About this topic
Summary Philosophers have often claimed that truth is in some way relative. However, whether such a claim is coherent, and if so, how exactly it should be understood, is a matter of some controversy. To a first approximation, the idea is that the bearers of truth (e.g. propositions, utterances, sentences-in-context) may be true relative to some parameter and not others. Contemporary debate, informed by work in formal semantics, often focusses on attempts to motivate some form of relativism about truth by appeal to particular linguistic phenomena, like predicates of personal taste, epistemic modals, and future contingents.
Key works Contemporary debate generally focusses on proposals formulated within frameworks arising out of work by David Kaplan (1989) and David Lewis (1980). John MacFarlane's work, arguing for what he calls assessment sensitivity, is central. See his 2003 and 2007, for example. Other key contributions include, on the pro-relativist side, Lasersohn 2005Stephenson 2007, and Egan et al 2005, and, on the anti-relativist side, Cappelen & Hawthorne 2009. One worry that is sometimes raised about relativism is that it makes language somehow impossible. One influential version of the worry is raised in Evans 1985. MacFarlane responds in various places, including his 2003. Arguably, the worry can be traced to Plato, and his discussion of Protagorean relativism in the Theaetetus. For a classic discussion of this, see Burnyeat 1976
Introductions MacFarlane 2012
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  1. EL RELATIVISMO FILOSÓFICO.Miguel Acosta & José María Garrido (eds.) - 2005 - Madrid, Spain: Instituto de Humanidades Ángel Ayala-CEU (Fundación Universitaria San Pablo CEU).
    Esta obra compila los estudios presentados en las I Jornadas de Filosofía del Instituto CEU de Humanidades Ángel Ayala y está prologada por Abelardo Lobato, O. P. Los filósofos tienen el deber de buscar y alcanzar la verdad apelando a las fuerzas de la razón, la cual, por cierto, no impide otras vías genuinas de conocimiento, como la fe. La búsqueda intelectual exige un trabajo de análisis que debe afinarse ante las obcecaciones que a menudo se interponen en el horizonte (...)
  2. Review of Relativism and Monadic Truth. [REVIEW]Alexander Almér & Dag Westerståhl - 2010 - Linguistics and Philosophy 33 (1):37-50.
    This is a review of Herman Cappelen and John Hawthorne’s book Relativism and Monadic Truth (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009).
  3. Time Dilation, Context, and Relative Truth.N. Ángel Pinillos - 2011 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 82 (1):65-92.
  4. ' 'Relativism: A Brief History.M. Baghramian - 2010 - In Michael Kausz (ed.), Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology. Columbia University Press.
  5. Relativism 'and the Norm of Truth'.Maria Baghramian & Richard Hamilton - 2011 - Trópoand; RIVISTA DI ERMENEUTICA E CRITICA FILOSOFICA (3):33-51.
  6. The Limits of Faultless Disagreement.Carl Baker - manuscript
    Some have argued that the possibility of faultless disagreement gives relativist semantic theories an important explanatory advantage over their absolutist and contextualist rivals. Here I combat this argument, focusing on the specific case of aesthetic discourse. My argument has two stages. First, I argue that while relativists may be able to account for the possibility of faultless aesthetic disagreement, they nevertheless face difficulty in accounting for the intuitive limits of faultless disagreement. Second, I develop a new non-relativist theory which can (...)
  7. The Role of Disagreement in Semantic Theory.Carl Baker - 2013 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy (1):1-18.
  8. Relativism and Monadic Truth. [REVIEW]Brian Ball - 2010 - Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy 13.
  9. Cognitive Expressivism, Faultless Disagreement, and Absolute but Non-Objective Truth.Stephen J. Barker - 2010 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 110 (2pt2):183-199.
    I offer a new theory of faultless disagreement, according to which truth is absolute (non-relative) but can still be non-objective. What's relative is truth-aptness: a sentence like ‘Vegemite is tasty’ (V) can be truth-accessible and bivalent in one context but not in another. Within a context in which V fails to be bivalent, we can affirm that there is no issue of truth or falsity about V, still disputants, affirming and denying V, were not at fault, since, in their context (...)
