Epistemic Relativism

Edited by Markus Seidel (University of Münster)
Assistant editor: Charlott Becker (University of 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 1962 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. Are Knowledge Ascriptions Sensitive to Social Context?Alexander Jackson - manuscript
    Plausibly, the stakes in a practical task at hand can affect how generously or stringently people ascribe knowledge. I propose a new psychological account of the effect. My hypothesis is motivated by empirical research on how people’s judgements are sensitive to their social context. Specifically, people’s evaluations are sensitive to their ‘psychological distance’ from the scenarios they are considering. When using ‘fixed-evidence probes’, experimental philosophy has found that what’s at stake for a fictional character in a fictional scenario has little (...)
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  2. Aspectos epistemológicos y ético-políticos sobre la aplicación de vacunas en contextos plurales.Mónica Gómez - 2018 - Horizontes Filosóficos 8 (8):63-80.
    From the refusal of some parents to apply some vaccines to their children, in this work we will show that to act properly it is not enough with a good intellectual justification to validate a belief as accurate, it will be necessary to take into account also the systematic actions in relation to which we are constituted, as well as the feelings that accompany those actions. We begin by exposing the notion of belief that Villoro presents from authors such as (...)
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  3. Scientific Perspectives, Feminist Standpoints, and Non-Silly Relativism.Natalie Ashton - 2020 - In Michela Massimi (ed.), Knowledge From a Human Point of View. Springer Verlag.
    Defences of perspectival realism are motivated, in part, by an attempt to find a middle ground between the realist intuition that science seems to tell us a true story about the world, and the Kuhnian intuition that scientific knowledge is historically and culturally situated. The first intuition pulls us towards a traditional, absolutist scientific picture, and the second towards a relativist one. Thus, perspectival realism can be seen as an attempt to secure situated knowledge without entailing epistemic relativism. A very (...)
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  4. Rethinking Epistemic Relativism.Natalie Alana Ashton - 2019 - Metaphilosophy 50 (5):587-607.
    ‘Relativism’ is often treated as a dirty word in philosophy. Showing that a view entails relativism is almost always considered tantamount to showing that it is nonsensical. However, relativistic theories are not entirely unappealing – they have features which might be tempting if they weren’t thought to be outweighed by problematic consequences. In this paper I argue that it’s possible to secure the intuitively appealing features of at least one kind of relativism – epistemic relativism – without having to accept (...)
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  5. John Gillott and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat From Reason. [REVIEW]Sean F. Johnston - 1996 - Public Understanding of Science 5:179-181.
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  6. Relativising Epistemic Advantage.Natalie Alana Ashton - forthcoming - In Martin Kusch (ed.), Routledge Handbook to Relativism.
    In this paper I explore the relationship between social epistemology and relativism in the context of feminist epistemology. I do this by focusing on one particular branch of feminist epistemology - a branch known as standpoint theory - and investigating the connection between this view and epistemic relativism. I begin by defining both epistemic relativism and standpoint theory, and by briefly recounting the standard way that the connection between these two views is understood. The literature at the moment focuses on (...)
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  7. The Relativistic Legacy of Kuhn and Feyerabend.Howard Sankey - forthcoming - In M. Kusch (ed.), Routledge Handbook to Relativism. Routledge.
    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 (...)
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  8. Rationality, Relativism and Methodological Pluralism.Howard Sankey - 1996 - Explorations in Knowledge (1):18-36.
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  9. Do Deep Disagreements Motivate Relativism?Victoria Lavorerio - forthcoming - Topoi:1-10.
    In his 2014 article “Motivations for Relativism as a Solution to Disagreements”, Steven Hales argues that relativism is a plausible disagreement resolution strategy for epistemically irresolvable disagreements. I argue that his relativistic strategy is not adequate for disagreements of this kind, because it demands an impossible doxastic state for disputants to resolve the disagreement. Contrarily, Fogelin’s :1–8, 1985) theory of deep disagreement does not run into the same problems. Deep disagreements, according to Fogelin, cannot be resolved through argumentation because the (...)
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  10. Kuhn, Relativism and Realism.Howard Sankey - 2018 - In Juha Saatsi (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Scientific Realism. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 72-83.
