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Epistemic Relativism

Edited by Markus Seidel (Westfälische Wilhelms Universität, Münster)
Assistant editor: Charlott Becker (Westfälische Wilhelms Universität, 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 1996 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 1991 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. Souran Mardini (2013). The Threshold of Ignorance. Murat Center.
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Epistemic Relativism, Misc
  1. Robert Ackermann, Brian Baigrie, Harold I. Brown, Michael Cavanaugh, Paul Fox-Strangways, Gonzalo Munevar, Stephen David Ross, Philip Pettit, Paul Roth, Frederick Schmitt, Stephen Turner & Charles Wallis (1988). Responses to 'in Defense of Relativism'. Social Epistemology 2 (3):227 – 261.
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  2. Joyce Oldham Appleby (ed.) (1996). Knowledge and Postmodernism in Historical Perspective. Routledge.
    Knowledge and Postmodernism in Historical Perspective offers answers to the questions, what is postmodernism? and what exactly are the characteristics of the modernism that postmodernism supercedes? This comprehensive reader chronicles the western engagement with the nature of knowledge during the past four centuries while providing the historical context for the postmodernist thought of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty and Hayden White, and the challenges their ideas have posed to our conventional ways of thinking, writing and knowing. From the science (...)
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  3. Dave Baggett (2001). Epistemic Relativism and Socially Responsible Realism: A Few Responses to Linker. Social Epistemology 16 (2):169 – 175.
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  4. M. Baghramian (2010). 'Relativism: A Brief History. In Michael Kausz (ed.), Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology. Columbia University Press.
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  5. Maria Baghramian (2011). Constructed Worlds, Contested Truths. In Richard Schantz & Markus Seidel (eds.), The Problem of Relativism in the Sociology of (Scientific) Knowledge. Ontos.
  6. Maria Baghramian (2010). 'Relativism: A Brief History'. In Michael Kausz (ed.), Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology. Columbia University Press.
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  7. Maria Baghramian (2004). Relativism. Routledge.
    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 (...)
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  8. Nimrod Bar-Am (2003). The Dusk of Incommensurability. Social Epistemology 17 (2 & 3):111 – 114.
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  9. Barry Barnes & David Bloor (1982). Relativism, Rationalism and the Sociology of Knowledge. In Martin Hollis & Steven Lukes (eds.), Rationality and Relativism. Blackwell.
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  10. Donald K. Barry (1996). Forms of Life and Following Rules: A Wittgensteinian Defence of Relativism. E.J. Brill.
    This book provides a defence of epistemological relativism against its most powerful opponents.
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  11. José Benardete (1983). Rationality and Relativism. Review of Metaphysics 37 (1):122-124.
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  12. Lars Bergström (2006). Quine's Relativism. Theoria 72 (4):286-298.
  13. Richard J. Bernstein (1983). Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. University of Pennsylvania Press.
    "A fascinating and timely treatment of the objectivism versus relativism debates occurring in philosophy of science, literary theory, the social sciences, ...
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  14. Richard Bett (1989). The Sophists and Relativism. Phronesis 34 (1):139-169.
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  15. Akeel Bilgrami (2002). Realism and Relativism. Noûs 36 (s1):1-25.
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  16. Steven Bland (forthcoming). Incommensurability, Relativism, and The Epistemic Authority Of Science. Episteme:1-11.
  17. Steven Bland (2013). Scepticism, Relativism, and the Structure of Epistemic Frameworks. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (4):539-544.
  18. David Bloor (2011). Relativism and the Sociology of Knowledge. In Steven Hales (ed.), A Companion to Relativism.
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  19. David Bloor (2008). Relativism at 30,000 Feet. In Massimo Mazzotti (ed.), Knowledge as Social Order: Rethinking the Sociology of Barry Barnes.
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  20. David Bloor (2007). Epistemic Grace. Antirelativism as Theology in Disguise. Common Knowledge 13 (2-3):250-280.
  21. Paul Boghossian (2011). Three Kinds of Relativism. In Steven Hales (ed.), A Companion to Relativism. Blackwell.
    The paper looks at three big ideas that have been associated with the term “relativism.” The first maintains that some property has a higher-degree than might have been thought. The second that the judgments in a particular domain of discourse are capable only of relative truth and not of absolute truth (an idea that is sometimes associated with the idea of “faultless disagreement.”) And the third, which I dub with the oxymoronic label “absolutist relativism,” seeks to locate relativism in our (...)
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  22. Paul Boghossian (2010). Epistemic Relativism Defended. In Alvin I. Goldman & Dennis Whitcomb (eds.), Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. Oxford University Press.
