Relativism

Relativism is the idea that views are relative to differences in perception and consideration. There is no universal, objective truth according to relativism; rather each point of view has its own truth.[1]

The major categories of relativism vary in their degree of scope and controversy.[2] Moral relativism encompasses the differences in moral judgments among people and cultures.[3] Truth relativism is the doctrine that there are no absolute truths, i.e., that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as a language or a culture (cultural relativism).[4] Descriptive relativism seeks to describe the differences among cultures and people without evaluation, while normative relativism evaluates the morality or truthfulness of views within a given framework.

Forms of relativism

Anthropological versus philosophical relativism

Anthropological relativism refers to a methodological stance, in which the researcher suspends (or brackets) his or her own cultural biases while attempting to understand beliefs and behaviors in their local contexts. This has become known as methodological relativism, and concerns itself specifically with avoiding ethnocentrism or the application of one's own cultural standards to the assessment of other cultures.[5] This is also the basis of the so-called "emic" and "etic" distinction, in which:

  • An emic or insider account of behavior is a description of a society in terms that are meaningful to the participant or actor's own culture; an emic account is therefore culture-specific, and typically refers to what is considered "common sense" within the culture under observation.
  • An etic or outsider account is a description of a society by an observer, in terms that can be applied to other cultures; that is, an etic account is culturally neutral, and typically refers to the conceptual framework of the social scientist. (This is complicated when it is scientific research itself that is under study, or when there is theoretical or terminological disagreement within the social sciences.)

Philosophical relativism, in contrast, asserts that the truth of a proposition depends on the metaphysical, or theoretical frame, or the instrumental method, or the context in which the proposition is expressed, or on the person, groups, or culture who interpret the proposition.[6]

Methodological relativism and philosophical relativism can exist independently from one another, but most anthropologists base their methodological relativism on that of the philosophical variety.[7]

Descriptive versus normative relativism

The concept of relativism also has importance both for philosophers and for anthropologists in another way. In general, anthropologists engage in descriptive relativism ("how things are" or "how things seem"), whereas philosophers engage in normative relativism ("how things ought to be"), although there is some overlap (for example, descriptive relativism can pertain to concepts, normative relativism to truth).

Descriptive relativism assumes that certain cultural groups have different modes of thought, standards of reasoning, and so forth, and it is the anthropologist's task to describe, but not to evaluate the validity of these principles and practices of a cultural group. It is possible for an anthropologist in his or her fieldwork to be a descriptive relativist about some things that typically concern the philosopher (e.g., ethical principles) but not about others (e.g., logical principles). However, the descriptive relativist's empirical claims about epistemic principles, moral ideals and the like are often countered by anthropological arguments that such things are universal, and much of the recent literature on these matters is explicitly concerned with the extent of, and evidence for, cultural or moral or linguistic or human universals.[8]

The fact that the various species of descriptive relativism are empirical claims, may tempt the philosopher to conclude that they are of little philosophical interest, but there are several reasons why this isn't so. First, some philosophers, notably Kant, argue that certain sorts of cognitive differences between human beings (or even all rational beings) are impossible, so such differences could never be found to obtain in fact, an argument that places a priori limits on what empirical inquiry could discover and on what versions of descriptive relativism could be true. Second, claims about actual differences between groups play a central role in some arguments for normative relativism (for example, arguments for normative ethical relativism often begin with claims that different groups in fact have different moral codes or ideals). Finally, the anthropologist's descriptive account of relativism helps to separate the fixed aspects of human nature from those that can vary, and so a descriptive claim that some important aspect of experience or thought does (or does not) vary across groups of human beings tells us something important about human nature and the human condition.

Normative relativism concerns normative or evaluative claims that modes of thought, standards of reasoning, or the like are only right or wrong relative to a framework. ‘Normative’ is meant in a general sense, applying to a wide range of views; in the case of beliefs, for example, normative correctness equals truth. This does not mean, of course, that framework-relative correctness or truth is always clear, the first challenge being to explain what it amounts to in any given case (e.g., with respect to concepts, truth, epistemic norms). Normative relativism (say, in regard to normative ethical relativism) therefore implies that things (say, ethical claims) are not simply true in themselves, but only have truth values relative to broader frameworks (say, moral codes). (Many normative ethical relativist arguments run from premises about ethics to conclusions that assert the relativity of truth values, bypassing general claims about the nature of truth, but it is often more illuminating to consider the type of relativism under question directly.)[9]

Postmodernism and relativism

The term "relativism" often comes up in debates over postmodernism, poststructuralism and phenomenology. Critics of these perspectives often identify advocates with the label "relativism". For example, the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is often considered a relativist view because it posits that linguistic categories and structures shape the way people view the world. Stanley Fish has defended postmodernism and relativism.[10]

These perspectives do not strictly count as relativist in the philosophical sense, because they express agnosticism on the nature of reality and make epistemological rather than ontological claims. Nevertheless, the term is useful to differentiate them from realists who believe that the purpose of philosophy, science, or literary critique is to locate externally true meanings. Important philosophers and theorists such as Michel Foucault, Max Stirner, political movements such as post-anarchism or post-Marxism can also be considered as relativist in this sense - though a better term might be social constructivist.