    The aim of this chapter is to explore the relationship between Kuhn’s views about science and scientific realism. I present an overview of key features of Kuhn’s model of scientific change. The model suggests a relativistic approach to the methods of science. I bring out a conflict between this relativistic approach and a realist approach to the norms of method. I next consider the question of progress and truth. Kuhn’s model is a problem-solving model that proceeds by way of puzzles (...)
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Epistemic Relativism, Misc
  1. La influencia epistemológica del modelo cartesiano de la mente en arqueología cognitiva.Alfredo Robles Zamora - 2019 - Límite: Revista de Filosofía y Psicología 14 (14).
    The aim of this work is to expose the Cartesian Model of the mind in Cognitive Archaeology and point out how it relates to the questions behind this branch of archaeology. Based on this, some of the premises assumed by the Cartesian Model and how they influence the formulation to the problem of epistemological relativism in the branch are explained. According to this problem, since there is no way to evaluate hypotheses in this research area, the investigations on cognition, based (...)
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  2. From Völkerpsychologie to the Sociology of Knowledge.Martin Kusch - 2019 - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 9 (2):250-274.
    This article focuses on two developments in nineteenth-century (philosophy of) social science: Moritz Lazarus’s and Heymann Steinthal’s Völkerpsychologie and Georg Simmel’s early sociology of knowledge. The article defends the following theses. First, Lazarus and Steinthal wavered between a “strong” and a “weak” program for Völkerpsychologie. Ingredients for the strong program included methodological neutrality and symmetry; causal explanation of beliefs based on causal laws; a focus on groups, interests, tradition, culture, or materiality; determinism; and a self-referential model of social institutions. Second, (...)
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  3. From Völkerpsychologie to Cultural Anthropology: Erich Rothacker’s Philosophy of Culture.Johannes Steizinger - forthcoming - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science.
    Erich Rothacker (1888–1965) was a key figure in early-twentieth-century philosophy in Germany. In this paper, I examine the development of Rothacker’s philosophy of culture from 1907 to 1945. Rothacker began his philosophical career with a völkerpsychological dissertation on history, outlining his early biologistic conception of culture (1907–1913). In his mid-career work, he then turned to Wilhelm Dilthey’s (1833–1911) Lebensphilosophie (philosophy of life), advancing a hermeneutic approach to culture (1919–1928). In his later work (1929–1945), Rothacker developed a cultural anthropology. I shall (...)
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  4. Pragmatic Encroachment and Feminist Epistemology.Robin McKenna - forthcoming - In Natalie Alana Ashton, Martin Kusch, Robin McKenna & Katharina Sodoma (eds.), Social Epistemology and Epistemic Relativism. Routledge.
    Pragmatic encroachers argue that whether you know that p depends on a combination of pragmatic and epistemic factors. Most defenses of pragmatic encroachment focus on a particular pragmatic factor: how much is at stake for an individual. This raises a question: are there reasons for thinking that knowledge depends on other pragmatic factors that parallel the reasons for thinking that knowledge depends on the stakes? In this paper I argue that there are parallel reasons for thinking that knowledge depends on (...)
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  5. Absolutism, Relativism and Metaepistemology.J. Adam Carter & Robin McKenna - 2019 - Erkenntnis:1-21.
    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 (2006a) as the principal metaepistemological contrast point to relativism. What we find is that the metaepistemological commitments at play on both sides of this (...)
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  6. Lee Epistemology After Protagoras: Responses to Relativism in Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus. Pp. Xii + 291. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005. Cased, £45. ISBN: 0-19-926222-5. [REVIEW]James Warren - 2006 - The Classical Review 56 (1):59-61.
  7. Kuhn’s Two Accounts of Rational Disagreement in Science: An Interpretation and Critique.Markus Seidel - forthcoming - Synthese:1-29.
    Whereas there is much discussion about Thomas Kuhn’s notion of methodological incommensurability and many have seen his ideas as an attempt to allow for rational disagreement in science, so far no serious analysis of how exactly Kuhn aims to account for rational disagreement has been proposed. This paper provides the first in-depth analysis of Kuhn’s account of rational disagreement in science—an account that can be seen as the most prominent attempt to allow for rational disagreement in science. Three things will (...)
