This paper is about two topics: metaepistemological absolutism and the epistemic principles governing perceptual warrant. Our aim is to highlight – by taking the debate between dogmatists and conservativists about perceptual warrant as a case study – a surprising and hitherto unnoticed problem with metaepistemological absolutism, at least as it has been influentially defended by Paul Boghossian (2006a) as the principal metaepistemological contrast point to relativism. What we find is that the metaepistemological commitments at play on both sides of (...) this dogmatism/conservativism debate do not line up with epistemic relativism nor do they line up with absolutism, at least as Boghossian articulates this position. What this case study reveals is the need in metaepistemological option space for the recognition of a weaker and less tendentious form of absolutism, what we call “environment relativism”. On this view, epistemic principles are knowable, objective, and they can serve as the basis of particular epistemic evaluations, but their validity is relative to the wider global environment in which they are applied. (shrink)
Relativism and expressivism offer two different semantic frameworks for grappling with a similar cluster of issues. What is the difference between these two frameworks? Should they be viewed as rivals? If so, how should we choose between them? This chapter sheds light on these questions. After providing an overview of relativism and expressivism, I discuss three potential choice points: their relation to truth conditional semantics, their pictures of belief and communication, and their explanations of disagreement.
The relativist's central objection to contextualism is that it fails to account for the disagreement we perceive in discourse about "subjective" matters, such as whether stewed prunes are delicious. If we are to adjudicate between contextualism and relativism, then, we must first get clear about what it is for two people to disagree. This question turns out to be surprisingly difficult to answer. A partial answer is given here; although it is incomplete, it does help shape what the relativist (...) must say if she is to do better than the contextualist in securing genuine disagreement. (shrink)
This paper presents reasons against semantic relativism. Semantic relativism is motivated by intuitions that are presumed to raise problems for traditional or contextualist semantics in contested domains of discourse. Intuition-based arguments are those based on competent speakers’ putative intuitions about seeming faultless disagreement, eavesdropper, and retraction cases. I will organize the discussion in three parts. First, I shall provide a brief introduction to the intuition-based arguments offered in favor of semantic relativism. Second, I shall indicate that there (...) are ways for contextualism to explain the (appearance of) intuitions that support semantic relativism. Third, I shall review some experimental results and independent arguments that put into question the appeal of semantic relativism. (shrink)
I think that there are good reasons to adopt a relativist semantics for epistemic modal claims such as ``the treasure might be under the palm tree'', according to which such utterances determine a truth value relative to something finer-grained than just a world (or a <world, time> pair). Anyone who is inclined to relativise truth to more than just worlds and times faces a problem about assertion. It's easy to be puzzled about just what purpose would be served by assertions (...) of this kind, and how to understand what we'd be up to in our use of sentences like ``the treasure might be under the palm tree'', if they have such peculiar truth conditions. After providing a very quick argument to motivate a relativist view of epistemic modals, I bring out and attempt to resolve this problem in making sense of the role of assertions with relativist truth conditions. Solving this problem should be helpful in two ways: first, it eliminates an apparently forceful objection to relativism, and second, spelling out the relativist account of assertion and communication will help to make clear just what the relativist position is, exactly, and why it's interesting. (shrink)
The structure of this article is very simple. In the first half, I will introduce a sophisticated way of reading Heidegger as a relativist; I draw here on the work of Kusch and Lafont. In the second half, I present the counter-argument. As I see it, Heidegger is not a relativist; but understanding the relations between his approach and a relativistic one is crucial for an evaluation of both his own work and the broader trajectory of post-Kantian thought.