The spread and popularity of this kind of "soft" relativism varies between academic disciplines. It has wide support in anthropology and has a majority following in cultural studies. It also has advocates in political theory and political science, sociology, and continental philosophy (as distinct from Anglo-American analytical philosophy). It has inspired empirical studies of the social construction of meaning such as those associated with labelling theory, which defenders can point to as evidence of the validity of their theories (albeit risking accusations of performative contradiction in the process). Advocates of this kind of relativism often also claim that recent developments in the natural sciences, such as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, quantum mechanics, chaos theory and complexity theory show that science is now becoming relativistic. However, many scientists who use these methods continue to identify as realist or post-positivist, and some sharply criticize the association.[11][12]

Related and contrasting positions

Relationism is the theory that there are only relations between individual entities, and no intrinsic properties. Despite the similarity in name, it is held by some to be a position distinct from relativism—for instance, because "statements about relational properties [...] assert an absolute truth about things in the world".[13] On the other hand, others wish to equate relativism, relationism and even relativity, which is a precise theory of relationships between physical objects:[14] Nevertheless, "This confluence of relativity theory with relativism became a strong contributing factor in the increasing prominence of relativism".[15]

Whereas previous investigations of science only sought sociological or psychological explanations of failed scientific theories or pathological science, the 'strong programme' is more relativistic, assessing scientific truth and falsehood equally in a historic and cultural context.

Relativism is not skepticism, which superficially resembles relativism, because they both doubt absolute notions of truth. However, whereas skeptics go on to doubt all notions of truth, relativists replace absolute truth with a positive theory of many equally valid relative truths. For the relativist, there is no more to truth than the right context, or the right personal or cultural belief, so there is a lot of truth in the world.[16]

Catholic Church and relativism

The Catholic Church, especially under John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, has identified relativism as one of the most significant problems for faith and morals today.[17]

According to the Church and to some theologians, relativism, as a denial of absolute truth, leads to moral license and a denial of the possibility of sin and of God. Whether moral or epistemological, relativism constitutes a denial of the capacity of the human mind and reason to arrive at truth. Truth, according to Catholic theologians and philosophers (following Aristotle) consists of adequatio rei et intellectus, the correspondence of the mind and reality. Another way of putting it states that the mind has the same form as reality. This means when the form of the computer in front of someone (the type, color, shape, capacity, etc.) is also the form that is in their mind, then what they know is true because their mind corresponds to objective reality.

The denial of an absolute reference, of an axis mundi, denies God, who equates to Absolute Truth, according to these Christian theologians. They link relativism to secularism, an obstruction of religion in human life.

Leo XIII

Pope Leo XIII (1810–1903) was the first known Pope to use the word relativism in the encyclical Humanum genus (1884). Leo XIII condemned Freemasonry and claimed that its philosophical and political system was largely based on relativism.[18]

John Paul II

John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor

As is immediately evident, the crisis of truth is not unconnected with this development. Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its primordial reality as an act of a person's intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.

In Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), he says:

Freedom negates and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with the truth. When freedom, out of a desire to emancipate itself from all forms of tradition and authority, shuts out even the most obvious evidence of an objective and universal truth, which is the foundation of personal and social life, then the person ends up by no longer taking as the sole and indisputable point of reference for his own choices the truth about good and evil, but only his subjective and changeable opinion or, indeed, his selfish interest and whim.

Benedict XVI

In April 2005, in his homily[19] during Mass prior to the conclave which would elect him as Pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger talked about the world "moving towards a dictatorship of relativism":

How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Ephesians 4, 14). Having a clear Faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and "swept along by every wind of teaching", looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires. However, we have a different goal: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. Being an "Adult" means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today's fashions or the latest novelties. A faith which is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature. It is this friendship which opens us up to all that is good and gives us the knowledge to judge true from false, and deceit from truth.

On June 6, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI told educators:

Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of education is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own 'ego'.[20]

Then during the World Youth Day in August 2005, he also traced to relativism the problems produced by the communist and sexual revolutions, and provided a counter-counter argument.[21]

In the last century we experienced revolutions with a common programme–expecting nothing more from God, they assumed total responsibility for the cause of the world in order to change it. And this, as we saw, meant that a human and partial point of view was always taken as an absolute guiding principle. Absolutizing what is not absolute but relative is called totalitarianism. It does not liberate man, but takes away his dignity and enslaves him. It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the Guarantor of our freedom, the Guarantor of what is really good and true.

Criticisms

A common argument[22][23][24][25] against relativism suggests that it inherently contradicts, refutes, or stultifies itself: the statement "all is relative" classes either as a relative statement or as an absolute one. If it is relative, then this statement does not rule out absolutes. If the statement is absolute, on the other hand, then it provides an example of an absolute statement, proving that not all truths are relative. However, this argument against relativism only applies to relativism that positions truth as relative–i.e. epistemological/truth-value relativism. More specifically, it is only extreme forms of epistemological relativism that can come in for this criticism as there are many epistemological relativists who posit that some aspects of what is regarded as factually "true" are not universal, yet still accept that other universal truths exist (e.g. gas laws or moral laws).

