What Relativism Isn't

Philosophy 73 (2):277-300 (1998)
Introduction There is an enormous amount of confusion about what relativism is. In this paper I aim to take a step toward clarifying what it is by discussing some things that it is not — that is, by distinguishing it from some other views with which it is often confused or conflated, such as nihilism and scepticism. I do this primarily because I think that the question of the character of relativism is interesting in itself. A clearer characterization of relativism would also be important instrumentally, however, as before we can accurately assess relativism we must have a clear idea of what it is. The secondary aim of this paper, then, is to function as a prolegomenon to an assessment of relativism. The tertiary aim of the paper is to make a few observations about the view which most clearly stands opposed to relativism, the view which I will call ‘objectivism.’ Because relativism is often confused with views like fallibilism and pluralism, objectivism often finds itself unjustly associated with views like infallibilism and political authoritarianism. (If this paper had a subtitle, it would be: ‘And What Objectivism Isn't.’) Although it is not the point of this paper to criticize relativism, I should make it clear that it began as a part of an anti-relativistic project, and, although anti-relativism is not necessarily objectivism, I should perhaps make it clear that I am more than a little sympathetic to the latter type of view.
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DOI 10.1017/S0031819198000217
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