In this paper I refute the chief arguments for cultural relativism, meaning the moral (not the descriptive) theory that goes by that name. In doing this I walk some oft-trodden paths, but I also break new ones. For instance, I take unusual pains to produce an adequate formulation of cultural relativism, and I distinguish that thesis from the relativism of present-day anthropologists, with which it is often conflated. In addition, I address not one or two, but eleven (...) arguments for cultural relativism, many of which contribute to its popularity but receive scant attention from its critics. To elicit the failings of these arguments I deploy a host of pertinent but often neglected distinctions. (shrink)
Assessment relativism, as developed by John MacFarlane, is the view that the truth of our claims involving a variety of English expressions—‘tasty’, ‘knows’, ‘tomorrow’, ‘might’, and ‘ought’—is relative not only to aspects of the context of their production but also to aspects of the context in which they are assessed. Assessment relativism is thus a form of truth relativism which is offered as a new way of understanding perspectival thought and talk. In this article, I present the (...) main theses of assessment relativism, focusing in particular on highlighting the points of commonality and contrast with other forms of truth relativism. I then offer some critical remarks concerning the motivation of assessment relativism in relation to matters of taste. (shrink)
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 and it is not my aim to discuss each and every one of those senses here. Rather, what interests me is the notion that is characterized by the following core idea: the relativist about a given domain, D, purports to have discovered that the truths of D involve an unexpected relation to a parameter. (shrink)
The aim of this chapter is to clarify the use and meaning of the concept of relativism in the context of National Socialism (NS). Section 1 examines the critical reproach that NS is a form of relativism. I analyze and criticize the common core of this widespread argument which has dominated discussions about the topic up to the present. Section 2 sketches the general debates on relativism before and during NS. I show that fascist thought could be (...) associated with both relativism and anti-relativism. In contrast to the received view, I argue that Nazi intellectuals regarded relativism as problem, and presented NS as the overcoming of relativism. Subsequently I turn to two major philosophers who connected their philosophy with NS. Section 3 investigates Bruno Bauch’s (1887–1942) nationalist philosophy. I show that he linked his concept of the nation with an objectivist value theory intended to oppose all kinds of relativism. Section 4 turns to Erich Rothacker’s (1888–1965) cultural anthropology. I argue that the revision of his philosophical views in the 1930s was accompanied by a political turn towards NS and a withdrawal from relativism. The brief conclusion (Section 5) summarizes the findings of the chapter. I conclude that, in the context of NS, relativism is mostly used in a pejorative sense. (shrink)
This chapter traces the development of relativist ideas in nineteenth-century debates about history and historical knowledge. It distinguishes between two contexts in which these ideas first emerged. First, the early-to-mid nineteenth-century encounter between speculative German idealism and professional historiography. Second, the late nineteenth-century debate between hermeneutic philosophy and orthodox Neo-Kantianism. The paper summarizes key differences between these two contexts: in the former, historical ontology and historical methodology formed a unity, in the latter, they came apart. As a result, the idea (...) of universal history became increasingly problematic. In light of these differences, the paper seeks to (partially) explain why it was only towards the late-nineteenth century that historical relativism became an explicit concern. (shrink)
The paper focuses on one central aspect of Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge: his exemption of the contents of mathematics and the natural sciences from sociological investigations. After emphasizing the importance of Mannheim’s contribution and his exemption-thesis to the history and development of the field and the problem of relativism, I survey several interpretations of the thesis – especially those put forward by proponents of the so-called ‘Strong Programme’. I argue that these interpretations do not get the philosophical background (...) and impetus of Mannheim’s contribution right. By distinguishing between naturalistic and anti-naturalistic strands in Mannheim’s work I propose a new reading on which Mannheim did not exempt the contents of the areas in question principally or because of a lack of nerve and will. It is argued that Mannheim’s exemption-thesis rather is a consequence of his own sketchy sociological investigations of ‘the paradigm of the natural sciences’. (shrink)