Another argument against relativism posits a Natural Law. Simply put, the physical universe works under basic principles: the "Laws of Nature". Some contend that a natural Moral Law may also exist, for example as argued by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion (2006)[26] and addressed by C. S. Lewis in "Mere Christianity" (1952).[27] Dawkins said "I think we face an equal but much more sinister challenge from the left, in the shape of cultural relativism - the view that scientific truth is only one kind of truth and it is not to be especially privileged".[28] Philosopher Hilary Putnam,[29] among others,[30] states that some forms of relativism make it impossible to believe one is in error. If there is no truth beyond an individual's belief that something is true, then an individual cannot hold their own beliefs to be false or mistaken. A related criticism is that relativizing truth to individuals destroys the distinction between truth and belief.

Views

Indian religions

Indian religions tend to view the perceivable universe and cosmos as relativistic. Mahavira (599-527 BC), the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism, developed an early philosophy regarding relativism and subjectivism known as Anekantavada. Hindu religion has no theological difficulties in accepting degrees of truth in other religions. A Rig Vedic hymn states that "Truth is One, though the sages tell it variously." (Ékam sat vipra bahudā vadanti)

Madhyamaka Buddhism, which forms the basis for many Mahayana Buddhist schools and was founded by Nagarjuna, discerns two levels of truth, absolute and relative. The two truths doctrine states that there is Relative or common-sense truth, which describes our daily experience of a concrete world, and Ultimate truth, which describes the ultimate reality as sunyata, empty of concrete and inherent characteristics. The conventional truth may be interpreted as "obscurative truth" or "that which obscures the true nature" as a result. It is constituted by the appearances of mistaken awareness. Conventional truth would be the appearance that includes a duality of apprehender and apprehended, and objects perceived within that. Ultimate truths, are phenomena free from the duality of apprehender and apprehended.[31]

In Sikhism the Gurus (spiritual teacher ) have propagated the message of "many paths" leading to the one God and ultimate salvation for all souls who tread on the path of righteousness. They have supported the view that proponents of all faiths can, by doing good and virtuous deeds and by remembering the Lord, certainly achieve salvation. The students of the Sikh faith are told to accept all leading faiths as possible vehicles for attaining spiritual enlightenment provided the faithful study, ponder and practice the teachings of their prophets and leaders. The holy book of the Sikhs called the Sri Guru Granth Sahib says: "Do not say that the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran are false. Those who do not contemplate them are false." Guru Granth Sahib page 1350;[32] later stating "The seconds, minutes, and hours, days, weeks and months, and the various seasons originate from the one Sun; O nanak, in just the same way, the many forms originate from the Creator." Guru Granth Sahib page 12,13.

Sophists

Sophists are considered the founding fathers of relativism in the Western World. Elements of relativism emerged among the Sophists in the 5th century BC. Notably, it was Protagoras who coined the phrase, "Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not." The thinking of the Sophists is mainly known through their opponents, Plato and Socrates. In a well known paraphrased dialogue with Socrates, Protagoras said: "What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me."[33][34][35]

Bernard Crick

Another important advocate of relativism, Bernard Crick, a British political scientist, wrote the book In Defence of Politics (first published in 1962), suggesting the inevitability of moral conflict between people. Crick stated that only ethics could resolve such conflict, and when that occurred in public it resulted in politics. Accordingly, Crick saw the process of dispute resolution, harms reduction, mediation or peacemaking as central to all of moral philosophy. He became an important influence on the feminists and later on the Greens.

Paul Feyerabend

The philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend is often considered to be a relativist, though he denied being one.[36]

Feyerabend argued that modern science suffers from being methodologically monistic (the belief that only a single methodology can produce scientific progress).[37] Feyerabend summarises his case in his work Against Method with the phrase "anything goes".[38]

In an aphorism [Feyerabend] often repeated, "potentially every culture is all cultures". This is intended to convey that world views are not hermetically closed, since their leading concepts have an "ambiguity" - better, an open-endedness - which enables people from other cultures to engage with them. [...] It follows that relativism, understood as the doctrine that truth is relative to closed systems, can get no purchase. [...] For Feyerabend, both hermetic relativism and its absolutist rival [realism] serve, in their different ways, to "devalue human existence". The former encourages that unsavoury brand of political correctness which takes the refusal to criticise "other cultures" to the extreme of condoning murderous dictatorship and barbaric practices. The latter, especially in its favoured contemporary form of "scientific realism", with the excessive prestige it affords to the abstractions of "the monster 'science'", is in bed with a politics which likewise disdains variety, richness and everyday individuality - a politics which likewise "hides" its norms behind allegedly neutral facts, "blunts choices and imposes laws".[39]

Thomas Kuhn

Thomas Kuhn's philosophy of science, as expressed in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is often interpreted as relativistic. He claimed that as well as progressing steadily and incrementally ("normal science"), science undergoes periodic revolutions or "paradigm shifts", leaving scientists working in different paradigms with difficulty in even communicating. Thus the truth of a claim, or the existence of a posited entity is relative to the paradigm employed. However, it isn't necessary for him to embrace relativism because every paradigm presupposes the prior, building upon itself through history and so on. This leads to there being a fundamental, incremental, and referential structure of development which is not relative but again, fundamental.