  10. The Objectivity of Truth, A Core Truism?Robert Barnard & Joseph Ulatowski - forthcoming - Synthese:1-17.
    It is often claimed by theorists of truth that truth is objective. Upon reflection, however, this familiar principle can be understood in multiple ways. With this in mind, we have conducted empirical studies designed to elicit people’s responses to questions about the objectivity of truth. These studies suggest the following: (1) overall, individuals tend to endorse claims that are consistent with the objectivity of truth; (2) individuals’ conceptions of the objectivity of truth can be importantly different from one another; (3) (...)
  11. Appearance of Faultless Disagreement.Julien Beillard - 2010 - Dialogue 49 (4):603-616.
    A common argument for relativism invokes the appearance of faultless disagreement. I contend that the appearance is possible only under conditions that disqualify it as evidence: gross ignorance or irrationality, or else a prior commitment to an especially crude and implausible form of relativism.
  12. My Own Truth ---Pathologies of Self-Reference and Relative Truth.Alexandre Billon - 2011 - In Rahman Shahid, Primiero Giuseppe & Marion Mathieu (eds.), Logic, Epistemology, and the Unity of Science, Vol. 23. springer.
    emantic pathologies of self-reference include the Liar (‘this sentence is false’), the Truth-Teller (‘this sentence is true’) and the Open Pair (‘the neighbouring sentence is false’ ‘the neighbouring sentence is false’). Although they seem like perfectly meaningful declarative sentences, truth value assignment to their uses seems either inconsistent (the Liar) or arbitrary (the Truth-Teller and the Open-Pair). These pathologies thus call for a resolution. I propose such a resolution in terms of relative-truth: the truth value of a pathological sentence use (...)
  13. The Pragmatics of Insensitive Assessments: Understanding The Relativity of Assessments of Judgments of Personal Taste, Epistemic Modals, and More.Gunnar Björnsson & Alexander Almér - 2010 - In Barbara H. Partee, Michael Glanzberg & Jurģis Šķilters (eds.), The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication. pp. 1-45.
    In assessing the veridicality of utterances, we normally seem to assess the satisfaction of conditions that the speaker had been concerned to get right in making the utterance. However, the debate about assessor-relativism about epistemic modals, predicates of taste, gradable adjectives and conditionals has been largely driven by cases in which seemingly felicitous assessments of utterances are insensitive to aspects of the context of utterance that were highly relevant to the speaker’s choice of words. In this paper, we offer an (...)
  14. Contextualism, Assessor Relativism, and Insensitive Assessments.Gunnar Björnsson & Alexander Almér - 2009 - Logique Et Analyse 52 (208):363-372.
    Recently, contextualism about epistemic modals and predicates of taste have come under fire from advocates of assessment relativistic analyses. Contextualism, they have argued, fails to account for what we call "felicitous insensitive assessments". In this paper, we provide one hitherto overlooked way in which contextualists can embrace the phenomenon by slightly modifying an assumption that has remained in the background in most of the debate over contextualism and relativism. Finally, we briefly argue that the resulting contextualist account is at least (...)
  15. Subjective Disagreement.Beddor Bob - forthcoming - Noûs.
  16. Replies to Wright, MacFarlane and Sosa.Paul Boghossian - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 141 (3):409-432.
    The main impetus for my book came from the widespread acceptance of relativistic views about truth and knowledge within the Academy, especially within the humanities and the humanistic social sciences. In its introductory sections, though, I noted that there is one discipline within the humanities in which the influence of relativistic views is quite weak—namely, within analytic philosophy itself. Ironically, no sooner had the ink dried on the final version of my manuscript sometime in mid-2005—although, of course it had been (...)
  17. Is Everything Relative, Including Truth?Raymond D. Bradley - unknown
    The ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates (477-399 BCE), liked to pose questions in abstract terms. What is Justice? What is Beauty? What is Goodness? And so on. Not surprisingly, many who tried to answer tied themselves up in knots. And so it is also with the highly general question: What is truth?
