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. 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 (...)
  2. 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 (...)
Epistemic Relativism, Misc
  1. 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 (...)
  2. Was Heidegger a Relativist?Sacha Golob - forthcoming - In Martin Kusch, Katherina Kinzel, Johannes Steizinger & Niels Wildschut (eds.), The Emergence of Modern Relativism: The German Debates from the 1770s to the 1930s. 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.
  3. 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 (...)
  4. 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 (...)
  5. How Not to Write an Introduction to Relativism. [REVIEW]Markus Seidel - 2018 - Metascience 27 (1):99-105.
  6. 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 (...)
  7. 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 (...)
  8. 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 (...)
  9. 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.
  10. 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 (...)
  11. 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 (...)
  12. Review of John MacFarlane. (2014). Assessment Sensitivity: Relative Truth and its Applications. Oxford, Oxford University Press. [REVIEW]Christos Kyriacou - forthcoming - Dialectica.
  13. 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.
  14. 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 (...)
  15. 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 (...)
  16. 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 (...)
  17. 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.
  18. 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 (...)
  19. Comment on Rosenbaum’s “Pragmatism, Relativism, and Boghossian”.Martin A. Coleman - 2011 - Southwest Philosophy Review 27 (2):83-88.
  20. Scylla and Charybdis of the Epistemic Relativist: Why the Epistemic Relativist Still Cannot Use the Sceptic’s Strategy.Markus Seidel - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (1):145-149.
    In a reply to Howard Sankey I have maintained that the epistemic relativist cannot use the strategy of the sceptic since the relativist is at pains not to draw the sceptical solution. Sankey has objected to my argument by distinguishing between weak and strong justification: according to Sankey, the relativist using the sceptic’s strategy aims to provide an argument against the latter form of justification but still maintains that we can have the former.In this counter-response I argue that if this (...)
  21. Why the Epistemic Relativist Cannot Use the Sceptic’s Strategy. A Comment on Sankey.Markus Seidel - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (1):134-139.
    In two recent papers in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Howard Sankey has argued that there is an intimate relationship between Pyrrhonian skepticism and recent approaches to epistemic relativism.Though the general argument and idea of Sankey’s papers is very much appreciated, it is argued that the epistemic relativist’s recourse to the skeptical strategy outlined by the Pyrrhonian is not a good one. This diagnosis gives rise to an objection against the epistemic relativist who argues on the basis of (...)
  22. Metaepistemology and Relativism.Joseph Adam Carter - 2016 - Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  23. Epistemology and Relativism.Adam Carter - 2016
    Epistemology and Relativism Epistemology is, roughly, the philosophical theory of knowledge, its nature and scope. What is the status of epistemological claims? Relativists regard the status of epistemological claims as, in some way, relative— that is to say, that the truths which epistemological claims aspire to are … Continue reading Epistemology and Relativism →.
  24. Epistemological Implications of Relativism.J. Adam Carter - 2017 - In Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism. Routledge.
    Relativists about knowledge ascriptions think that whether a particular use of a knowledge-ascribing sentence, e.g., “Keith knows that the bank is open” is true depends on the epistemic standards at play in the assessor’s context—viz., the context in which the knowledge ascription is being as- sessed for truth or falsity. Given that the very same knowledge-ascription can be assessed for truth or falsity from indefinitely many perspectives, relativism has a striking consequence. When I ascribe knowledge to someone (e.g., when I (...)
  25. A Snowslide of Entities. Does Sosa's Existential Relativism Provide a Barrier Against Being Buried?Markus Seidel & Alexander Thinius - 2016 - In Bahr Amrei & Seidel Markus (eds.), Ernest Sosa. Targeting His Philosophy. Springer. pp. 101-118.
    This paper discusses Sosa’s via media between existential relativism and absolutism. We discuss three implications of Sosa’s account which require some further clarification. First, we distinguish three alternative readings of Sosa’s account – the indexicalist, the homonymist and the (proper) relativist reading – and argue that they differ with respect to two crucial points: (a) they lead to different analyses of the lack of disagreement in existential discourse, and (b) they differ with respect to the question of whether conceptual schemes (...)
  26. Review of A House Built on Sand. [REVIEW]Ray Scott Percival - 1999 - Science Spectra.
    A review of a collection of arguments against relativism in the social sciences.