This paper argues against relativism, focusing on relativism based on the semantics of predicates of personal taste. It presents and defends a contextualist semantics for these predicates, derived from current work on gradable adjectives. It then considers metasemantic questions about the kinds of contextual parameters this semantics requires. It argues they are not metasemantically different from those in other gradable adjectives, and that contextual parameters of this sort are widespread in natural language. Furthermore, this paper shows that if (...) such parameters are rejected, it leads to an unacceptably rampant form of relativism, that relativizes truth to an open-ended list of parameters. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to examine the kind of evidence that might be adduced in support of relativist semantics of a kind that have recently been proposed for predicates of personal taste, for epistemic modals, for knowledge attributions and for other cases. I shall concentrate on the case of taste predicates, but what I have to say is easily transposed to the other cases just mentioned. I shall begin by considering in general the question of what kind of (...) evidence can be offered in favour of some semantic theory or framework of semantic theorizing. In other words, I shall begin with the difficult question of the empirical significance of semantic theorizing. In Sect. 2, I outline a relativist semantic theory, and in Sect. 3, I review four types of evidence that might be offered in favour of a relativistic framework. I show that the evidence is not conclusive because a sophisticated form of contextualism can stand up to the evidence. However, the evidence can be taken to support the view that either relativism or the sophisticated form of contextualism is correct. (shrink)
Two currently much discussed views about truth, truth pluralism and truth relativism, are found in Sellars’s writings. I show that his motivations for adoping these views are interestingly different from those shared by most of their recent advocates. First, I explain how Sellars comes to embrace a version of truth pluralism. I argue that his version overcomes a difficulty confronting pluralists, albeit at a serious cost. Then I argue that Sellars’s truth pluralism isn’t motivated by his interest in domains (...) of discourse beyond the “matter-of-factual.” Rather, the key to his truth pluralism, his analysis of truth as “semantical assertibility,” is motivated by the same consideration that leads him to adopt truth relativism. This is his interest in applying semantic notions to discourse that embodies conceptual structures other than ours. Despite their common motivation, I conclude that Sellars’s relativism is independent of, and indeed stands in tension with, the analysis of truth that underlies his pluralism. (shrink)
The book addresses a set of contemporary issues involving knowledge and science from a constructivist-pragmatist perspective often labeled "relativism." As it demonstrates, what that perspective implies are neither absurd claims nor objectionable positions but an ongoing alertness to contingency, complexity, and multiplicity that is both intellectually and ethically valuable. In an extended examination of recent writings by Bruno Latour, I indicate the increasing centrality of theological investments in his work. Discussing computational methods in literary studies and efforts to "integrate" (...) the academic disciplines, I suggest that what distinguishes the humanities and the natural sciences are neither subject areas nor "methods" as such but fundamental epistemic orientations.. Finally, declining calls to reaffirm or rehabilitate philosophical realism in the face of denials of climate change, I suggest that the most illuminating perspectives for conceptualization and practice in the Anthropocene are precisely those labeled, but commonly mischaracterized as, “relativist.” -/- . (shrink)
I begin with some familiar conceptions of epistemic relativism. One kind of epistemic relativism is descriptive pluralism. This is the simple, non-normative thesis that many different communities, cultures, social networks, etc. endorse different epistemic systems (E-systems), i.e., different sets of norms, standards, or principles for forming beliefs and other doxastic states. Communities try to guide or regulate their members’ credence-forming habits in a variety of different, i.e., incompatible, ways. Although there may be considerable overlap across cultures in certain (...) types of epistemic norms (e.g., norms for perceptual belief), there are sharp differences across groups in other types of epistemic norms. (shrink)
I attempt to rebut the following standard objections against cultural relativism: 1. It is self-defeating for a cultural relativist to take the principle of tolerance as absolute; 2. There are universal moral rules, contrary to what cultural relativism claims; 3. If cultural relativism were true, Hitler’s genocidal actions would be right, social reformers would be wrong to go against their own culture, moral progress would be impossible, and an atrocious crime could be made moral by forming a (...) culture which approves of it; 4. Cultural relativism is silent about how large a group must be in order to be a culture, and which culture we should follow when we belong to two cultures with conflicting moralities. (shrink)
I set out and defend a view on indicative conditionals that I call “indexical relativism ”. The core of the view is that which proposition is expressed by an utterance of a conditional is a function of the speaker’s context and the assessor’s context. This implies a kind of relativism, namely that a single utterance may be correctly assessed as true by one assessor and false by another.