From these remarks, one thing is however certain: Kuhn is not saying that incommensurable theories cannot be compared - what they can’t be is compared in terms of a system of common measure. He very plainly says that they can be compared, and he reiterates this repeatedly in later work, in a (mostly in vain) effort to avert the crude and sometimes catastrophic misinterpretations he suffered from mainstream philosophers and post-modern relativists alike.[40]

But Thomas Kuhn denied the accusation of being a relativist later in his postscript.

scientific development is ... a unidirectional and irreversible process. Latter scientific theories are better than earlier ones for solving puzzles ... That is not a relativist's position, and it displays the sense in which I am a convinced believer in scientific progress.[41]

Some have argued that one can also read Kuhn's work as essentially positivist in its ontology: the revolutions he posits are epistemological, lurching toward a presumably 'better' understanding of an objective reality through the lens presented by the new paradigm. However, a number of passages in Structures do indeed appear to be distinctly relativist, and to directly challenge the notion of an objective reality and the ability of science to progress towards an ever-greater grasp of it, particularly through the process of paradigm change.

In the sciences there need not be progress of another sort. We may, to be more precise, have to relinquish the notion, explicit or implicit, that changes of paradigm carry scientists and those who learn from them closer and closer to the truth.[42]
We are all deeply accustomed to seeing science as the one enterprise that draws constantly nearer to some goal set by nature in advance. But need there be any such goal? Can we not account for both science’s existence and its success in terms of evolution from the community’s state of knowledge at any given time? Does it really help to imagine that there is some one full, objective, true account of nature and that the proper measure of scientific achievement is the extent to which it brings us closer to that ultimate goal?[43]

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson define relativism in their book Metaphors We Live By as the rejection of both subjectivism and metaphysical objectivism in order to focus on the relationship between them, i.e. the metaphor by which we relate our current experience to our previous experience. In particular, Lakoff and Johnson characterize "objectivism" as a "straw man", and, to a lesser degree, criticize the views of Karl Popper, Kant and Aristotle.

Robert Nozick

In his book Invariances, Robert Nozick expresses a complex set of theories about the absolute and the relative. He thinks the absolute/relative distinction should be recast in terms of an invariant/variant distinction, where there are many things a proposition can be invariant with regard to or vary with. He thinks it is coherent for truth to be relative, and speculates that it might vary with time. He thinks necessity is an unobtainable notion, but can be approximated by robust invariance across a variety of conditions—although we can never identify a proposition that is invariant with regard to everything. Finally, he is not particularly warm to one of the most famous forms of relativism, moral relativism, preferring an evolutionary account.

Joseph Margolis

Joseph Margolis advocates a view he calls "robust relativism" and defends it in his books: Historied Thought, Constructed World, Chapter 4 (California, 1995) and The Truth about Relativism (Blackwells, 1991). He opens his account by stating that our logics should depend on what we take to be the nature of the sphere to which we wish to apply our logics. Holding that there can be no distinctions which are not "privileged" between the alethic, the ontic, and the epistemic, he maintains that a many valued logic just might be the most apt for aesthetics or history since, because in these practices, we are loath to hold to simple binary logic; and he also holds that many-valued logic is relativistic. (This is perhaps an unusual definition of "relativistic". Compare with his comments on "relationism"). "True" and "False" as mutually exclusive and exhaustive judgements on Hamlet, for instance, really does seem absurd. A many valued logic—"apt", "reasonable", "likely", and so on—seems intuitively more applicable to Hamlet interpretation. Where apparent contradictions arise between such interpretations, we might call the interpretations "incongruent", rather than dubbing either "false", because using many-valued logic implies that a measured value is a mixture of two extreme possibilities. Using the subset of many-valued logic, fuzzy logic, it can be said that various interpretations can be represented by membership in more than one possible truth sets simultaneously. Fuzzy logic is therefore probably the best mathematical structure for understanding "robust relativism" and has been interpreted by Bart Kosko as philosophically being related to Zen Buddhism.

It was Aristotle who held that relativism implied we should, sticking with appearances only, end up contradicting ourselves somewhere if we could apply all attributes to all ousiai (beings). Aristotle, however, made non-contradiction dependent upon his essentialism. If his essentialism is false, then so too is his ground for disallowing relativism. (Subsequent philosophers have found other reasons for supporting the principle of non-contradiction).

