sceptical that disagreement is what the truth-relativist has actually preserved. (shrink)
Relativism is central to the social sciences for the simple reason that customs and morals are diverse, and explaining this diversity is one of its major tasks. The explanations have relativistic implications, but they vary according to the type of explanation. In the nineteenth century evolutionary explanations dominated: differences were relative to stages. The social determination of ideas followed from these accounts, but could be logically separated from them. In the twentieth century, accounts based on the culture concept, understood (...) loosely in neo-Kantian terms as a matter of different shared presuppositions, dominated. This conception informed a relativistic methodological approach to history and disciplinary differences, exemplified in the methodological writings of Max Weber, where they were related to values. This was more radical, in the sense that there was no further explanation of the presuppositions. They simply differed. As this conception was expanded into the epistemic realm, it became even more radical, by being applied to science itself. The “Strong Programme in the sociology of science” observed a principle of symmetry, which held that true and false scientific beliefs needed to be explained using the same explanatory tools. In each of these cases problems of reflexivity and self-undermining played a role. (shrink)
I argue that relativists about aesthetic and other evaluative language face some of the same objections as non-naturalists in ethics. These objections concern the metaphysics required to make it work. Unlike contextualists, relativists believe that evaluative propositions are not about the relation in which things stand to certain standards. Nevertheless, the truth of such propositions would depend on variable standards. I argue that relativism requires the existence of states of affairs very different from other things known to exist. Furthermore, (...) there seems to be no convincing reason to postulate such entities. However, if they do not exist, then relativism leads to an error theory. That is unattractive, as relativism was meant to preserve the truth of many evaluative claims. (shrink)
The main purpose of this paper is to characterize and compare two forms any relativist thesis can take: indexical relativism and genuine relativism. Indexical relativists claim that the implicit indexicality of certain sentences is the only source of relativity. Genuine relativists, by contrast, claim that there is relativity not just at the level of sentences, but also at propositional level. After characterizing each of the two forms and discussing their difficulties, I argue that the difference between the two (...) is significant. (shrink)
Relativism entails that sentences like ‘Liquorice is tasty’ are used to assert relativistic propositions—that is, propositions whose truth-value is relative to a taste standard. I will defend this view against two objections. According to the first objection, relativism is incompatible with a Stalnakerian account of assertion. I will show that this objection fails because Stalnakerian assertions are proposals rather than attempts to update the common ground. According to the second objection, relativism problematically predicts that we can correctly (...) assess beliefs as false but faultless. I will show that it doesn't. Such assessments come out as incorrect because correct relativistic assertion requires the absence of a presupposition of non-commonality. (shrink)
Moral relativism attracts and repels. What is defensible in it and what is to be rejected? Do we as human beings have no shared standards by which we can understand one another? Can we abstain from judging one another's practices? Do we truly have divergent views about what constitutes good and evil, virtue and vice, harm and welfare, dignity and humiliation, or is there some underlying commonality that trumps it all? These questions turn up everywhere, from Montaigne's essay on (...) cannibals, to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, to the debate over female genital mutilation. They become ever more urgent with the growth of mass immigration, the rise of religious extremism, the challenges of Islamist terrorism, the rise of identity politics, and the resentment at colonialism and the massive disparities of wealth and power between North and South. Are human rights and humanitarian interventions just the latest form of cultural imperialism? By what right do we judge particular practices as barbaric? Who are the real barbarians? In this provocative new book, the distinguished social theorist Steven Lukes takes an incisive and enlightening look at these and other challenging questions and considers the very foundations of what we believe, why we believe it, and whether there is a profound discord between "us" and "them.". (shrink)
In this volume Rorty offers a Deweyan account of objectivity as intersubjectivity, one that drops claims about universal validity and instead focuses on utility for the purposes of a community. The sense in which the natural sciences are exemplary for inquiry is explicated in terms of the moral virtues of scientific communities rather than in terms of a special scientific method. The volume concludes with reflections on the relation of social democratic politics to philosophy.
