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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 1963 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. Iep Author (2016). Epistemology and Relativism.
    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 →.
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  2. Matthew Chrisman (2010). From Epistemic Expressivism to Epistemic Inferentialism. In Adrian Haddock, Alan Millar & Duncan Pritchard (eds.), Social Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
    Recent philosophical debate about the meaning of knowledge claims has largely centered on the question of whether epistemic claims are plausibly thought to be context sensitive. The default assumption has been that sentences that attribute knowledge or justification have stable truth-conditions across different contexts of utterance, once any non-epistemic context sensitivity has been fixed. The contrary view is the contextualist view that such sentences do not have stable truth-conditions but can vary depending on the context of utterance. This debate manifestly (...)
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  3. Andrew D. Cling (1994). Posing the Problem of the Criterion. Philosophical Studies 75 (3):261 - 292.
    Although it has been largely neglected in contemporary philosophy , the problem of the criterion raises questions which must be addressed by any complete account of knowledge . But the problem of the criterion suffers not onl.
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  4. Wolfgang Freitag (2015). On the Knowability of Epistemic Contextualism: A Reply to M. Montminy and W. Skolits. Episteme 12 (3):335-342.
    It has been frequently suggested that epistemic contextualists violate the knowledge norm of assertion; by its own lights contextualism cannot be known and hence not be knowingly stated. I have defended contextualists against this objection by showing that it rests on a misunderstanding of their commitments. In M. Montminy's and W. Skolits' recent contribution to this journal, their criticism of my solution forms the background against which the authors develop their own. The present reply ventures to demonstrate that their objections (...)
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  5. David Henderson (2011). Gate-Keeping Contextualism. Episteme 8 (1):83-98.
    This paper explores a position that combines contextualism regarding knowledge with the idea that the central point or purpose of the concept of knowledge is to feature in attributions that keep epistemic gate for contextually salient communities. After highlighting the main outlines and virtues of the suggested gate-keeping contextualism, two issues are pursued. First, the motivation for the view is clarified in a discussion of the relation between evaluative concepts and the purposes they serve. This clarifies why one's sense for (...)
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  6. D. J. (1973). The Problem of the Criterion. Review of Metaphysics 27 (2):377-377.
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  7. Martin Kusch (forthcoming). Epistemic Relativism, Scepticism, Pluralism. Synthese:1-17.
    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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  8. Vincenzo Piero Lo Monaco (2009). De la Crítica de Davidson a la Idea de Relativismo Conceptual. Episteme 29 (1):51-67.
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  9. Robin McKenna (2013). 'Knowledge' Ascriptions, Social Roles and Semantics. Episteme 10 (4):335-350.
    The idea that the concept ‘knowledge’ has a distinctive function or social role is increasingly influential within contemporary epistemology. Perhaps the best-known account of the function of ‘knowledge’ is that developed in Edward Craig’s Knowledge and the state of nature (1990, OUP), on which (roughly) ‘knowledge’ has the function of identifying good informants. Craig’s account of the function of ‘knowledge’ has been appealed to in support of a variety of views, and in this paper I’m concerned with the claim that (...)
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  10. Ray Scott Percival (1999). Review of A House Built on Sand. [REVIEW] Science Spectra.
    A review of a collection of arguments against relativism in the social sciences.
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  11. Frederick F. Schmitt (2007). Introduction: Epistemic Relativism. Episteme 4 (1):1-9.
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  12. Mikael Stenmark (2014). Relativism—a Pervasive Feature of the Contemporary Western World? Social Epistemology 29 (1):31-43.
    What is relativism? Why should we adopt a relativistic stance towards what we and others hold to be true about the world? And how did relativism come to be such a pervasive feature of the contemporary Western world? These are questions which I address in this paper. To relativize is to maintain that what is true—and not merely what is taken to be true—is dependent upon group, community, society, culture and the like and is not simply true in a universal (...)
