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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. B. Richard Beatch (1994). Epistemological Relativism: Nature and Problems. Dissertation, State University of New York at Buffalo
    Relativistic accounts of scientific knowledge have become more popular over the past thirty years than, perhaps, at any time previous to this. Ever since Kuhn offered his account of science in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the philosophy of science has had to contend with various accounts of scientific truth ranging from Kuhnian type positions to the most radical positions such as that of Feyerabend. Relativism has not simply been limited to the philosophy of science, however. More and more, thinkers (...)
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  2. D. O. D. (1961). Relativism, Knowledge and Faith. [REVIEW] Review of Metaphysics 15 (1):192-192.
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  3. Peter Dews (1984). Martin Hollis and Steven Lukes : Rationality and Relativism. [REVIEW] Radical Philosophy 38:34.
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  4. Ştefan Ghenea (2008). Relativism and Scientific Rationality. Annals of the University of Craiova, Series: Philosophy:166-174.
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  5. Robin Horton & Institut Universitaire D'études du Développement (1990). La Pensée Métisse Croyances Africaines Et Rationalité Occidentale En Questions. Monograph Collection (Matt - Pseudo).
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  6. David Lamb (1991). Science and Relativism. [REVIEW] Radical Philosophy 59.
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  7. A. Louch (1983). Martin Hollis and Steven Lukes, Eds., Rationality and Relativism. [REVIEW] Philosophy in Review 3:274-276.
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  8. Timothy Mark Mosteller (2002). Epistemological Relativism: Macintyre, Putnam and Rorty. Dissertation, University of Miami
    This work is a critical study of epistemological relativism in the philosophies of Alasdair MacIntyre, Hilary Putnam and Richard Rorty. First, I argue that epistemological relativism is highly problematic and ought to be rejected. Second, I present an exposition of the presence of epistemological relativism in the major works of MacIntyre, Putnam and Rorty. Third, I examine the three-way debate between these thinkers regarding the presence of epistemological relativism in their works. I argue that to the extent that each philosopher (...)
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  9. Jay Alan Newman (1971). An Examination of Humanistic Relativism. Dissertation, York University (Canada)
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  10. Yangjin Noh (1993). Relativism Without Confrontation: Putnam, Rorty, and Beyond. Dissertation, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
    The main purpose of this study is to explore and defend a form of relativism that avoids the mistaken dichotomy between objectivism and relativism. Challenges to objectivism in current philosophical discussions leave us with an intractable dilemma of choosing either objectivism or nihilistic relativism. A plausible solution to this problem is to find a middle ground that avoids both extremes, thereby facilitating a modified form of relativism. ;Two of the most important recent attempts to find such a middle ground--those of (...)
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  11. R. Phillips (1984). IFFORD, N. L.: "When in Rome: An Introduction to Relativism and Knowledge". [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62:192.
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  12. Harvey Siegel (1990). Relativism Refuted: A Critique of Contemporary Epistemological Relativism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50 (4):841-845.
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  13. Christina Slade (unknown). Conversing Across Communities:: Relativism and Difference. Analytic Teaching and Philosophical Praxis 17 (2):67-76.
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  14. David Turnbull (1984). Relativism, Reflexivity and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge. Metascience 1:47.
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  15. Robin West & Barbara Herrnstein Smith (1990). Relativism, Objectivity, and Law. Faculty of Law, University of Toronto.
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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. F. D' Agostino (1985). HITE, F. C.: "Knowledge and Relativism: An Essay in the Philosophy of Education". [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 63:110.
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  3. Majid Amini & Christopher Caldwell (2010). Does „One Cannot Know” Entail „Everyone is Right”? The Relationship Between Epistemic Scepticism and Relativism. Forum Philosophicum: International Journal for Philosophy 15 (1).
    The objective of the paper is to seek clarification on the relationship between epistemic relativism and scepticism. It is not infrequent to come across contemporary discussions of epistemic relativism that rely upon aspects of scepticism and, vice versa, discussions of scepticism drawing upon aspects of relativism. Our goal is to highlight the difference between them by illustrating that some arguments thought to be against relativism are actually against scepticism, that there are different ways of understanding the relationship between relativism and (...)
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  4. 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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  5. Raymond Aron (1959). Relativism in History. In Hans Meyerhoff (ed.), The Philosophy of History in Our Time. Garland. 153--161.