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 to incommensurability based on the causal theory of reference of Kripke and Putnam. A form of relativism with respect to epistemic rationality may also be derived from the claims of Kuhn and Feyerabend about methodological variation. Kuhn’s initial suggestions about paradigm-dependent standards and absence of extra-paradigmatic standards give rise to a view on which rationality is relative to paradigm. Kuhn’s later view that there is a stable set of shared scientific values is less prone to relativistic interpretation. Feyerabend’s claim that “anything goes” suggests an extreme form of relativism, but should be understood instead as the view that all rules of method may be violated in some circumstances. The latter brings Feyerabend’s view into line with Kuhn’s later view. (shrink)
In the pair of articles of which this is the second, I present a set of problems and philosophical proposals that have in recent years been associated with the term “relativism”. These problems are related to the question of how we should represent thought and speech about certain topics. The main issue is whether we should model such mental states or linguistic acts as involving representational contents that are absolutely correct or incorrect, or whether, alternatively, their correctness should be (...) thought of as varying with some (more or less surprising) factor. In the first article, “Relativism 1: Representational Content”, I discussed the general issue of relativism about representational content. I argued for the conciliatory view that both relativist and absoutist conceptions of representational content can be legitimate. In the present continuation, I look in more detail at a special case of the general issue, namely the question of whether semantic contents, i.e. the contents assigned to linguistic utterances in the semantics of natural language, should be construed in an absolutist or in a relativist way. (shrink)
According to moral relativism, there is not a single true morality. There are a variety of possible moralities or moral frames of reference, and whether something is morally right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust, etc. is a relative matter—relative to one or another morality or moral frame of reference. Something can be morally right relative to one moral frame of reference and morally wrong relative to another. It is useful to compare moral relativism to other (...) relativisms. One possible comparison is with motion relativism. There is no such thing as absolute motion or absolute rest. Whether something is moving or at rest is relative to a spatio-temporal frame of reference. Something may be at rest in one frame of reference and moving in another. There is no such thing as absolute motion and absolute rest, but we can make do with relative motion and rest. Similarly, moral relativism is the view that, although there is no such thing as absolute right and wrong, we can make do with relative right and wrong. (shrink)
Relativists make room for the possibility of “faultless disagreement” by positing the existence of subjective propositions, i.e. propositions true from some points of view and not others. We discuss whether the adoption of this position with respect to a certain domain of discourse is compatible with a realist attitude towards the matters arising in that domain. At first glance, the combination of relativism and realism leads to an unattractive metaphysical picture on which reality comprises incoherent facts. We will sketch (...) the contours of a realist-relativist position called “subjectivism”, which avoids this result by giving up the assumption that the points of view of different subjects are all metaphysically “on a par”. (shrink)
Although moral relativists often appeal to cases of apparent moral disagreement between members of different communities to motivate their view, accounting for these exchanges as evincing genuine disagreements constitutes a challenge to the coherence of moral relativism. While many moral relativists acknowledge this problem, attempts to solve it so far have been wanting. In response, moral relativists either give up the claim that there can be moral disagreement between members of different communities or end up with a view on (...) which these disagreements have no “epistemic significance” because they are always faultless. This paper introduces an alternative strategy: accounting for disagreement in terms of “metalinguistic negotiation”. It argues that this strategy constitutes a better solution to the challenge disagreement poses for moral relativists because it leads to a nuanced understanding of the epistemic significance of moral disagreement between members of different communities. The upshot is a novel account of disagreement for moral relativists that has consequences for how moral relativism should be understood. (shrink)