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  13. James Warren (2006). Lee (M.-K.) Epistemology After Protagoras: Responses to Relativism in Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus . Pp. Xii + 291. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005. Cased, £45. ISBN: 0-19-926222-. [REVIEW] The Classical Review 56 (01):59-.
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. Ismael Al-Amoudi & Hugh Willmott, Where Constructionism and Critical Realism Converge: Interrogating the Domain of Epistemological Relativism.
    The paper interrogates the status, nature and significance of epistemological relativism as a key element of constructionism and critical realism. It finds that epistemological relativism is espoused by authorities in critical realism and marginalized or displaced in the field of management and organization studies, resulting in forms of analysis that are empirically, but not fully critically, realist. This evaluation prompts reflection on the question of whether, how and with what implications epistemological relativism might be recast at the heart of critical (...)
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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):103-118.
    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. pp. 153--161.
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  6. Bruce Aune (1987). Conceptual Relativism. Philosophical Perspectives 1:269-288.
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  7. Dave Baggett (2001). Epistemic Relativism and Socially Responsible Realism: A Few Responses to Linker. Social Epistemology 16 (2):169 – 175.
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  8. M. Baghramian (2010). ' 'Relativism: A Brief History. In Michael Kausz (ed.), Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology. Columbia University Press.
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  9. Maria Baghramian (2011). Constructed Worlds, Contested Truths. In Richard Schantz & Markus Seidel (eds.), The Problem of Relativism in the Sociology of (Scientific) Knowledge. Ontos. pp. 105-130.
  10. Maria Baghramian (2008). Relativism About Science. In Martin Curd & Stathis Psillos (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Routledge. pp. 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. pp. 23-40.
  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. Edward Beach (1984). The Paradox of Cognitive Relativism Revisited: A Reply to Jack W. Meiland. Metaphilosophy 15 (1):1–15.
    EDITORS NOTE: Typographical corrections of page proofs were accidentally left out of Dr. Beach's article, which appeared in the January issue of this volume. The omission diminishes the value of the article; and the Editor apologizes for the oversight to Dr. Beach and the readers of Metaphilosophy. A typographically correct version is given below.
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  18. 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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  19. 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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  20. R. R. Beatch (1996). Margolis's Moderate Relativism. Journal of Philosophical Research 21:81-94.
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  21. José Benardete (1983). Rationality and Relativism. Review of Metaphysics 37 (1):122-124.
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  22. Lars Bergström (2006). Quine's Relativism. Theoria 72 (4):286-298.
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  23. 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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  24. Richard Bett (1989). The Sophists and Relativism. Phronesis 34 (1):139-169.
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  25. Akeel Bilgrami (2002). Realism and Relativism. Noûs 36 (s1):1-25.
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  26. Steven Bland (2014). Incommensurability, Relativism, and the Epistemic Authority of Science. Episteme 11 (4):463-473.
  27. 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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  28. David Bloor (2011). Relativism and the Sociology of Knowledge. In Steven Hales (ed.), A Companion to Relativism.
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  29. 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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  30. David Bloor (2007). Epistemic Grace. Antirelativism as Theology in Disguise. Common Knowledge 13 (2-3):250-280.
  31. 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 And the third, which I dub with the oxymoronic label “absolutist relativism,” seeks to locate relativism in our acceptance of certain sorts of spare absolutist principles. -/- The first idea (...)
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  32. Paul Boghossian (2010). Epistemic Relativism Defended. In Alvin I. Goldman & Dennis Whitcomb (eds.), Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. Oxford University Press.
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  33. Paul Boghossian (2008). Replies to Wright, MacFarlane and Sosa. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 141 (3):409-432.
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  34. Paul Boghossian (2006). What is Relativism? In Patrick Greenough & Michael Lynch (eds.), Truth and Relativism. Clarendon Press. pp. 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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  35. 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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  36. 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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  37. 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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