  18. Perspectival Truth and Color Primitivism.Berit Brogaard - 2010 - In Cory D. Wright & Nikolaj J. L. L. Pedersen (eds.), New Waves in Truth. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 1--34.
    Perspectivalism is a semantic theory according to which the contents of utterances and mental states (perhaps of a particular kind) have a truth-value only relative to a particular perspective (or standard) determined by the context of the speaker, assessor, or bearer of the mental state. I have defended this view for epistemic terms, moral terms and predicates of personal taste elsewhere (Brogaard 2008a, 2008b, forthcoming a). The main aim of this paper is to defend perspectivalism about color perception and color (...)
  19. Introduction to Relative Truth.Berit Brogaard - 2009 - Synthese 166 (2):215-229.
  20. Perceptual Content and Monadic Truth: On Cappelen and Hawthorne's Relativism and Monadic Truth.Berit Brogaard - 2009 - Philosophical Books 50 (4):213-226.
    I will begin with a brief presentation of C & H’s arguments against nonindexical contextualism, temporalism, and relativism. I will then offer a general argument against the monadic truth package. Finally, I will offer arguments in favor of nonindexical contextualism and temporalism.
  21. Moral Contextualism and Moral Relativism.Berit Brogaard - 2008 - Philosophical Quarterly 58 (232):385 - 409.
    Moral relativism provides a compelling explanation of linguistic data involving ordinary moral expressions like 'right' and 'wrong'. But it is a very radical view. Because relativism relativizes sentence truth to contexts of assessment it forces us to revise standard linguistic theory. If, however, no competing theory explains all of the evidence, perhaps it is time for a paradigm shift. However, I argue that a version of moral contextualism can account for the same data as relativism without relativizing sentence truth to (...)
  22. Sea Battle Semantics.Berit Brogaard - 2008 - Philosophical Quarterly 58 (231):326–335.
    The assumption that the future is open makes well known problems for traditional semantics. According to a commonly held intuition, today's occurrence of the sentence 'There will be a sea battle tomorrow', while truth-valueless today, will have a determinate truth-value by tomorrow night. Yet given traditional semantics, sentences that are truth-valueless now cannot later 'become' true. Relativistic semantics has been claimed to do a better job of accommodating intuitions about future contingents than non-relativistic semantics does. However, intuitions about future contingents (...)
  23. Assertion: New Philosophical Essays.Jessica Brown & Herman Cappelen (eds.) - 2011 - Oxford University Press.
    Assertion is a fundamental feature of language. This volume will be the place to look for anyone interested in current work on the topic.
  24. Conceptual Relativism.Anthony Brueckner - 1998 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 79 (4):295–301.
    What is conceptual relativism? Several formulations of the idea that truth, or existence, is somehow relative to conceptual schemes are considered. All are found lacking.
  25. Faultless Disagreement and Self-Expression.F. A. I. Buekens - 2009 - In Jesus M. Larrazabal & Larraitz Zubeldia (eds.), Meaning, Content and Argument. University of the Basque Country Press. pp. 249--267.
  26. Faultless Disagreement, Assertions and the Affective-Expressive Dimension of Judgments of Taste.Filip Buekens - 2011 - Philosophia 39 (4):637-655.
    Contextualists and assessment relativists neglect the expressive dimension of assertoric discourse that seems to give rise to faultless disagreement. Discourse that generates the intuition makes public an attitudinal conflict, and the affective -expressive dimension of the contributing utterances accounts for it. The FD-phenomenon is an effect of a public dispute generated by a sequence of expressing opposite attitudes towards a salient object or state of affairs, where the protagonists are making an attempt to persuade the other side into joining the (...)
  27. Relativism, Assertion, and Disagreement in Matters of Taste.Filip Buekens - 2009 - Logique Et Analyse 52 (208):389-405.
  28. Taste Disagreements and Predicates of Personal Taste.Heidi Teres Buetow - unknown
    In my dissertation, I explore the role of taste disagreements in the debate about the semantics of predicates of personal taste. Linguistic data derived from examples of gustatory disagreement often plays a major role in deciding the correct semantics of taste. I claim that, contrary to the trend in the recent literature, taste disagreements should not play any part in this debate. I argue that the data can be accommodated independently of the semantics by a theory of the purpose of (...)