In this paper I refute the chief arguments for cultural relativism, meaning the moral (not the descriptive) theory that goes by that name. In doing this I walk some oft-trodden paths, but I also break new ones. For instance, I take unusual pains to produce an adequate formulation of cultural relativism, and I distinguish that thesis from the relativism of present-day anthropologists, with which it is often conflated. In addition, I address not one or two, but eleven (...) arguments for cultural relativism, many of which contribute to its popularity but receive scant attention from its critics. To elicit the failings of these arguments I deploy a host of pertinent but often neglected distinctions. (shrink)
Do moral questions have objective answers? In this great debate, Gilbert Harman explains and argues for relativism, emotivism, and moral scepticism. In his view, moral disagreements are like disagreements about what to pay for a house; there are no correct answers ahead of time, except in relation to one or another moral framework. Independently, Judith Jarvis Thomson examines what she takes to be the case against moral objectivity, and rejects it; she argues that it is possible to find out (...) the correct answers to some moral questions. In her view, some moral disagreements are like disagreements about whether the house has a ghost. Harman and Thomson then reply to each other. This important, lively accessible exchange will be invaluable to all students of moral theory and meta-ethics. (shrink)
This paper explores the relationship between scepticism and epistemic relativism in the context of recent history and philosophy of science. More specifically, it seeks to show that significant treatments of epistemic relativism by influential figures in the history and philosophy of science draw upon the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. The paper begins with a presentation of the problem of the criterion as it occurs in the work of Sextus Empiricus. It is then shown that significant treatments of (...) epistemic relativism in recent history and philosophy of science (critical rationalism, historical philosophy of science and the strong programme) draw upon the problem of the criterion. It is briefly suggested that a particularist response to the problem of the criterion may be put to good use against epistemic relativism. (shrink)
Assessment relativism, as developed by John MacFarlane, is the view that the truth of our claims involving a variety of English expressions—‘tasty’, ‘knows’, ‘tomorrow’, ‘might’, and ‘ought’—is relative not only to aspects of the context of their production but also to aspects of the context in which they are assessed. Assessment relativism is thus a form of truth relativism which is offered as a new way of understanding perspectival thought and talk. In this article, I present the (...) main theses of assessment relativism, focusing in particular on highlighting the points of commonality and contrast with other forms of truth relativism. I then offer some critical remarks concerning the motivation of assessment relativism in relation to matters of taste. (shrink)
In this paper we discuss a phenomenon we call perspectival plurality, which has gone largely unnoticed in the current debate between relativism and contextualism about predicates of personal taste. According to perspectival plurality, the truth value of a sentence containing more than one PPT may depend on more than one perspective. Prima facie, the phenomenon engenders a problem for relativism and can be shaped into an argument in favor of contextualism. We explore the consequences of perspectival plurality in (...) depth and assess several possible responses on behalf of advocates of relativism. (shrink)
The “ontological turn” is a recent movement within cultural anthropology. Its proponents want to move beyond a representationalist framework, where cultures are treated as systems of belief that provide different perspectives on a single world. Authors who write in this vein move from talk of many cultures to many “worlds,” thus appearing to affirm a form of relativism. We argue that, unlike earlier forms of relativism, the ontological turn in anthropology is not only immune to the arguments of (...) Donald Davidson’s “The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” but it affirms and develops the antirepresentationalist position of Davidson’s subsequent essays. (shrink)
The grand and sweeping claims of many relativists might seem to amount to the argument that everything is relative--except the thesis of relativism. In this book, Steven Hales defends relativism, but in a more circumscribed form that applies specifically to philosophical propositions. His claim is that philosophical propositions are relatively true--true in some perspectives and false in others. Hales defends this argument first by examining rational intuition as the method by which philosophers come to have the beliefs they (...) do. Analytic rationalism, he claims, has a foundational reliance on rational intuition as a method of acquiring basic beliefs. He then argues that there are other methods that people use to gain beliefs about philosophical topics that are strikingly analogous to rational intuition and examines two of these: Christian revelation and the ritual use of hallucinogens. Hales argues that rational intuition is not epistemically superior to either of these alternative methods. There are only three possible outcomes: we have no philosophical knowledge ; there are no philosophical propositions ; or there are knowable philosophical propositions, but our knowledge of them is relative to doxastic perspective. Hales defends relativism against the charge that it is self-refuting and answers a variety of objections to this account of relativism. Finally, he examines the most sweeping objection to relativism: that philosophical propositions are not merely relatively true, because there are no philosophical propositions--all propositions are ultimately empirical, as the naturalists contend. Hales's somewhat disturbing conclusion--that intuition-driven philosophy does produce knowledge, but not absolute knowledge--is sure to inspire debate among philosophers. (shrink)