In Foundations for Moral Relativism, J. David Velleman shows that different communities can indeed be subject to incompatible moralities, because their local mores are rationally binding. At the same time, he explains why the mores of different communities, even when incompatible, are still variations on the same moral themes. The book thus maps out a universe of many moral worlds without, as Velleman puts it, "moral black holes”. The five self-standing chapters discuss such diverse topics as online avatars and (...) virtual worlds, lying in Russian and truth-telling in Quechua, the pleasure of solitude and the fear of absurdity. Accessibly written, Foundations for Moral Relativism presupposes no prior training in philosophy. (shrink)
It has often been suggested that people’s ordinary folk understanding of morality involves a rejection of moral relativism and a belief in objective moral truths. The results of six studies call this claim into question. Participants did offer apparently objectivist intuitions when confronted with questions about individuals from their own culture, but they offered increasingly relativist intuitions as they were confronted with questions about individuals from increasingly different cultures or ways of life. In light of these data, the authors (...) hypothesize that people do not have a fixed commitment to moral objectivism but instead tend to adopt different views depending on the degree to which they consider radically different perspectives on moral questions. [NOTE: This is a reprint of Sarkissian et al 2011]. (shrink)
This chapter defends a version of the indexical contextualist form of moderate relativism: the attempt to endorse appearances of faultless disagreement within the framework in which a sentence at a context at the index of the context determines its appropriate truth-value. Many object that any such an indexical proposal would fail to account for intuitions of (genuine) disagreement as revealed in ordinary disputes in the domain. The defence from this objection exploits presuppositions of commonality to the effect that the (...) addressee is relevantly like the speaker of the context. (shrink)
This book provides an analysis of the debate surrounding cultural diversity, and attempts to reconcile the seemingly opposing views of "ethical imperialism," the belief that each individual is entitled to fundamental human rights, and cultural relativism, the belief that ethics must be relative to particular cultures and societies. The author examines the role of cultural tradition, often used as a defense against critical ethical judgments. Key issues in health and medicine are explored in the context of cultural diversity: the (...) physician-patient relationship, disclosing a diagnosis of a fatal illness, informed consent, brain death and organ transplantation, rituals surrounding birth and death, female genital mutilation, sex selection of offspring, fertility regulation, and biomedical research involving human subjects. Among the conclusions the author reaches are that ethical universals exist, but must not be confused with ethical absolutes. The existence of ethical universals is compatible with a variety of culturally relative interpretations, and some rights related to medicine and health care should be considered human rights. Illustrative examples are drawn from the author's experiences serving on international ethical review committees and her travels to countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where she conducted educational workshops and carried out out her own research. (shrink)
In the pair of articles of which this is the second, I present a set of problems and philosophical proposals that have in recent years been associated with the term “relativism”. These problems are related to the question of how we should represent thought and speech about certain topics. The main issue is whether we should model such mental states or linguistic acts as involving representational contents that are absolutely correct or incorrect, or whether, alternatively, their correctness should be (...) thought of as varying with some (more or less surprising) factor. In the first article, “Relativism 1: Representational Content”, I discussed the general issue of relativism about representational content. I argued for the conciliatory view that both relativist and absoutist conceptions of representational content can be legitimate. In the present continuation, I look in more detail at a special case of the general issue, namely the question of whether semantic contents, i.e. the contents assigned to linguistic utterances in the semantics of natural language, should be construed in an absolutist or in a relativist way. (shrink)
The past decade has seen a protracted debate over the semantics of epistemic modals. According to contextualists, epistemic modals quantify over the possibilities compatible with some contextually determined group’s information. Relativists often object that contextualism fails to do justice to the way we assess utterances containing epistemic modals for truth or falsity. However, recent empirical work seems to cast doubt on the relativist’s claim, suggesting that ordinary speakers’ judgments about epistemic modals are more closely in line with contextualism than (...) class='Hi'>relativism (Knobe & Yalcin 2014; Khoo 2015). This paper furthers the debate by reporting new empirical research revealing a previously overlooked dimension of speakers’ truth-value judgments concerning epistemic modals. Our results show that these judgments vary systematically with the question under discussion in the conversational context in which the utterance is being assessed. We argue that this ‘QUD effect’ is difficult to explain if contextualism is true, but is readily explained by a suitably flexible form of relativism. (shrink)