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  8. Epistemic Relativism: A Constructive Critique, by Markus Seidel: Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, Pp. X + 284, £60. [REVIEW]Robert Nola - 2015 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 93 (3):628-629.
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  9. Constructivism, Intersubjectivity, Provability, and Triviality.Andrea Guardo - 2019 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 27 (4):515-527.
    Sharon Street defines her constructivism about practical reasons as the view that whether something is a reason to do a certain thing for a given agent depends on that agent’s normative point of view. However, Street has also maintained that there is a judgment about practical reasons which is true relative to every possible normative point of view, namely constructivism itself. I show that the latter thesis is inconsistent with Street’s own constructivism about epistemic reasons and discuss some consequences of (...)
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  10. Against Relativism: A Philosophical Defense of Method by James Harris. [REVIEW]Leemon B. McHenry - 1994 - Review of Metaphysics 47 (3):619-621.
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  11. Més enllà i més ençà del relativisme: tres filòsofs postmoderns i les seues raòns.Miguel Angel Quintana Paz - 2009 - Dilema: Revista de Filosofía 13 (1-2):73-94.
    Les diferents filosofies “postmodernes” que sorgiren dels anys 1970 als anys 1990 s'han considerat sovint com una classe d´“ideología” irracionalista-escèptica-relativista (o alguna altra sort d´amalgama semblant) que en el nostre temps prendrien perillosament el control sobre la filosofia acadèmica i la cultura occidental, amb greu risc per als universalistes o, simplement, per a qualsevol projecte racionalista.2 No obstant això, com el títol d'aquest article denota, un examen més detallat d'algunes tendències del pensament postmodern podria mostrar no solament que algunes d´aquestes (...)
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  12. Was Heidegger a Relativist?Sacha Golob - forthcoming - In Martin Kusch, Katherina Kinzel, Johannes Steizinger & Niels Wildschut (eds.), The Emergence of Relativism: German Thought from the Enlightenment to National Socialism. pp. 18.
    The structure of this article is very simple. In the first half, I will introduce a sophisticated way of reading Heidegger as a relativist; I draw here on the work of Kusch and Lafont. In the second half, I present the counter-argument. As I see it, Heidegger is not a relativist; but understanding the relations between his approach and a relativistic one is crucial for an evaluation of both his own work and the broader trajectory of post-Kantian thought.
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  13. La crítica posmoderna de la ciencia: una genealogía francesa.Armando Aranda-Anzaldo - 1997 - Ciencia Ergo Sum 4 (2):223-229.
    Postmodern thought has focused itself on the critique of modern epistemology that was founded on a clear distinction between the knowing subject and the object of knowledge. For postmodern thought such a distinction is non-existent or dubious at best. Postmodernism has carried to its logical conclusion the postulates of structuralism; therefore, for postmodern thought there is no general intrinsic meaning in a fact of thing, but there are only particular ways for attributing meaning to such facts and things. Hereunder, we (...)
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  14. The Future of Epistemic Possibility.Meagan Lowell Phillips - 2017 - Kriterion - Journal of Philosophy 31 (1):45-62.
    I am concerned with epistemic possibility expressions (EPEs) such as “It might be raining.” Much of the discussion of EPEs has concerned the fact that a given EPE can seem true in one context and false in another. Motivated by this data, contextualists have argued that modal expressions are sensitive to information at a context of use. Contextualist analyses encounter problems when it comes to disagreements centered on EPEs. Relativists such as John MacFarlane argue that epistemic modals are sensitive to (...)
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  15. How Not to Write an Introduction to Relativism: Bernd Irlenborn: Relativismus. Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2016, 152pp, $35.00 PB. [REVIEW]Markus Seidel - 2018 - Metascience 27 (1):99-105.
  16. Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology.Michael Krausz (ed.) - 2010 - Columbia University Press.
    The thirty-three essays in <I>Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology</I> grapple with one of the most intriguing, enduring, and far-reaching philosophical problems of our age. Relativism comes in many varieties. It is often defined as the belief that truth, goodness, or beauty is relative to some context or reference frame, and that no absolute standards can adjudicate between competing reference frames. Michael Krausz's anthology captures the significance and range of relativistic doctrines, rehearsing their virtues and vices and reflecting on a spectrum of (...)