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  23. Paul Boghossian (2008). Replies to Wright, MacFarlane and Sosa. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 141 (3):409-432.
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  24. Paul Boghossian (2006). What is Relativism? In Patrick Greenough & Michael Lynch (eds.), Truth and Relativism. Clarendon Press. 13--37.
    Many philosophers, however, have been tempted to be relativists about specific domains of discourse, especially about those domains that have a normative character. Gilbert Harman, for example, has defended a relativistic view of morality, Richard Rorty a relativistic view of epistemic justification, and Crispin Wright a relativistic view of judgments of taste.¹ But what exactly is it to be a relativist about a given domain of discourse? The term ‘‘relativism’’ has, of course, been used in a bewildering variety of senses (...)
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  25. Paul Artin Boghossian (2007). The Case Against Epistemic Relativism: Replies to Rosen and Neta. Episteme 4 (1):49-65.
    Unlike the relativistic theses drawn from physics, normative relativisms involve relativization not to frames of reference but to something like our standards, standards that we have to be able to think of ourselves as endorsing or accepting. Th us, moral facts are to be relativized to moral standards and epistemic facts to epistemic standards. But a moral standard in this sense would appear to be just a general moral proposition and an epistemic standard just a general epistemic proposition. Pulling off (...)
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  26. Paul Artin Boghossian (2006). Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism. Oxford University Press.
    Relativist and constructivist conceptions of truth and knowledge have become orthodoxy in vast stretches of the academic world in recent times. In his long-awaited first book, Paul Boghossian critically examines such views and exposes their fundamental flaws. Boghossian focuses on three different ways of reading the claim that knowledge is socially constructed--one as a thesis about truth and two about justification. And he rejects all three. The intuitive, common-sense view is that there is a way the world is that is (...)
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  27. James Robert Brown (1989). The Rational and the Social. Routledge.
    THE SOCIOLOGICAL TURN The problem we are concerned with is just this: How should we understand science? Are we to account for scientific knowledge (or ...
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  28. James Robert Brown (1984). Scientific Rationality: The Sociological Turn. D. Reidel Publishing Company.
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  29. James Robert Brown (1983). Rationality and Relativism Martin Hollis and Steven Lukes, Editors Oxford: Blackwell, 1982. Pp. 312. $34.25, Cloth; $18.25, Paper. [REVIEW] Dialogue 22 (02):369-371.
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  30. P. R. Brown (2001). Some Forms of Relativism. International Studies in Philosophy 33 (4):1-27.
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  31. Anthony Brueckner (1998). Conceptual Relativism. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 79 (4):295–301.
    What is conceptual relativism? Several formulations of the idea that truth, or existence, is somehow relative to conceptual schemes are considered. All are found lacking.
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  32. Robert E. Butts (1990). Philosophers as Professional Relativists. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 20 (4):617-624.
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  33. H. G. Callaway (2009). Fear of Knowledge, Against Relativism and Constructivism – by Paul Artin Boghossian. Dialectica 63 (3):357-360.
    My review of Boghossian's book, Fear of Knowledge, is generally sympathetic toward his rejection of epistemic relativism and turns toward an examination of "constructivist" themes in light of an anti-nominalist perspective. In general terms, this is a fine little book, tightly argued, and well worth considerable attention--especially from the friends of relativism and those supporting versions of constructivism. (Constructivism + radical nominalism = relativism.).
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  34. J. Adam Carter & Emma C. Gordon (2013). A New Maneuver Against the Epistemic Relativist. Synthese (8):1-13.
    Epistemic relativists often appeal to an epistemic incommensurability thesis. One notable example is the position advanced by Wittgenstein in On certainty (1969). However, Ian Hacking’s radical denial of the possibility of objective epistemic reasons for belief poses, we suggest, an even more forceful challenge to mainstream meta-epistemology. Our central objective will be to develop a novel strategy for defusing Hacking’s line of argument. Specifically, we show that the epistemic incommensurability thesis can be resisted even if we grant the very insights (...)
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  35. Luca Castagnoli (2007). Epistemology After Protagoras: Responses to Relativism in Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus, by Mi-Kyoung Lee. Ancient Philosophy 27 (2):405-418.
  36. Anjan Chakravartty (2004). Stance Relativism: Empiricism Versus Metaphysics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 35 (1):173-184.