Many philosophers, in different areas, are tempted by what variously goes under the name of Contextualism, Speaker Relativism, Indexical Relativism. (I’ll just use Indexical Relativism in this paper.) Thinking of certain problematic expressions as deriving their content from elements of the context of use solves some problems. But it faces some problems of its own, and in this paper I’m interested in one in particular, namely, the problem of disagreement. Two alternative theories, tempting for just the same (...) kinds of expressions as Indexical Relativism is meant to handle, promise to solve the problem of disagreement. I’ll argue that they do not live up to their promise. At the end of the paper, I’ll ask what exactly disagreement amounts to, and I’ll canvass some purported solutions. (shrink)
Relativism, roughly put, is the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them. More precisely, ‘relativism’ covers views which maintain that—at a level of high abstraction—at least some class of things have properties they have not simpliciter, but only relative to a given framework of assessment, and correspondingly, that the (...) truth of claims attributing these properties holds only once the relevant framework of assessment is specified or supplied. Relativists characteristically insist, furthermore, that if something is only relatively so, then there can be no framework-independent vantage point from which the matter of whether the thing in question is so can be established. Relativism has been, in its various guises, both one of the most popular and most reviled philosophical doctrines of our time. Defenders see it as a harbinger of tolerance and the only ethical and epistemic stance worthy of the open-minded and tolerant. Detractors dismiss it for its alleged incoherence and uncritical intellectual permissiveness. Debates about relativism permeate the whole spectrum of philosophical sub-disciplines. From ethics to epistemology, science to religion, political theory to ontology, theories of meaning and even logic, philosophy has felt the need to respond to this heady and seemingly subversive idea. Discussions of relativism often also invoke considerations relevant to the very nature and methodology of philosophy and to the division between the so-called ‘analytic and continental’ camps in philosophy. And yet, despite a long history of debate going back to Plato and a still developing large body of writing, it is still difficult to come to an agreed definition of what, at its core, relativism is, and what philosophical import it has. This entry attempts to provide a broad account of the many ways in which ‘relativism’ has been defined, explained, defended and criticized. (shrink)
Beginning with a historical overview of relativism, from Pythagoras in ancient Greece to Derrida and postmodernism, Maria Baghramian explores the resurgence of relativism throughout the history of philosophy. She then turns to the arguments for and against the many subdivisions of relativism, including Kuhn and Feyerabend's ideas of relativism in science, Rorty's relativism about truth, and the conceptual relativism of Quine and Putnam. Baghramian questions whether moral relativism leads to moral indifference or even (...) nihilism, and whether feminist epistemology's concerns about the very notion of objectivity can be considered a form of relativism. She concludes the relativism debate by assessing the recent criticisms such as Quine's argument from translation and Davidson's claim that even the motivations behind relativism are unintelligible. Finding these criticisms lacking, Baghramian proposes a moderate form of pluralism which addresses the legitimate worries that give rise to relativism without incurring charges of nihilism or anarchy. (shrink)
This paper presents reasons against semantic relativism. Semantic relativism is motivated by intuitions that are presumed to raise problems for traditional or contextualist semantics in contested domains of discourse. Intuition-based arguments are those based on competent speakers’ putative intuitions about seeming faultless disagreement, eavesdropper, and retraction cases. I will organize the discussion in three parts. First, I shall provide a brief introduction to the intuition-based arguments offered in favor of semantic relativism. Second, I shall indicate that there (...) are ways for contextualism to explain the (appearance of) intuitions that support semantic relativism. Third, I shall review some experimental results and independent arguments that put into question the appeal of semantic relativism. (shrink)