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  17. Towards a Unified Concept of Reality.Steven James Bartlett - 1975 - ETC: A Review of General Semantics 32 (1):43-49.
    This is a study of the relativity of facts in relation to the frameworks of reference in terms of which those facts are established. In this early paper from 1975, intended for a less technical audience, the author proposes an understanding of facts and their associated frameworks in terms of complementarity. This understanding of facts leads to an integrated yet pluralistic concept of reality. In the Addendum, readers will find a partial listing of related publications by the author that extend (...)
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  18. The Problem of Fake News.M. R. X. Dentith - 2016 - Public Reason 8 (1-2):65-79.
    Looking at the recent spate of claims about “fake news” which appear to be a new feature of political discourse, I argue that fake news presents an interesting problem in epistemology. Te phenomena of fake news trades upon tolerating a certain indiference towards truth, which is sometimes expressed insincerely by political actors. Tis indiference and insincerity, I argue, has been allowed to fourish due to the way in which we have set the terms of the “public” epistemology that maintains what (...)
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  19. Relativism Defended.Howard Darmstadter - 2016 - Cogent Arts and Humanities 3:1-11.
    I argue for a type of relativism that allows different people to have conflicting accurate representations of the world. This is contrary to the view of most Anglo-American philosophers, who would, with Paul Boghossian in Fear of Knowledge, deny that “there are many radically different, yet ‘equally valid’ ways of knowing the world.” My argument is not a metaphysical argument about the ultimate nature of the outside world, but a psychological argument about the mental processes of representation. The argument starts (...)
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  20. Postmodernism is Not a Relativism. Communication Practices and Ethical Attitudes in Some Postmodern Thinkers.Miguel Angel Quintana Paz - 2007 - Concordia, Internationale Zeitschrift Für Philosophie 51:61-84.
    The different “postmodern” philosophies that arose from the 1970s to the 1990s have often been considered as a kind of irrationalist-skeptical-relativist “ideology” or assorted amalgam, which in our time would dangerously take over the philosophical academy and western cultures, with grave risk for universalist or simply rationalist projects. Nevertheless, as the title of this article shows, a closer examination of some trends of postmodern thought would be able to perceive that they not only are uncomfortable with the label “relativist,” “irrationalist” (...)
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  21. Epistemic Relativism, Scepticism, Pluralism.Martin Kusch - 2017 - Synthese 194 (12):4687-4703.
    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 (...)
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  22. Permissivism and the Arbitrariness Objection.Robert Mark Simpson - 2017 - Episteme 14 (4):519-538.
    Permissivism says that for some propositions and bodies of evidence, there is more than one rationally permissible doxastic attitude that can be taken towards that proposition given the evidence. Some critics of this view argue that it condones, as rationally acceptable, sets of attitudes that manifest an untenable kind of arbitrariness. I begin by providing a new and more detailed explication of what this alleged arbitrariness consists in. I then explain why Miriam Schoenfield’s prima facie promising attempt to answer the (...)
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  23. Review of John MacFarlane. (2014). Assessment Sensitivity: Relative Truth and its Applications. Oxford, Oxford University Press. [REVIEW]Christos Kyriacou - forthcoming - Dialectica.
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  24. Cómo no ser ni relativistas ni universalistas.Miguel Angel Quintana Paz - 2004 - In Filosofía práctica y persona humana. Salamanca: Publicaciones Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca-Ediciones Diálogo Filosófico. pp. 149-167.
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  25. In Defence of Epistemic Relativism: The Concept of Truth in Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money.Johannes Steizinger - 2015 - Proceedings of the 38th International Ludwig Wittgenstein-Symposium:300−302.
    As one of the first modern philosophers, Georg Simmel systematically developed a “relativistic world view” (Simmel 2004, VI). In this paper I attempt to examine Simmel’s relativistic answer to the question of truth. I trace his main arguments regarding the concept of truth and present his justification of epistemic relativism. In doing so, I also want to show that some of Simmel’s claims are surprisingly timely. Simmel’s relativistic concept of truth is supported by an evolutionary argument. The first part of (...)
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  26. Relativismos: una taxonomía.Miguel Angel Quintana Paz - 2007 - In El desafío de ser hombre. Madrid: CEU Ediciones. pp. 169-182.