Relativism has been, in its various guises, both one of the most popular and most reviled philosophical doctrines of our time. Defenders see it as a harbinger of tolerance and the only ethical and epistemic stance worthy of the open-minded and tolerant. Detractors dismiss it for its alleged incoherence and uncritical intellectual permissiveness. Debates about relativism permeate the whole spectrum of philosophical sub-disciplines. From ethics to epistemology, science to religion, political theory to ontology, theories of meaning and even (...) logic, philosophy has felt the need to respond to this heady and seemingly subversive idea. Discussions of relativism often also invoke considerations relevant to the very nature and methodology of philosophy and to the division between the so-called “analytic and continental” camps in philosophy. And yet, despite a long history of debate going back to Plato and an increasingly large body of writing, it is still difficult to come to an agreed definition of what, at its core, relativism is, and what philosophical import it has. This entry attempts to provide a broad account of the many ways in which “relativism” has been defined, explained, defended and criticized. (shrink)
This paper explores the relationship between scepticism and epistemic relativism in the context of recent history and philosophy of science. More specifically, it seeks to show that significant treatments of epistemic relativism by influential figures in the history and philosophy of science draw upon the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. The paper begins with a presentation of the problem of the criterion as it occurs in the work of Sextus Empiricus. It is then shown that significant treatments of (...) epistemic relativism in recent history and philosophy of science (critical rationalism, historical philosophy of science and the strong programme) draw upon the problem of the criterion. It is briefly suggested that a particularist response to the problem of the criterion may be put to good use against epistemic relativism. (shrink)
Are our beliefs justified only relatively to a specific culture or society? Is it possible to give reasons for the superiority of our scientific, epistemic methods? Markus Seidel sets out to answer these questions in his critique of epistemic relativism. Focusing on the work of the most prominent, explicitly relativist position in the sociology of scientific knowledge – so-called 'Edinburgh relativism' or the 'Strong Programme' –, he scrutinizes the key arguments for epistemic relativism from a philosophical perspective: (...) underdetermination and norm-circularity. His main negative result is that these arguments fall short of establishing epistemic relativism. -/- Despite arguing for epistemic absolutism, Seidel aims to provide an account of non-relative justification that nevertheless integrates the basic, correct intuition of the epistemic relativist. His main positive result is that the epistemic absolutist can very well accept the idea that people using different standards of justification can be equally justified in holding their beliefs: Rational disagreement, he maintains, is perfectly possible. -/- The book provides a detailed critique of relativism in the sociology of scientific knowledge and beyond. With its constructive part it aims at making conciliatory steps in a highly embittered discussion between sociology and philosophy of science. (shrink)
Recent work in folk metaethics finds a correlation between perceived consensus about a moral claim and meta-ethical judgments about whether the claim is universally or only relatively true. We argue that consensus can provide evidence for meta-normative claims, such as whether a claim is universally true. We then report several experiments indicating that people use consensus to make inferences about whether a claim is universally true. This suggests that people's beliefs about relativism and universalism are partly guided by evidence-based (...) reasoning. In a final study, we show that the rejection of universalism does not generate a simple subjectivism but is associated with a more moderate relativism on which highly atypical positions are regarded as mistaken. (shrink)
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 to deny the objectivity of standards. In this paper I shall discuss two currently popular attempts to attack “No-metajustification”. The first attempt attacks no-metajustification by challenging a particular strategy of arguing in its defence: this strategy involves the ancient Pyrrhonian “Problem of the Criterion”. The second attempt to refute No-metajustification targets its metaphysical underpinning: to wit, the claim that there are, or could be, several fundamentally different and irreconcilable epistemic systems. I shall call this assumption “Pluralism”. I shall address three questions with respect to these attempts to refute epistemic relativism by attacking no-metajustification: Can the epistemic relativist rely on the Problem of the Criterion in support of No-metajustification? Is a combination of Chisholmian “particularism” and epistemic naturalism an effective weapon against No-metajustification? And is Pluralism a defensible assumption? (shrink)