    In The empirical stance, Bas van Fraassen argues for a reconceptualization of empiricism, and a rejection of its traditional rival, speculative metaphysics, as part of a larger and provocative study in epistemology. Central to his account is the notion of voluntarism in epistemology, and a concomitant understanding of the nature of rationality. In this paper I give a critical assessment of these ideas, with the ultimate goal of clarifying the nature of debate between metaphysicians and empiricists, and more specifically, between (...)
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  37. Timothy Chappell (2010). Mi-Kyoung Lee's Epistemology After Protagoras: Responses to Relativism in Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus. Philosophical Books 51 (2):117-125.
  38. Xiang Chen (1997). Thomas Kuhn's Latest Notion of Incommensurability. Journal for General Philosophy of Science 28 (2):257-273.
    To correct the misconception that incommensurability implies incomparability, Kuhn lately develops a new interpretation of incommensurability. This includes a linguistic theory of scientific revolutions (the theory of kinds), a cognitive exploration of the language learning process (the analogy of bilingualism), and an epistemological discussion on the rationality of scientific development (the evolutionary epistemology). My focus in this paper is to review Kuhn's effort in eliminating relativism, highlighting both the insights and the difficulties of his new version of incommensurability . Finally (...)
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  39. Stephen R. L. Clark (1992). Orwell and the Anti-Realists. Philosophy 67 (260):141 - 154.
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  40. Sharyn Clough (1998). A Hasty Retreat From Evidence: The Recalcitrance of Relativism in Feminist Epistemology. Hypatia 13 (4):88 - 111.
    While feminist epistemologists have made important contributions to the deconstruction of the traditional representationalist model, some elements of the Cartesian legacy remain. For example, relativism continues to play a role in the underdetermination thesis used by Longino and Keller. Both argue that because scientific theories are underdetermined by evidence, theory choice must be relative to interpretive frameworks. Utilizing Davidson's philosophy of language, I offer a nonrepresentationalist alternative to suggest how relativism can be more fully avoided.
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  41. Annalisa Coliva (2010). Was Wittgenstein an Epistemic Relativist? Philosophical Investigations 33 (1):1-23.
    The paper reviews the grounds for relativist interpretations of Wittgenstein's later thought, especially in On Certainty . It distinguishes between factual and virtual forms of epistemic relativism and argues that, on closer inspection, Wittgenstein's notes don't support any form of relativism – let it be factual or virtual. In passing, it considers also so-called "naturalist" readings of On Certainty , which may lend support to a relativist interpretation of Wittgenstein's ideas, finds them wanting, and recommends to interpret his positive proposal (...)
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  42. P. J. Crittenden (1987). Rationality and Relativism. Philosophical Studies 31:335-338.
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  43. Howard Darmstadter (2007). Relativism and Progress. Reason Papers (29):41-57.
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  44. Tamás Demeter (2013). Relativism for Philosophers and Sociologists. Metascience 22 (2):475-479.
    Review of Schantz, R./Seidel, M. (eds.): The Problem of Relativism in the Sociology of (Scientific) Knowledge, Frankfurt (Main): ontos.
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  45. Philip E. Devine (1984). Relativism. The Monist 67 (3):405-418.
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  46. Gerald Doppelt (2002). Review of Relativism and Reality and How Science Tracks Truth. [REVIEW] Philosophical Review 111 (1):142-147.
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  47. Gerald Doppelt (1988). The Philosophical Requirements for an Adequate Conception of Scientific Rationality. Philosophy of Science 55 (1):104-133.
    I argue that post-Kuhnian approaches to rational scientific change fail to appreciate several distinct philosophical requirements and relativist challenges that have been assumed to be, and may in fact be essential to any adequate conception of scientific rationality. These separate requirements and relativist challenges are clearly distinguished and motivated. My argument then focuses on Shapere's view that there are typically good reasons for scientific change. I argue: (1) that contrary to his central aim, his account of good reasons ultimately presupposes (...)
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  48. Gerald Doppelt (1986). Relativism and the Reticulational Model of Scientific Rationality. Synthese 69 (2):225 - 252.
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  49. Gerald Doppelt (1980). Ii. A Reply to Siegel on Kuhnian Relativism. Inquiry 23 (1):117 – 123.
    Siegel argues that the Kuhnian relativism presented in ?Kuhn's Epistemological Relativism? fails because it neglects the possibility of rational choice in science between rival paradigms? own incommensurable standards on the basis of ?paradigm?neutral external standards?. In reply, it is argued (1) that Siegel has given no reason to believe that there are such external standards in science, (2) that the mere ?possibility? of such standards in scientific debate is not sufficient to vitiate Kuhn's relativism, (3) that the actual existence of (...)
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