    Para diagnosticar y curar una enfermedad del pensamiento y de la cultura tan devastadora en nuestros días como es la del relativismo, parece oportuno reparar antes en las diversas tipologías que este mal adopta, pues es razonable sospechar que seguramente las terapias oportunas podrán resultar más efectivas si lo sometemos a un tratamiento particularizado. Así pues, en mi comunicación, y una vez establecido el criterio según el cual se van a clasificar los diferentes modos de planteamiento epistemológico posible (criterio que (...)
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  27. What Relativism Isn’T.William Max Knorpp Jr - 1998 - Philosophy 73 (2):277-300.
    Introduction There is an enormous amount of confusion about what relativism is. In this paper I aim to take a step toward clarifying what it is by discussing some things that it is not — that is, by distinguishing it from some other views with which it is often confused or conflated, such as nihilism and scepticism. I do this primarily because I think that the question of the character of relativism is interesting in itself. A clearer characterization of relativism (...)
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  28. Relativism.Maria Baghramian & J. Adam Carter - 2004 - 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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  29. Legitimizing Scientific Knowledge: An Introduction to Steve Fuller's Social Epistemology.Francis Remedios - 2003 - Latham, MD: Lexington Books.
    The first book to provide an in-depth examination of Steve Fuller's politically oriented social epistemology, Legitimizing Scientific Knowledge compares Fuller's social epistemology with other interest-oriented and truth-oriented social epistemologies. The result is a carefully argued, in-depth analysis of the work of a groundbreaking philosopher of science.
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  30. Harvey Siegel Relativism Refuted: A Critique of Contemporary Epistemological Relativism. [REVIEW]Michael Krausz - 1990 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50 (4):841-845.
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  31. How Are Objective Epistemic Reasons Possible?Paul Boghossian - 2001 - Philosophical Studies 106 (1):1-40.
    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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  32. Is Relativism Self‐Refuting?John Weckert - 1984 - Educational Philosophy and Theory 16 (2):29-42.
  33. Practice Relativism.Stephen Turner - 2007 - Critica 39 (115):5-29.
    Practice relativism is the idea that practices are foundational for bodies of activity and thought, and differ from one another in ways that lead those who constitute the world in terms of them to incommensurable or conflicting conclusions. It is true that practices are not criticizable in any simple way because they are largely tacit and inaccessible. But to make them relativistic one needs an added claim: that practices are "normative", or conceptual in character. It is argued that this is (...)
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  34. Kuhn Reconstructed: Incommensurability Without Relativism.Michael E. Malone - 1991 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 24 (1):69-93.
    The standard reading of Kuhn's philosophy attributes to him the view that the incommensurability of rival theories and theory-ladenness of observation make rational debate about competing paradigms nearly impossible. If this reflects his real view, then he has claimed something prima facie absurd, and easily refuted with historical counter-examples. It is not the incommensurability thesis per se that is easily refutable, but Kuhn's gestelt interpretation of it. The gestalt interpretation, moreover misrepresents his more fundamental ideas on paradigms, and is in (...)
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  35. On the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge and its Philosophical Agenda.Michael Friedman - 1998 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 29 (2):239-271.
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  36. Stance Relativism: Empiricism Versus Metaphysics. [REVIEW]Anjan Chakravartty - 2004 - 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. Against Epistemological Relativism.Frans Gregersen - 1988 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 19 (4):447.
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  38. Brains/Practices/Relativism: Social Theory After Cognitive Science. [REVIEW]Struan Jacobs - 2004 - Tradition and Discovery 31 (2):49-50.
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  39. The Problem of the Criterion. [REVIEW]D. J. - 1973 - Review of Metaphysics 27 (2):377-377.
    A major epistemological puzzle is that of the "diallelus," namely, how does one decide when one genuinely possesses knowledge of whatever. This problem vexed many Louvain philosophers at the turn of the century, and Chisholm attempts to effect a tentative solution to the problem by expanding upon some insights contained in Mercier’s Critériologie générale ou théorie générale de la certitude.
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  40. Comment on Rosenbaum’s “Pragmatism, Relativism, and Boghossian”.Martin A. Coleman - 2011 - Southwest Philosophy Review 27 (2):83-88.
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