  27. John H. Zammito. A Nice Derangement of Epistemes: Postpositivism in the Study of Science From Quine to Latour. X + 390 Pp., Bibl., Index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. [REVIEW]David Stump - 2005 - Isis 96 (1):159-160.
  28. Rationality and Cognition: Against Relativism-Pragmatism.Nenad Miscevic - unknown
  29. Response to Elqayam, Nottelmann, Peels and Vahid on My Paper 'Perspectivism, Deontologism and Epistemic Poverty'.Robert Lockie - 2016 - Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5 (3):21-47.
    I here respond to four SERRC commentators on my paper ‘Perspectivism, Deontologism and Epistemic Poverty’: Shira Elqayam, Nikolaj Nottelmann, Rik Peels and Hamid Vahid. I maintain that all accounts of epistemic justification must be constrained by two limit positions which have to be avoided. One is Conceptual Limit Panglossianism. The other is Conceptual Limit meliorism. Within these bounds one may offer an account of rationality or epistemic justification that is closer to Meliorism or Panglossianism. Remarked upon are my respondents’ considerations (...)
  30. How Could Vygotsky Inform an Approach to Scientific Representations?Dimitris Kilakos - 2016 - Epistemology and Philosophy of Science 47 (1):140-152.
    In the quest for a new social turn in philosophy of science, exploring the prospects of a Vygotskian perspective could be of significant interest, especially due to his emphasis on the role of culture and socialisation in the development of cognitive functions. However, a philosophical reassessment of Vygotsky's ideas in general has yet to be done. As a step towards this direction, I attempt to elaborate an approach on scientific representations by drawing inspirations from Vygotsky. Specifically, I work upon Vygotsky’s (...)
  31. Circularity, Scepticism and Epistemic Relativism.Steven Bland - 2016 - Social Epistemology 30 (2):150-162.
    It would seem that an epistemic framework can be justified only by means of a non-circular argument that establishes its truth-conduciveness. The problem of epistemic circularity suggests that no such argument is possible. Externalists and particularists have addressed the problem of scepticism by claiming that epistemically circular arguments can establish the truth-conduciveness of a framework’s epistemic methods. However, since these arguments are available for a good many frameworks, this response does nothing to answer the threat of epistemic relativism. The purpose (...)
  32. A Hasty Retreat From Evidence: The Recalcitrance of Relativism in Feminist Epistemology.Sharyn Clough - 1998 - 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.
  33. Introduction: Epistemic Relativism.Frederick F. Schmitt - 2007 - Episteme 4 (1):1-9.
  34. Provocation on Reproducing Perspectives:Part 1.Stephen Turner - 1988 - Social Epistemology 2 (1):93-95.
  35. Boghossian, Bellarmine, and Bayes.John MacFarlane - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 141 (3):391-398.
    As Paul Boghossian sees it, postmodernist relativists and constructivists are paralyzed by a “fear of knowledge.” For example, they lack the courage to say, in the face of the Lakotas’ claim that their ancestors came from inside the earth, that it is a matter of known fact that their ancestors came across the Bering Strait. To avoid this, they accept the nonconfrontational view Boghossian calls..
  36. Relativism and Ambivalence in the Work of M. J. Herskovits.Erika Boupguignon - 2000 - Ethos: Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology 28 (1):103-114.
  37. Witchcraft, Relativism and the Problem of the Criterion.Howard Sankey - 2010 - Erkenntnis 72 (1):1-16.
    This paper presents a naturalistic response to the challenge of epistemic relativism. The case of the Azande poison oracle is employed as an example of an alternative epistemic norm which may be used to justify beliefs about everyday occurrences. While a distinction is made between scepticism and relativism, an argument in support of epistemic relativism is presented that is based on the sceptical problem of the criterion. A response to the resulting relativistic position is then provided on the basis of (...)
  38. Excursions in Realist Anthropology: A Merological Approach.David Zeitlyn & Roger Just - 2014 - Cambridge Scholars Press.
    Sample at http://www.cambridgescholars.com/excursions-in-realist-anthropology .
  39. Extended Rationality: A Hinge Epistemology.Annalisa Coliva - 2015 - Palgrave-Macmillan.
    Extended Rationality: A Hinge Epistemology provides a novel account of the structure of epistemic justification. Its central claim builds upon Wittgenstein's idea in On Certainty that epistemic justifications hinge on some basic assumptions and that epistemic rationality extends to these very hinges. It exploits these ideas to address major problems in epistemology, such as the nature of perceptual justifications, external world skepticism, epistemic relativism, the epistemic status of basic logical laws, of the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature, of our (...)
