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. Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality.Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah - 1990 - Cambridge University Press.
  2. Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal Reason.Nicholas Rescher - 1997 - University of Notre Dame Press.
  3. A Critique of Political Correctness.Francis J. Beckwith - 1996 - In Philosophy: The Quest for Truth, 3rd ed. pp. 582-588.
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  4. A Defense of Objectivity.Margarita Rosa Levin - 1999 - In Louis P. Pojman (ed.), The Theory of Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Readings, 2nd ed. pp. 631-642.
  5. A Abordagem Ecológica das Habilidades e a Epistemologia dos eixos.Carvalho Eros - forthcoming - In Plinio J. Smith & Nara Figueiredo (eds.), A epistemologia dos eixos: uma interpretação e debate do Sobre a Certeza, de Wittgenstein. São Paulo:
    Neste texto, discuto a interpretação defendida por Moyal-Sharrock, segundo a qual as proposições eixo são maneiras de agir com o objetivo de oferecer uma proposta sobre como compreendê-las. Sustento que a posição de Moyal-Sharrock deixa algumas lacunas, porque não explica a origem das nossas certezas fundamentais. A sua leitura também carece de recursos para responder ao problema da demarcação, uma vez que não é claro como distinguir maneiras de agir que podem legitimamente cumprir o papel de fundamento não fundamentado das (...)
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  6. Présentation. Mεtascience et l’alternative Bunge.François Maurice - 2020 - Mεtascience 1:5-14.
    En 1982, John Wettersten, dans un texte à propos du malaise et de la frustration qu’on peut ressentir à la lecture de l’oeuvre de Bunge, tentait de comprendre pourquoi son oeuvre n’est pas consi- dérée comme une alternative aux travaux d’autres philosophes. La réponse proposée par Wettersten a trait au problème d’acquisition de la connaissance. Si la connaissance est contextuelle, relative à un cadre de pensée, comment pouvons- nous alors évaluer rationnellement ce cadre de pensée lui-même ? Wettersten identifie deux (...)
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  7. Présentation. Mεtascience et l’alternative Bunge.François Maurice - 2020 - Mεtascience 1:5-14.
    En 1982, John Wettersten, dans un texte à propos du malaise et de la frustration qu’on peut ressentir à la lecture de l’oeuvre de Bunge, tentait de comprendre pourquoi son oeuvre n’est pas consi- dérée comme une alternative aux travaux d’autres philosophes. La réponse proposée par Wettersten a trait au problème d’acquisition de la connaissance. Si la connaissance est contextuelle, relative à un cadre de pensée, comment pouvons- nous alors évaluer rationnellement ce cadre de pensée lui-même ? Wettersten identifie deux (...)
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  8. Presentation. Mεtascience and the Bunge Alternative.François Maurice - 2020 - Mεtascience 1:online.
    More than any other philosopher, Mario Bunge is unclassifiable. In 1982 John Wettersten wrote about the discomfort and frustration that one might feel when reading Bunge’s work. He was trying to understand why his work was not seen as an alternative to the work of other philosophers. Wettersten’s answer relates to the problem of knowledge acquisition. If knowledge is contextual, relative to a frame of thought, how can we then rationally evaluate this frame of thought itself? Wettersten identifies two tendencies: (...)
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  9. Umstrittene Wahrheit. Die Frage nach der Wahrheit in Philosophie und Religionen.R. Rothenbusch & Oliver Wiertz (eds.) - forthcoming
  10. Talking About Tolerance: A New Strategy for Dealing with Student Relativism.Dominik Balg - 2020 - Teaching Philosophy 43 (2):1-16.
    Student relativism is a widespread phenomenon in philosophy classes. While the exact nature of student relativism is controversially discussed, many authors agree on two points: First, it is widely agreed that SR is a rather problematic phenomenon, because it potentially undermines the very purpose of doing philosophy—if there is no objective truth, arguing seems to be pointless. Second, it is widely agreed that there will be some close connection between SR and a tolerant attitude towards conflicting opinions. In this paper, (...)
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  11. Relativism. [REVIEW]Ali Hossein Khani - forthcoming - The Philosophical Quarterly:1-3.
  12. Descriptive Psychology and Völkerpsychologie—in the Contexts of Historicism, Relativism, and Naturalism.Christian Damböck, Uljana Feest & Martin Kusch - 2020 - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 10 (1):226-233.