Beginning with Protagoras and invoking Charles Sanders Peirce, Margolis shows that the historic struggle to discredit relativism is an attempt to impose an unexamined belief in the world's essentially rigid rule-like nature. Plato and Aristotle merely attacked "relationalism"—the doctrine of true-for l or true for k, and the like, where l and k are different speakers or different worlds, or the something similar (Most philosophers would call this position "relativism"). For Margolis, "true" means true; that is, the alethic use of "true" remains untouched. However, in real world contexts, and context is ubiquitous in the real world, we must apply truth values. Here, in epistemic terms, we might retire "true" tout court as an evaluation and keep "false". The rest of our value-judgements could be graded from "extremely plausible" down to "false". Judgements which on a bivalent logic would be incompatible or contradictory are further seen as "incongruent", though one may well have more weight than the other. In short, relativistic logic is not, or need not be, the bugbear it is often presented to be. It may simply be the best type of logic to apply to certain very uncertain spheres of real experiences in the world (although some sort of logic needs to be applied to make that judgement). Those who swear by bivalent logic might simply be the ultimate keepers of the great fear of the flux.

Richard Rorty

Philosopher Richard Rorty has a somewhat paradoxical role in the debate over relativism: he is criticized for his relativistic views by many commentators, but has always denied that relativism applies to much anybody, being nothing more than a Platonic scarecrow. Rorty claims, rather, that he is a pragmatist, and that to construe pragmatism as relativism is to beg the question.

'"Relativism" is the traditional epithet applied to pragmatism by realists'[44]
'"Relativism" is the view that every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps about any topic, is as good as every other. No one holds this view. Except for the occasional cooperative freshman, one cannot find anybody who says that two incompatible opinions on an important topic are equally good. The philosophers who get called 'relativists' are those who say that the grounds for choosing between such opinions are less algorithmic than had been thought.'[45]
'In short, my strategy for escaping the self-referential difficulties into which "the Relativist" keeps getting himself is to move everything over from epistemology and metaphysics into cultural politics, from claims to knowledge and appeals to self-evidence to suggestions about what we should try.'[46]

Rorty takes a deflationary attitude to truth, believing there is nothing of interest to be said about truth in general, including the contention that it is generally subjective. He also argues that the notion of warrant or justification can do most of the work traditionally assigned to the concept of truth, and that justification is relative; justification is justification to an audience, for Rorty.

In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity he argues that the debate between so-called relativists and so-called objectivists is beside the point because they don't have enough premises in common for either side to prove anything to the other.

See also

References

  1. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, [1] "Relativism, roughly put, is the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them."
  2. ^ Maria Baghramian identifies 16 (Relativism, 2004,Baghramian)
  3. ^ Swoyer, Chris (February 22, 2003). "Relativism". Retrieved May 10, 2010.
  4. ^ Baghramian, Maria and Carter, Adam, "Relativism", "The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition)", Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/relativism/#RelAboTruAleRel/ "Relativism about truth, or alethic relativism, at its simplest, is the claim that what is true for one individual or social group may not be true for another"
  5. ^ Collins, Harry (1998-04-01). "What's wrong with relativism?". Physics World. Bristol, UK: IOP Publishing. Retrieved 2008-04-16. ...methodological relativism - impartial assessment of how knowledge develops - is the key idea for sociology of scientific knowledge...
  6. ^ Locke, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson: Contesting Diversity in the Enlightenment and Beyond by Dr. Daniel Carey
  7. ^ Methodological and Philosophical Relativism by Gananath Obeyesekere
  8. ^ Brown, Donald E. (1991). Human Universals. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-87722-841-8.
  9. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  10. ^ Don't Blame Relativism as "serious thought"
  11. ^ Sokal and the Science Wars
  12. ^ Quantum quackery
  13. ^ Baghramian, M. Relativism, 2004, p43
  14. ^ Interview with Bruno LatourOn Relativism, Pragmatism, and Critical Theory
  15. ^ Baghramian, M. Relativism, 2004, p85
  16. ^ Wood. A, Relativism
  17. ^ World Youth Day News August August 21, 2005
  18. ^ Humanum genus
  19. ^ Mass «Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice»: Homily of Card. Joseph Ratzinger
  20. ^ Inaugural Address at the Ecclesial Diocesan Convention of Rome
  21. ^ 20th World Youth Day - Cologne - Marienfeld, Youth Vigil
  22. ^ Craig Rusbult. Reality 101
  23. ^ Keith Dixon. Is Cultural Relativism Self-Refuting? (British Journal of Sociology, vol 28, No. 1)
  24. ^ Cultural Relativism at All About Philosophy.
  25. ^ The Friesian School on relativism.
  26. ^ The God Delusion, Chapter 6
  27. ^ Mere Christianity, Chapter 1
  28. ^ Richard Dawkins quoted in Dawkins' Christmas card list; Dawkins at the Hay Festival, The Guardian, 28 May 2007
  29. ^ Baghramian, M. Relativism, 2004
  30. ^ Including Julien Beillard, who presents his case on the impossibility of moral relativism in the July 2013 issue of Philosophy Now magazine, accessible here
  31. ^ Levinson, Jules (August 2006) Lotsawa Times Volume II Archived 2008-07-24 at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ Guru Granth Sahib page 1350
  33. ^ Richard Austin Gudmundsen (2000). Scientific Inquiry: Applied to the Doctrine of Jesus Christ. Cedar Fort. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-55517-497-2. Retrieved 2011-01-24.
  34. ^ Sahakian, William S.; Mabel Lewis Sahakian (1993). Ideas of the great philosophers. Barnes & Noble Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-56619-271-2. What is true for you is true for you.
  35. ^ Sahakian, W. S.; M. L. Sahakian (1965). Realms of philosophy. Schenkman Pub. Co. p. 40. Retrieved 2011-01-24.
  36. ^ Cooper, David E., "Voodoo and the monster of science," Times Higher Education, 17 March 2000
  37. ^ Lloyd, Elisabeth. "Feyerabend, Mill, and Pluralism", Philosophy of Science 64, p. S397.
  38. ^ Feyerabend, Against Method, 3rd ed., p. vii
  39. ^ Cooper, David E., "Voodoo and the monster of science," Times Higher Education, 17 March 2000
  40. ^ Sharrock. W., Read R. Kuhn: Philosopher of Scientific Revolutions
  41. ^ Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 206.
  42. ^ Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 170.
  43. ^ Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 171.</
  44. ^ Rorty, R. Consequences of Pragmatism
  45. ^ Richard Rorty, Pragmatism, Relativism, and Irrationalism
  46. ^ Rorty, R. Hilary Putnam and the Relativist Menace