  40. Relativism.Maria Baghramian - 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 (...)
  41. “Objectivity” and the Arbitration of Experiential Knowledge.Devora Shapiro - 2012 - Social Philosophy Today 28:67-82.
    In order to arbitrate conflicting propositional knowledge claims—such as when two individuals claim to know the height of a tree in the yard—there is a “fact of the matter” about who is correct. Experiential, non-propositional knowledge, on the other hand, is not so obviously mediated. For one, experiential knowledge is—at least partially—subjective; one of its virtues is that it matters what a person’s background is, socially, etc., when determining the legitimacy of their claims. But this suggests a question: How do (...)
  42. Critical Realism, Post-Positivism, and the Possibility of Knowledge.Ruth Groff - 2004 - Routledge.
    Groff defends 'realism about causality' through close discussions of Kant, Hilary Putnam, Brian Ellis and Charles Taylor, among others. In so doing she affirms critical realism, but with several important qualifications. In particular, she rejects the theory of truth advanced by Roy Bhaskar. She also attempts to both clarify and correct earlier critical realist attempts to apply realism about causality to the social sciences. By connecting issues in metaphysics and philosophy of science to the problem of relativism, Groff bridges the (...)
  43. Relativism and Reality: A Contemporary Introduction.Robert Kirk - 1999 - Routledge.
    Our thoughts about the world are clearly influenced by such things as point of view, temperament, past experience and culture. However, some thinkers go much further and argue that everything that exists depends on us, arguing that 'even reality is relative'. Can we accept such a claim in the face of events such as floods and other natural disasters or events seemingly beyond our control? 'Realists' argue that reality is independent of out thinking. 'Relativists' disagree, arguing that what there is (...)
  44. Kuhn’s Incommensurability Thesis: What’s the Argument?Moti Mizrahi - 2015 - Social Epistemology 29 (4):361-378.
    In this paper, I argue that there is neither valid deductive support nor strong inductive support for Kuhn’s incommensurability thesis. There is no valid deductive support for Kuhn’s incommensurability thesis because, from the fact that the reference of the same kind terms changes or discontinues from one theoretical framework to another, it does not necessarily follow that these two theoretical frameworks are taxonomically incommensurable. There is no strong inductive support for Kuhn’s incommensurability thesis, since there are rebutting defeaters against it (...)
  45. Scepticism, Relativism and a Naturalistic Particularism.Howard Sankey - 2015 - Social Epistemology 29 (4):395-412.
    This paper presents a particularist and naturalist response to epistemic relativism. The response is based on an analysis of the source of epistemic relativism, according to which epistemic relativism is closely related to Pyrrhonian scepticism. The paper starts with a characterization of epistemic relativism. Such relativism is explicitly distinguished from epistemological contextualism. Next the paper presents an argument for epistemic relativism that is based on the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. It then considers a response to the problem of the (...)
  46. Kuhn E a Racionalidade da Escolha Científica.Eros Carvalho - 2014 - Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 17 (3):439.
    In this paper, I try to articulate and clarify the role of the epistemic authority of experts in Kuhn’s explanation for the transition process between rival paradigms in the scientific revolutionary period. If science progresses, that process should contribute to the attainment of the cognitive aim of science, namely, the articulation of paradigms increasingly successful at the resolution of problems. It is hard to see that process as rational and as attaining the cognitive aim of science without the consideration of (...)
  47. Incommensurability, Relativism, and the Epistemic Authority of Science.Steven Bland - 2014 - Episteme 11 (4):463-473.
  48. Reclaiming Truth: Contribution to a Critique of Cultural Relativism.Christopher Norris - 1996 - Duke University Press.
    Truth, Christopher Norris reminds us, is very much out of fashion at the moment whether at the hands of politicians, media pundits, or purveyors of postmodern wisdom in cultural and literary studies. Across a range of disciplines the idea has taken hold that truth-talk is either redundant or the product of epistemic might. Questions of truth and falsehood are always internal to some specific language-game; history is just another kind of fiction; philosophy is only a kind of writing; law is (...)
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