A consistent relativism

Mind 106 (421):33-52 (1997)


Relativism is one of the most tenacious theories about truth, with a pedigree as old as philosophy itself. Nearly as ancient is the chief criticism of relativism, namely the charge that the theory is self-refuting. This paper develops a logic of relativism that (1) illuminates the classic self-refutation charge and shows how to escape it; (2) makes rigorous the ideas of truth as relative and truth as absolute, and shows the relations between them; (3) develops an intensional logic for relativism; (4) provides a framework in which relativists can consistently promote ethical, mathematical, scientific, religious, and political truths (among others) as being relative; (5) argues that the notion of incommensurability is far less troubling than is commonly thought; and (6) argues that the concept of a perspective as needed by the theory is not prey to Davidson's well-known critique of conceptual schemes. The paper will not defend relativism as the correct theory of truth, nor will it provide a fully satisfying theory about the nature of a perspective. The logic of relativism is primarily meant to provide a formal framework in which relativists can consistently develop their theories. This alone is a considerable step forward, since the debate about relativism often founders upon the rock of self-refutation. It is argued that while 'everything is relative' is inconsistent, 'everything true is relatively true' is not. The latter is all a relativist really needs.

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Author's Profile

Steven Hales
Bloomsburg University

References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - University of Chicago Press.
On the Plurality of Worlds.David Lewis - 1986 - Wiley-Blackwell.
Reason, Truth and History.Hilary Putnam - 1981 - Cambridge University Press.
The Nature of Necessity.Alvin Plantinga - 1974 - Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
Reason, Truth and History.Hilary Putnam - 1981 - Cambridge University Press.

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Citations of this work

Relativism.Maria Baghramian & Adam J. Carter - 2020 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Indexical Relativism Versus Genuine Relativism.Max Kölbel - 2004 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 12 (3):297 – 313.
Relativism.Chris Swoyer - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Assertion, Belief and Disagreement: A Problem for Truth-Relativism.Sebastiano Moruzzi - 2008 - In Manuel García-Carpintero & Max Kölbel (eds.), Relative Truth. Oxford University Press. pp. 207.

View all 26 citations / Add more citations

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