Bibliography

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  • Andrew Lionel Blais, On the Plurality of Actual Worlds, University of Massachusetts Press, 1997, ISBN 1-55849-072-8
  • Benjamin Brown, Thoughts and Ways of Thinking: Source Theory and Its Applications. London: Ubiquity Press, 2017. [2].
  • Buchbinder, David; McGuire, Ann Elizabeth (2007). "The backlash against relativism: the new curricular fundamentalism". The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review. Common Ground Journals and Books. 5 (5): 51–59. doi:10.18848/1447-9508/CGP/v05i05/42109.
  • Ernest Gellner, Relativism and the Social Sciences, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-521-33798-4
  • Rom Harré and Michael Krausz, Varieties of Relativism, Oxford, UK; New York, NY: Blackwell, 1996, ISBN 0-631-18409-0
  • Knight, Robert H. The Age of Consent: the Rise of Relativism and the Corruption of Popular Culture. Dallas, Tex.: Spence Publishing Co., 1998. xxiv, 253, [1] p. ISBN 1-890626-05-8
  • Michael Krausz, ed., Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-231-14410-0
  • Martin Hollis, Steven Lukes, Rationality and Relativism, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982, ISBN 0-631-12773-9
  • Joseph Margolis, Michael Krausz, R. M. Burian, Eds., Rationality, Relativism, and the Human Sciences, Dordrecht: Boston, M. Nijhoff, 1986, ISBN 90-247-3271-9
  • Jack W. Meiland, Michael Krausz, Eds. Relativism, Cognitive and Moral, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982, ISBN 0-268-01611-9
  • Markus Seidel, Epistemic Relativism: A Constructive Critique, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, ISBN 978-1-137-37788-3
  • HeWillAdd FromTheBroadMeadow AHelperOfMan, "In Defense of Relativity.", CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013, ISBN 1482608359

External links

Constructive realism

Constructive realism is a branch of philosophy, specifically the philosophy of science. It was developed in the late 1950s by Jane Loevinger and elaborated in the 1980s by Friedrich Wallner (also Fritz Wallner) in Vienna. In his paper abstract on constructive realism, Wallner describes it as follows:

"Traditional convictions regarding science (such as universalism, necessity and eternal validity) are currently in doubt. Relativism seems to destroy scientific claims to rationality. This paper shows a way to keep the traditional convictions of scientific knowledge while acknowledging relativism. With reference to the practicing scientist, we replace descriptivism with constructivism; we modify relative validity with the claim to understanding; and, we offer methodological strategies for acquiring understanding. These strategies we call strangification, which means taking a scientific proposition system out of its context and putting it in another context. We can thus see the implicit presuppositions of the given proposition system by means of the problems arising out of the application of this procedure. Such a change in the understanding of science holds important consequences."Within the philosophy of measurement, Jane Loevinger described the relation between a construct (scientific model or construction of reality) and the reality itself. Now referred to as "Construct Realism", recognized chiefly in philosophy of measurement (psychometrics), Loevinger's view is expressed in the following quote in the context of real human traits (cognitive and/or behavioral patterns that tend to occur together):