An objection put forward by, among others, John McDowell to Kripke’s Wittgenstein’s relativist view of semantic discourse goes roughly as follows: relativism about semantic discourse entails global relativism, which in turn entails subjective idealism, which we can reasonably assume to be false. I show that even though relativism about semantic discourse does entail a form of global relativism, the relativism in question does not entail anything like subjective idealism. This particular kind of relativism holds (...) that which character, in Kaplan’s sense, is associated to a given utterance depends on what MacFarlane calls “the context of assessment”. (shrink)
Moral relativism is an important topic in metaethics. It is also widely discussed outside philosophy (for example, by political and religious leaders), and it is controversial among philosophers and nonphilosophers alike. This is perhaps not surprising in view of recent evidence that people's intuitions about moral relativism vary widely. Though many philosophers are quite critical of moral relativism, there are several contemporary philosophers who defend forms of it. These include such prominent figures as Gilbert Harman, Jesse J. (...) Prinz, J. David Velleman and David B. Wong. The term ‘moral relativism’ is understood in a variety of ways. Most often it is associated with an empirical thesis that there are deep and widespread moral disagreements and a metaethical thesis that the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to the moral standard of some person or group of persons. Sometimes ‘moral relativism’ is connected with a normative position about how we ought to think about or act towards those with whom we morally disagree, most commonly that we should tolerate them. (shrink)
Some Key Controversies in the Philosophy of Science Larry Laudan. the mouths of my realist, relativist, and positivist. (By contrast, there is at least one person who hews to the line I have my prag- matist defending.) But I have gone to some ...
This paper critically examines color relationalism and color relativism, two theories of color that are allegedly supported by variation in normal human color vision. We mostly discuss color relationalism, defended at length in Jonathan Cohen's The Red and the Real, and argue that the theory has insuperable problems.
This article explores the relationship between epistemic relativism and Pyrrhonian scepticism. It is argued that a fundamental argument for contemporary epistemic relativism derives from the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. Pyrrhonian scepticism is compared and contrasted with Cartesian scepticism about the external world and Humean scepticism about induction. Epistemic relativism is characterized as relativism due to the variation of epistemic norms, and is contrasted with other forms of cognitive relativism, such as truth relativism, conceptual (...)relativism and ontological relativism. An argument from the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion to epistemic relativism is presented, and is contrasted with three other arguments for epistemic relativism. It is argued that the argument from the criterion is the most fundamental argument for epistemic relativism. Finally, it is noted how the argument of the present paper fits with the author’s previous suggestion that a particularist response to the Pyrrhonian sceptic may be combined with a naturalistic view of epistemic warrant to meet the challenge of epistemic relativism. (shrink)
Part 1 of this paper discusses some uses of arguments from radical moral disagreement—in particular, as directed against absolutist cognitivism—and surveys some semantic issues thus made salient. It may be argued that parties to such a disagreement cannot be using the relevant moral claims with exactly the same absolutist cognitive content. That challenges the absolutist element of absolutist cognitivism, which, combined with the intractable nature of radical moral disagreement, in turn challenges the viability of a purely cognitivist account of moral (...) judgments. Such a conclusion could be staved off if it could be held that a sufficient condition for commonality of cognitive content in moral judgments could consist, despite the presence of radical moral disagreement, in the parties’acceptance of a common set of fundamental moral principles. Part 1 begins, and Part 2 further develops, a destructive critique of that idea, leading thereby to a skeptical appraisal of the important role sometimes assigned, in metaethical theorizing, to moral rules. Inter alia the paper is intended to suggest the possibility of overlap between relativist and particularist agendas. (shrink)
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 (...) truth-relativists’ disagreements over centred content fail to play this epistemically significant role that disagreements characteristically play in social epistemology should leave us sceptical that disagreement is what the truth-relativist has actually preserved. (shrink)
This paper explores the question of whether there is an interesting form of specifically epistemic relativism available, a position which can lend support to claims of a broadly relativistic nature but which is not committed to relativism about truth. It is argued that the most plausible rendering of such a view turns out not to be the radical thesis that it is often represented as being.