  29. Review of "Ulrich Pardey, Frege on Absolute and Relative Truth". [REVIEW]Bernd Buldt - unknown
  30. Protagoras and the Self-Refutation in Plato’s Theaetetus.M. F. Burnyeat - 1976 - Philosophical Review 85 (2):172-195.
  31. Truth and Historicity.Richard Campbell - 1992 - Oxford University Press.
    In this scholarly but non-technical book, Campbell elucidates the concept of truth by tracing its history, from the ancient Greek idea that truth is timeless, unchanging, and free from all relativism, through the seventeenth-century crisis which led to the collapse of that idea, and then on through the emergence of historical consciousness to the existentialist, sociological, and linguistic approaches of our own time. He gives a scholarly but vivid and economical exposition of the views of a remarkably wide range of (...)
  32. Reply to Glanzberg, Soames and Weatherson.H. Cappelen & J. Hawthorne - 2011 - Analysis 71 (1):143-156.
    One of Weatherson's main goals is to drive home a methodological point: We shouldn't be looking for deductive arguments for or against relativism – we should instead be evaluating inductive arguments designed to show that either relativism or some alternative offers the best explanation of some data. Our focus in Chapter Two on diagnostics for shared content allegedly encourages the search for deductive arguments and so does more harm than good. We have no methodological slogan of our own to offer. (...)
  33. Content Relativism and Semantic Blindness.Herman Cappelen - 2008 - In Manuel Garcia-Carpintero & Max Koelbel (eds.), Relative Truth. Oxford University Press. pp. 265-86.
    For some relativists some of the time the evidence for their view is a puzzling data pattern: On the one hand, there's evidence that the terms in question exhibit some kind of content stability across contexts. On the other hand, there's evidence that their contents vary from one context of use to another. The challenge is to reconcile these two sets of data. Truth relativists claim that their theory can do so better than contextualism and invariantism. Truth relativists, in effect, (...)
  34. Reply to Lasersohn, MacFarlane, and Richard. [REVIEW]Herman Cappelen & John Hawthorne - 2011 - Philosophical Studies 156 (3):417-419.
  35. Summary. [REVIEW]Herman Cappelen & John Hawthorne - 2011 - Analysis 71 (1):109 - 111.
  36. Relativism and Monadic Truth.Herman Cappelen & John Hawthorne - 2009 - Oxford University Press UK.
    Cappelen and Hawthorne present a powerful critique of fashionable relativist accounts of truth, and the foundational ideas in semantics on which the new relativism draws. They argue compellingly that the contents of thought and talk are propositions that instantiate the fundamental monadic properties of truth and falsity.
  37. Relative Truth.Herman Cappelen & Torfinn Huvenes - forthcoming - In Michael Glanzberg (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Truth. Oxford University Press.
    An introduction to relativism about truth.
  38. Relative Truth.G. Carpintero & M. Koelbel (eds.) - 2008 - Oxford University Press.
  39. Disagreement, Relativism and Doxastic Revision.J. Carter - 2014 - Erkenntnis 79 (S1):1-18.
    I investigate the implication of the truth-relativist’s alleged ‘ faultless disagreements’ for issues in the epistemology of disagreement. A conclusion I draw is that the type of disagreement the truth-relativist claims to preserve fails in principle to be epistemically significant in the way we should expect disagreements to be in social-epistemic practice. In particular, the fact of faultless disagreement fails to ever play the epistemically significant role of making doxastic revision rationally required for either party in a disagreement. That the (...)
  40. On Cappelen and Hawthrone’s “Relativism and Monadic Truth”.J. Carter - 2011 - ProtoSociology 28:231-242.
  41. Assertion and Relative Truth.Ramiro Caso - 2014 - Synthese 191 (6):1309-1325.
    An account of assertion along truth-relativistic lines is offered. The main lines of relativism about truth are laid out and the problematic features that assertion acquires in the presence of relative truth are identified. These features are the possibility of coherently formulating norms of assertion and the possibility of grounding a rational practice of assertion upon relative truth. A solution to these problems is provided by formulating norms for making and assessing assertions that employ a suitably relativized truth predicate and (...)