"A dictionary (122) definition of construct is: "Something constructed; specif., Psychol., an intellectual synthesis." In the present paper both construct and trait are used in their general or dictionary meanings. Connotations of depth, level, or locus are specifically disclaimed. Traits exist in people; constructs (here usually about traits) exist in the minds and magazines of psychologists. People have constructs too, but that is outside the present scope. Construct connotes construction and artifice; yet what is at issue is validity with respect to exactly what the psychologist does not construct: the validity of the test as a measure of traits which exist prior to and independently of the psychologist's act of measuring. It is true that psychologists never know traits directly but only through the glass of their constructs, but the data to be judged are manifestations of traits, not manifestations of constructs. Cronbach and Meehl and their colleagues on the APA committee appear reluctant to assign reality to constructs or traits. Considering traits as real is, in the present view, a working stance and not a philosophical tenet." [Italics added]"That the distinction made here between traits and constructs is free of metaphysical implications is seen by comparing it to the familiar distinction between parameter and statistic. The parameter is what we aim to estimate; the corresponding statistic represents our current best estimate of it. Just so, the trait is what we aim to understand, and the corresponding construct represents our current best understanding of it. The distinction between trait and construct can be dispensed with no better than the distinction between parameter and statistic."

Contextualism

Contextualism describes a collection of views in philosophy which emphasize the context in which an action, utterance, or expression occurs, and argues that, in some important respect, the action, utterance, or expression can only be understood relative to that context. Contextualist views hold that philosophically controversial concepts, such as "meaning P", "knowing that P", "having a reason to A", and possibly even "being true" or "being right" only have meaning relative to a specified context. Some philosophers hold that context-dependence may lead to relativism; nevertheless, contextualist views are increasingly popular within philosophy.In ethics, "contextualist" views are often closely associated with situational ethics, or with moral relativism.Contextualism in architecture is a theory of design wherein modern (not be confused with modernism) building types are harmonized with urban forms usual to a traditional city.

Criticism of postmodernism

Criticisms of postmodernism, while intellectually diverse, share the opinion that it lacks coherence and is hostile to the notion of absolutes, such as truth. Specifically it is held that postmodernism can be meaningless, promotes obscurantism and uses relativism (in culture, morality, knowledge) to the extent that it cripples most judgement calls.

Postmodernism is a highly diverse intellectual and artistic activity, and two branches (for example, postmodern literature and postmodern philosophy) can have little in common. Criticism of postmodernism in general is usually not a comprehensive attack on the various diverse movements labelled postmodern. Such criticism often refers to specific branches of postmodernism, frequently on intellectual theories in the humanities (philosophy, history, gender and LGBT+ studies, structuralism, cultural relativism and "theory"). Postmodern philosophy is also a frequent subject of criticism for obscurantism and resistance to reliable knowledge. For example, a philosopher may criticize French postmodern philosophy but have no problem with postmodern cinema. Conversely, philosopher Roger Scruton criticized postmodern humanities and some elements of postmodern art, yet never broadly attacked the entire inventory of varied postmodern projects. One of the very criticisms of postmodernism, as a whole, is the absence of a definition of what postmodernism in itself is and even what specific post-modern anything is.

Cultural communication

Cultural relativism is the view that cultures are merely different, not deficient, and each culture’s norms and practices should be assessed only from the perspective of the culture itself, not by standards embraced by another culture. It is the idea that one cannot make judgments about a culture just because they are not a part of one's own. Outsiders should be able to see the cultural from a neutral perspective and not judge the culture before understanding it. Each culture should be viewed with respect and as an equal because no one culture is better than any other. They should be allowed to practice their own beliefs, what a cultures believes to be true, and values, a shared view about what is right. Cultural relativism emphasizes that ethnocentrism, which is the belief that one’s culture is superior to everyone else’s, should not be forced upon cultures, and cultures should remain unprejudiced toward each other. Cultural relativism is the moral and ethical way to look at different cultures.

Cultural relativism

Cultural relativism is the idea that a person's beliefs, values, and practices should be understood based on that person's own culture, rather than be judged against the criteria of another.

It was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas in the first few decades of the 20th century and later popularized by his students. Boas first articulated the idea in 1887: "civilization is not something absolute, but ... is relative, and ... our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes". However, Boas did not coin the term.

The first use of the term recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary was by philosopher and social theorist Alain Locke in 1924 to describe Robert Lowie's "extreme cultural relativism", found in the latter's 1917 book Culture and Ethnology. The term became common among anthropologists after Boas' death in 1942, to express their synthesis of a number of ideas Boas had developed. Boas believed that the sweep of cultures, to be found in connection with any sub species, is so vast and pervasive that there cannot be a relationship between culture and race. Cultural relativism involves specific epistemological and methodological claims. Whether or not these claims necessitate a specific ethical stance is a matter of debate. This principle should not be confused with moral relativism.

Ethical subjectivism

Ethical subjectivism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

Ethical sentences express propositions.

Some such propositions are true.