  13. Are Knowledge Ascriptions Sensitive to Social Context?Alexander Jackson - forthcoming - Synthese.
    Plausibly, how much is at stake in some salient practical task can affect how generously or stringently people ascribe knowledge of task-relevant facts. I propose a new psychological account of when and why people’s knowledge ascriptions are sensitive to stakes. 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 (...)
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  14. Democracy and Inquiry in the Post-Truth Era: A Pragmatist Solution.Daniel Labrador Montero - 2020 - Disputatio. Philosophical Research Bulletin 9 (13).
    Post-truth has become a commonplace strategy. No longer are objective facts viewed as having evidentiary value; scientific knowledge is on a par with emotions or personal beliefs. We intend to show that in the context of post-truth, those proffering and receiving an assertion do not care about the truth-value of the assertion or about the best way to gather evidence concerning it. Such attitudes raise several questions about how relativism can be a corrupting influence in contemporary democracies. We will analyse (...)
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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. 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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  18. John Gillott and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat From Reason. [REVIEW]Sean F. Johnston - 1996 - Public Understanding of Science 5:179-181.
  19. 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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  20. The Relativistic Legacy of Kuhn and Feyerabend.Howard Sankey - 2020 - In M. Kusch (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Relativism. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 379-387.
    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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  21. Rationality, Relativism and Methodological Pluralism.Howard Sankey - 1996 - Explorations in Knowledge (1):18-36.
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  22. 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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  23. 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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  24. Relativism Refuted. A Critique of Contemporary Epistemological Relativism.Harvey Siegel - 1987 - Peeters Press.
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  25. Against Relativism: A Philosophical Defense of Method.James F. Harris - 1992 - Open Court.
  26. Lakatos’s Epistemic Aspirations.Jarret Leplin - 2001 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 16 (3):481-498.
    Imre Lakatos argued that a theory of scientific method must be empirical, and therefore self-applicable; the standards it imposes on scientific theories must be ones it satisfies itself. But in relying on this standard of self-referential consistency to protect his theory from criticism, Lakatos becomcs vulnerable to relativism. He escapes by hypothesizing that scientific changes which are methodologically progressive according to his theory are also progressive epistemically. The question is whethcr his theory of method has the resources to warrant this (...)
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  27. Knowledge and Relativism an Essay in the Philosophy of Education.F. C. White - 1983 - Van Gorcum.
  28. Précis of Fear of Knowledge.Paul Boghossian - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 141 (3):377-378.
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  29. Victorian Relativity: Radical Thought and Scientific Discovery. [REVIEW]Theodore Porter - 2002 - Isis 93:311-312.
    Christopher Herbert, provoked by the Alan Sokal affair and by bullying critiques of “relativism,” has written this study to demonstrate the prominence of relativistic thought in the sciences of the last two centuries. Although he draws back from any claim that relativity and its opposite, philosophical realism, lead of necessity to particular political positions, he associates the former with liberal tolerance and the latter with mandatory worship in a repressive “church of ‘absolute truth’”. Nazi physicists such as Philipp Lenard, he (...)
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  30. Integral Epistemology in "Naturalistic Epistemology: A Symposium of Two Decades".A. Shimony - 1987 - Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 100:299-318.
  31. Critical Study of Thomas Nagel's "The Last Word". [REVIEW]Andrew Melnyk - 1999 - Philosophical Books 40 (1):14-17.
    This critical study takes Nagel's book to task for its obscurity, and for its under-argued rejection of naturalism.
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  32. Constructivisms and Relativisms: A Shopper's Guide.Mark H. Bickhard - 1997 - Science & Education 6 (1-2):29-42.
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  33. The Sokal Hoax.Paul Boghossian - 1999 - In Robert Klee (ed.), Scientific Inquiry: Readings in the Philosophy of Science. Oxford University Press. pp. 265-274.
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  34. Response to the Commentaries.Eric Gillett - 1998 - Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 5 (1):61-65.
  35. O labirinto do relativismo moral.Paul Boghossian - 2011 - Revista Inquietude 2 (2):238-245.
    Portuguese translation of "The Maze of Moral Relativism" by Janos Biro.
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  36. Relativism Due to a Theory of Natural Rationality. The Research for This Article Was Fully Funded by Tafresh University, Tafresh, Iran, and I Should Therefore Acknowledge Their Kind Support.Zibakalam Saeid - 1997 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 28 (2):337-357.