  42. A Non‐Alethic Approach to Faultless Disagreement.Lenny Clapp - 2015 - Dialectica 69 (4):517-550.
    This paper motivates and describes a non-alethic approach to faultless disagreement involving predicates of personal taste. In section 1 I describe problems faced by Sundell's indexicalist approach, and MacFarlane's relativist approach. In section 2 I develop an alternative, non-alethic, approach. The non-alethic approach is broadly expressivist in that it endorses both the negative semantic thesis that simple sentences containing PPTs do not semantically encode complete propositions and the positive pragmatic thesis that such sentences are used to express evaluative mental states. (...)
  43. Minimal (Disagreement About) Semantics.Lenny Clapp - 2007 - In Gerhard Preyer & Georg Peter (eds.), Context-Sensitivity and Semantic Minimalism: New Essays on Semantics and Pragmatics. Oxford University Press.
  44. Cappelen, Content Relativism, and the “Creative Interpreter”.Mark Criley - 2013 - Southwest Philosophy Review 29 (1):211-219.
    In recent work, Herman Cappelen has defended a position he calls content relativism (CR): the thesis that one and the same utterance may have different content at different contexts of assessment or interpretation. In his most recent treatment of the topic, Cappelen argues for CR using examples involving prescriptive language: instructions, orders, and laws. By pointing out some problems for Cappelen’s argument and suggesting ways they might be fixed, I hope to show how CR might best be developed and defended.
  45. Relativism and Truth: A Misguided Polarity.M. P. D'Entreves - 1995 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 21 (1):17-35.
  46. Review of F. Schmitt: Truth, A Primer. [REVIEW]Marian David - 1997 - Philosophical Review 106 (3):441-443.
  47. Elaboration and Intuitions of Disagreement.Alex Davies - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (4):861-875.
    Mark Richard argues for truth-relativism about claims made using gradable adjectives. He argues that truth-relativism is the best explanation of two kinds of linguistic data, which I call: true cross-contextual reports and infelicitous denials of conflict. Richard claims that such data are generated by an example that he discusses at length. However, the consensus is that these linguistic data are illusory because they vanish when elaborations are added to examples of the same kind as Richard’s original. In this paper I (...)
  48. Using "Not Tasty" at the Dinner Table.Alex Davies - 2017 - Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 24 (3).
    John MacFarlane argues against objectivism about “tasty”/”not tasty” in the following way. If objectivism were true then, given that speakers use “tasty”/”not tasty” in accordance with a rule, TP, speakers would be using an evidently unreliable method to form judgements and make claims about what is tasty. Since this is implausible, objectivism must be false. In this paper, I describe a context in which speakers deviate from TP. I argue that MacFarlane's argument against objectivism fails when applied to uses of (...)
  49. Faultless Disagreement, Cognitive Command, and Epistemic Peers.John K. Davis - 2015 - Synthese 192 (1):1-24.
    Relativism and contextualism are the most popular accounts of faultless disagreement, but Crispin Wright once argued for an account I call divergentism. According to divergentism, parties who possess all relevant information and use the same standards of assessment in the same context of utterance can disagree about the same proposition without either party being in epistemic fault, yet only one of them is right. This view is an alternative to relativism, indexical contextualism, and nonindexical contextualism, and has advantages over those (...)
  50. On Nonindexical Contextualism.Wayne A. Davis - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 163 (2):561-574.
    Abstract MacFarlane distinguishes “context sensitivity” from “indexicality,” and argues that “nonindexical contextualism” has significant advantages over the standard indexical form. MacFarlane’s substantive thesis is that the extension of an expression may depend on an epistemic standard variable even though its content does not. Focusing on ‘knows,’ I will argue against the possibility of extension dependence without content dependence when factors such as meaning, time, and world are held constant, and show that MacFarlane’s nonindexical contextualism provides no advantages over indexical contextualism. (...)
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