John MacFarlane has formulated a version of truth-relativism, and argued for its application in some cases – future contingents, knowledge attributions and epistemic modals among them. Mark Richard also defends a version of relativism, which he applies to vagueness-inducing features of the semantics of gradable adjectives. On MacFarlane’s and Richard’s characterization, truth-relativist claims posit a distinctive kind of context-dependence, the dependence of the evaluation of an assertion as true or otherwise on aspects of the context of the evaluation (...) itself – in contrast with the context of the assertion. The paper follows Evans in distinguishing two forms of truth-relativism, a moderate one concerning the evaluation of contents or propositions, an a radical one concerning the evaluation of acts; it argues against Richard’s truth-relativist proposals for gradable adjective, which is understood to be of the second kind, while accepting a form of moderate content-relativism for those cases. (shrink)
The “ontological turn” is a recent movement within cultural anthropology. Its proponents want to move beyond a representationalist framework, where cultures are treated as systems of belief that provide different perspectives on a single world. Authors who write in this vein move from talk of many cultures to many “worlds,” thus appearing to affirm a form of relativism. We argue that, unlike earlier forms of relativism, the ontological turn in anthropology is not only immune to the arguments of (...) Donald Davidson’s “The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” but it affirms and develops the antirepresentationalist position of Davidson’s subsequent essays. (shrink)
The purpose of this present research is to expand upon the foundation that codes of ethics are more useful guides to managers in their behavior and decision-making when managers are more familiar with code content and intentions. We explore whether the impact of code familiarity on code usefulness differs: (a) under varying conditions of turbulence and (b) between persons with relativist versus idealist personal values. Data have been collected from a sample of 1700 executives in member companies of the U.S. (...) Direct Selling Association, and responses were received from 286 (16.8% returned). Perceptions of ethics code familiarity and usefulness decline as business turbulence increases. The decline in familiarity/usefulness was more pronounced for managers with a relativistic ethical orientation. (shrink)
In the pair of articles of which this is the first, I shall present a set of problems and philosophical proposals that have in recent years been associated with the term “relativism”. All these problems and proposals concern the question of how we should represent thought and speech about certain topics. The main issue here is whether we should model such mental states or linguistic acts as involving representational contents that are absolutely correct or incorrect, or whether, alternatively, their (...) correctness should be thought of as varying with some (more or less surprising) factor. In this, first, article, I shall discuss the general issue of relativism about representational content. I shall claim that there are legitimate ways of attributing contents that are absolute truth-bearers, and there are also equally legitimate ways of attributing relativistic representational contents. In the companion piece “Relativism 2: Semantic Content”, I look in more detail at the more specific question whether semantic contents (i.e. the contents assigned to linguistic utterances in the semantics of natural language) should be construed in an absolutist or a relativist way. (shrink)
What I am calling New Age Relativism is usually proposed as a thesis about the truth-conditions of utterances, where an utterance is an actual historic voicing or inscription of a sentence of a certain type. Roughly, it is the view that, for certain discourses, whether an utterance is true depends not just on the context of its making—when, where, to whom, by whom, in what language, and so on—and the “circumstances of evaluation”—the state of the world in relevant respects—but (...) also on an additional parameter: a context of assessment. Vary the latter and the truth-value of the utterance can vary, even though the context of its making and the associated state of the world remain fixed. (shrink)