    Edinburgh School's theory of natural rationality, enunciated to render symmetrical explanation plausible, thereby providing support for its relativism, is presented and evaluated. I have endeavoured to demonstrate that there are gross misinterpretations of Hesse's theory of science, network model, and her conceptions of classification of objects and of universals; that Edinburgh School's theory of natural rationality suffers from a considerable area of ignorance concerning its foundation. I have further shown that not only the theory is not descriptive of the actuality (...)
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  37. Lakatos's Epistemic Aspirations.Jarret Leplin - 2001 - Theoria 16 (3):481-498.
    Imre Lakatos argued that a theory of scientific method must be empirical, and therefore self-applicable; the standards it imposes on scientific theories must be ones it satisfies itself. But in relying on this standard of self-referential consistency to protect his theory from criticism, Lakatos becomcs vulnerable to relativism. He escapes by hypothesizing that scientific changes which are methodologically progressive according to his theory are also progressive epistemically. The question is whethcr his theory of method has the resources to warrant this (...)
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  38. Between Rationalism and Relativism. On Larry Laudan's Model of Scientific Rationality.Adam Grobler - 1990 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 41 (4):493-507.
  39. Narrating the History of Reason Itself: Friedman, Kuhn, and a Constitutive a Priori for the Twenty-First Century.Alan W. Richardson - 2002 - Perspectives on Science 10 (3):253-274.
    : This essay explores some themes in use of a relativized Kantian a priori in the work of Thomas Kuhn and Michael Friedman. It teases out some shared and some divergent beliefs and attitudes in these two philosophers by comparing their characteristic questions and problems to the questions and problems that seem most appropriately to attend to an adequate understanding of games and their histories. It argues for a way forward within a relativized Kantian framework that is suggested but not (...)
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  40. Normative Naturalism and the Challenge of Relativism: Laudan Versus Worrall on the Justification of Methodological Principles.Howard Sankey - 1996 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 10 (1):37 – 51.
    In a recent exchange, John Worrall and Larry Laudan have debated the merits of the model of rational scientific change proposed by Laudan in his book Science and Values. On the model advocated by Laudan, rational change may take place at the level of scientific theory and methodology, as well as at the level of the epistemic aims of science. Moreover, the rationality of a change which occurs at any one of these three levels may be dependent on considerations at (...)
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  41. Relativism and Experimental Inference.Frederick L. Will - 1951 - Philosophy of Science 18 (2):155-169.
Epistemic Relativism, Misc
  1. Can Hinge Epistemology Close the Door on Epistemic Relativism?Oscar A. Piedrahita - 2021 - Synthese:1-27.
    I argue that a standard formulation of hinge epistemology is host to epistemic relativism and show that two leading hinge approaches (Coliva’s acceptance account and Pritchard’s nondoxastic account) are vulnerable to a form of incommensurability that leads to relativism. Building on both accounts, I introduce a new, minimally epistemic conception of hinges that avoids epistemic relativism and rationally resolves hinge disagreements. According to my proposed account, putative cases of epistemic incommensurability are rationally resolvable: hinges are propositions that are the objects (...)
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  2. Relativism in the Philosophy of Anthropology.Inkeri Koskinen - 2019 - In Martin Kusch (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Relativism. London and New York: pp. 425–434.
    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.
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  3. Fogelin’s Theory of Deep Disagreements: A Relativistic Reading.Victoria Lavorerio - 2020 - Philosophical Investigations 43 (4):346-362.
    In “The Logic of Deep Disagreements,” Robert Fogelin claims that parties to a deep disagreement lack the common ground needed for arguments to work, making the disagreement impervious to rational resolution. Although Fogelin’s article received numerous responses, there has been no attempt to elucidate the epistemological theory behind Fogelin’s theses. In this article, I examine Fogelin’s theory of deep disagreements in light of his broader philosophy. The picture that emerges is that of relativism of distance, à la Bernard Williams. By (...)
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  4. Review of 'Viewpoint Relativism' by Antti Hautamäki. [REVIEW]Markus Seidel - 2020 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:N.N..
  5. From Völkerpsychologie to Cultural Anthropology: Erich Rothacker’s Philosophy of Culture.Johannes Steizinger - 2020 - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 10 (1):308-328.
    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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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  9. 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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