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  6. Dave Baggett (2001). Epistemic Relativism and Socially Responsible Realism: A Few Responses to Linker. Social Epistemology 16 (2):169 – 175.
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  7. M. Baghramian (2010). 'Relativism: A Brief History. In Michael Kausz (ed.), Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology. Columbia University Press.
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  8. Maria Baghramian (2011). Constructed Worlds, Contested Truths. In Richard Schantz & Markus Seidel (eds.), The Problem of Relativism in the Sociology of (Scientific) Knowledge. Ontos.
  9. Maria Baghramian (2010). 'Relativism: A Brief History'. In Michael Kausz (ed.), Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology. Columbia University Press.
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  10. Maria Baghramian (2008). Relativism About Science. In Martin Curd & Stathis Psillos (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Routledge. 236--47.
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  11. 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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  12. R. Bal (2005). Beyond Conceptual Relativism?(Re-Engaging Davidoson). Indian Philosophical Quarterly 32 (1/2).
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  13. Nimrod Bar-Am (2003). The Dusk of Incommensurability. Social Epistemology 17 (2 & 3):111 – 114.
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  14. Barry Barnes (2011). Relativism as a Completion of the Scientific Project. In Richard Schantz & Markus Seidel (eds.), The Problem of Relativism in the Sociology of (Scientific) Knowledge. ontos.
  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. Gordon C. F. Bearn (1985). Relativism and Realism: The Nature and Limits of Epistemological Relativity. Dissertation, Yale University
    I use a reading of Kuhn to sketch a form of relativism which maintains that what is considered reasonable to believe is relative to scientific traditions. This form of relativism is articulated by showing how it can be defended against criticisms from three different kinds of realism: convergent realism, metaphysical realism, and internal realism. This involves an interpretation of the work of H. Putnam and M. Dummett. Finally I consider the ancient charge that relativism is self-refuting. I argue that the (...)
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  18. R. R. Beatch (1996). Margolis's Moderate Relativism. Journal of Philosophical Research 21:81-94.
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  19. José Benardete (1983). Rationality and Relativism. Review of Metaphysics 37 (1):122-124.
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  20. Lars Bergström (2006). Quine's Relativism. Theoria 72 (4):286-298.
  21. 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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  22. Richard Bett (1989). The Sophists and Relativism. Phronesis 34 (1):139-169.
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  23. Akeel Bilgrami (2002). Realism and Relativism. Noûs 36 (s1):1-25.
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  24. Steven Bland (forthcoming). Incommensurability, Relativism, and The Epistemic Authority Of Science. Episteme:1-11.
  25. Steven Bland (2013). Scepticism, Relativism, and the Structure of Epistemic Frameworks. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (4):539-544.
    This paper has four aims: first, to outline the role of the sceptical problem of the criterion in the principal argument for epistemic relativism; second, to establish that methodist and particularist responses to the problem of the criterion do not, by themselves, constitute successful strategies for resisting epistemic relativism; third, to argue that a more fruitful strategy is to attempt to evaluate epistemic frameworks on the basis of the epistemic resources that they have in common; and finally, to make the (...)
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  26. David Bloor (2011). Relativism and the Sociology of Knowledge. In Steven Hales (ed.), A Companion to Relativism.
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  27. 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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  28. David Bloor (2007). Epistemic Grace. Antirelativism as Theology in Disguise. Common Knowledge 13 (2-3):250-280.
  29. 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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  30. Paul Boghossian (2010). Epistemic Relativism Defended. In Alvin I. Goldman & Dennis Whitcomb (eds.), Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. Oxford University Press.
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  31. Paul Boghossian (2008). Replies to Wright, MacFarlane and Sosa. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 141 (3):409-432.
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  32. 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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  33. Paul Boghossian (2001). How Are Objective Epistemic Reasons Possible? Philosophical Studies 106 (1-2):340-380.
    Epistemic relativism has the contemporary academy in its grip. Not merely in the United States, but seemingly everywhere, most scholars working in the humanities and the social sciences seem to subscribe to some form of it. Even where the label is repudiated, the view is embraced. Sometimes the relativism in question concerns truth, sometimes justification. The core impulse appears to be a relativism about knowledge. The suspicion is widespread that what counts as knowledge in one cultural, or broadly ideological, setting (...)
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  34. 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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  35. 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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