The paper explores the defence by the early sociologist of science Ludwik Fleck against the charge of relativism. It is shown that there are crucial and hitherto unnoticed similarities between Fleck’s strategy and the attempt by his contemporary Karl Mannheim to distinguish between an incoherent relativism and a consistent relationism. Both authors seek to revise epistemology fundamentally by reinterpreting the concept of objectivity in two ways: as inner- and inter-style objectivity. The argument for the latter concept shows the (...) genuine political background and intent of Fleck’s sociology of science and its ambition to relieve the cultural struggles of his time. (shrink)
As Hume remarks, the view that aesthetic evaluations are ‘subjective’ is part of common sense—one certainly meets it often enough in conversation. As philosophers, we can distinguish the one sense of the claim (‘aesthetic evaluations are mind- dependent’) from another (‘aesthetic evaluations are relative’). A plausible reading of the former claim (‘some of the grounds of some aesthetic evaluations are response- dependent’) is true. This paper concerns the latter claim. It is not unknown, or even unexpected, to find people who (...) believe that aesthetic evaluations are culturally relative, or even agent-relative. A cultural relativist would hold that there is no way to adjudicate an apparent disagreement between, say, a Japanese critic who finds Wright of Derby clunky and unsubtle, and a British critic who finds Utamaro’s flower pictures overly pretty and sentimental. (shrink)
I argue that relativists about evaluative language face some of the same objections as non-naturalists in ethics. If these objections have force, there is reason to doubt the existence of relative evaluative states of affairs. In they do not exist, then relativism leads to an error theory. This is unattractive, as the position was specifically designed to preserve the truth of many evaluative claims.
Recent years have brought relativistic accounts of knowledge, first-person belief, and future contingents to prominence. I discuss these views, distinguish non-trivial from trivial forms of relativism, and then argue against relativism in all of its substantive varieties.
Relativists about knowledge ascriptions think that whether a particular use of a knowledge-ascribing sentence, e.g., “Keith knows that the bank is open” is true depends on the epistemic standards at play in the assessor’s context—viz., the context in which the knowledge ascription is being as- sessed for truth or falsity. Given that the very same knowledge-ascription can be assessed for truth or falsity from indefinitely many perspectives, relativism has a striking consequence. When I ascribe knowledge to someone (e.g., when (...) I say that, at a particular time, “Keith knows that the bank is open”), what I’ve said does not get a truth-value absolutely, but only relatively. If this semantic thesis about the word “knows” and its cognates is true, what implications would this have for epistemology, the philosophical theory of knowledge? e present aim will be to engage with this mostly unexplored question, and then to consider how the epistemological conclusions drawn might bear on the plausibility of a relativist semantics for “knows”. (shrink)
Is it possible to recognize the limits of rationality, and thus to embrace moral pluralism, without embracing moral relativism? My answer is yes; nevertheless, certain anti-foundational positions, both recent and ancient, take a cynical stance toward the possibility of any critical moral judgment, and as such, must be regarded as relativistic.1 It is such cynicism, I argue, whether openly announced or unknowingly implied, that marks the distinction between relativism and pluralism.2 The danger of this cynicism is not so (...) much that it renders the categorical acceptance of a particular moral view unattainable, but that it renders categorical condemnation of any particular position (or action) impossible.3 Two .. (shrink)