Ontological relativity and meaning‐variance: A critical‐constructive review

Christopher Norris
Cardiff University
This article offers a critical review of various ontological-relativist arguments, mostly deriving from the work of W. V. Quine and Thomas K hn. I maintain that these arguments are (1) internally contradictory, (2) incapable of accounting for our knowledge of the growth of scientific knowledge, and (3) shown up as fallacious from the standpoint of a causal-realist approach to issues of truth, meaning, and interpretation. Moreover, they have often been viewed as lending support to such programmes as the 'strong' sociology of knowledge and the turn towards wholesale cultural-relativist doctrines, whether of the Wittgensteinian ('language-games') or Heideggerian (depth-hermeneutic) varieties. Thus Richard Rorty recommends that we should henceforth drop all that old-fashioned talk of 'truth', 'knowledge', or 'reality', since whatever warrants those descriptions from time to time is just the product of some currently favoured language-game or range of elective metaphors. Such ideas have little in common with Quine's general outlook of robust physicalism, nor again - though the case is less clear - with Kuhn's reconsidered approach to these issues as set forth in his 1969 Postscript to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions . However, both thinkers have left themselves open to misconstrual by adopting a sceptical-relativist fallback position in response to the well-known problems with logical empiricism. This essay therefore reviews those problems with reference to alternative, more adequate accounts of what is involved in the process of scientific discovery and theory-change.
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DOI 10.1080/00201749708602444
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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - University of Chicago Press.

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