The truth or falsity of such propositions is ineliminably dependent on the (actual or hypothetical) attitudes of people.This makes ethical subjectivism a form of cognitivism. Ethical subjectivism stands in opposition to moral realism, which claims that moral propositions refer to objective facts, independent of human opinion; to error theory, which denies that any moral propositions are true in any sense; and to non-cognitivism, which denies that moral sentences express propositions at all.The most common forms of ethical subjectivism are also forms of moral relativism, with moral standards held to be relative to each culture or society (c.f. cultural relativism), or even to every individual. The latter view, as put forward by Protagoras, holds that there are as many distinct scales of good and evil as there are subjects in the world. However, there are also universalist forms of subjectivism such as ideal observer theory (which claims that moral propositions are about what attitudes a hypothetical ideal observer would hold). Although divine command theory is considered by some to be a form of ethical subjectivism, defenders of the perspective that divine command theory is not a form of ethical subjectivism say this is based on a misunderstanding: that divine command proponents claim that moral propositions are about what attitudes God holds, but this understanding is deemed incorrect by some, such as Robert Adams who claims that divine command theory is concerned with whether a moral command is or isn't "contrary to the commands of (a loving) God".

Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is the act of judging another culture based on preconceptions that are found in the values and standards of one's own culture – especially regarding language, behavior, customs, and religion. These aspects or categories are distinctions that define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity.William G. Sumner defined ethnocentrism as "the technical name for the view of things in which one's own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it." He further characterized ethnocentrism as often leading to pride, vanity, the belief in one's own group's superiority, and contempt for outsiders. These problems may occur from the division of societies into in-groups and out-groups. Ethnocentrism is explained in the social sciences and genetics. In anthropology, cultural relativism is used as an antithesis and antonym to ethnocentrism.

Factual relativism

Aletheic relativism argues that truth itself is relative. This form of relativism has its own particular problem, regardless of whether one is talking about truth being relative to the individual, the position or purpose of the individual, or the conceptual scheme within which the truth was revealed. This problem centers on what Mandelbaum (1962) termed the "self-excepting fallacy." Largely because of the self-excepting fallacy, few authors in the philosophy of science currently accept aletheic cognitive relativism. Factual relativism (also called epistemic relativism, epistemological relativism, alethic relativism or cognitive relativism) is a way to reason where facts used to justify any claims are understood to be relative and subjective to the perspective of those proving or falsifying the proposition.

Indifferentism

Indifferentism, in the Roman Catholic faith, is the belief held by some that no one religion or philosophy is superior to another. The Catholic Church ascribes indifferentism to many atheistic, materialistic, pantheistic, and agnostic philosophies. There are three basic types of indifferentism described by Catholic apologetics: absolute, restricted, and liberal or latitudinarian indifferentism. Indifferentism was first explicitly identified and opposed by Pope Gregory XVI, in his encyclical Mirari vos.Religious Indifferentism is to be distinguished from political indifferentism, which is applied to the policy of a state that treats all the religions within its borders as being on an equal footing before the law of the country. Indifferentism is not to be confounded with religious indifference. The former is primarily a theory disparaging the value of religion; the latter term designates the conduct of those who, whether they do or do not believe in the necessity and utility of religion, do in fact neglect to fulfill its duties.

Joseph Margolis

Joseph Zalman Margolis (born May 16, 1924) is an American philosopher. A radical historicist, he has published many books critical of the central assumptions of Western philosophy, and has elaborated a robust form of relativism.

His philosophical affinities include Protagoras, Hegel, C.S. Peirce, John Dewey, Ludwig Wittgenstein, W.V. Quine.

Larry Laudan

Larry Laudan (; born 1941) is a contemporary American philosopher of science and epistemologist. He has strongly criticized the traditions of positivism, realism, and relativism, and he has defended a view of science as a privileged and progressive institution against popular challenges. Laudan's philosophical view of "research traditions" is seen as an important alternative to Imre Lakatos's "research programs."

Linguistic relativity

The hypothesis of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects its speakers' world view or cognition. Also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is often defined to include two versions: the strong hypothesis and the weak hypothesis:

The strong version says that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories.

The weak version says that linguistic categories and usage only influence thought and decisions.The term "Sapir–Whorf hypothesis" is considered a misnomer by linguists for several reasons: Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf never co-authored any works, and never stated their ideas in terms of a hypothesis. The distinction between a weak and a strong version of this hypothesis is also a later invention; Sapir and Whorf never set up such a dichotomy, although often in their writings and in their views of this relativity principle are phrased in stronger or weaker terms.The idea was first clearly expressed by 19th-century thinkers, such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, who saw language as the expression of the spirit of a nation. Members of the early 20th-century school of American anthropology headed by Franz Boas and Edward Sapir also embraced forms of the idea to one degree or another, including in a 1928 meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, but Sapir in particular wrote more often against than in favor of anything like linguistic determinism. Sapir's student, Benjamin Lee Whorf, came to be seen as the primary proponent as a result of his published observations of how he perceived linguistic differences to have consequences in human cognition and behavior. Harry Hoijer, another of Sapir's students, introduced the term "Sapir–Whorf hypothesis", even though the two scholars never formally advanced any such hypothesis. A strong version of relativist theory was developed from the late 1920s by the German linguist Leo Weisgerber. Whorf's principle of linguistic relativity was reformulated as a testable hypothesis by Roger Brown and Eric Lenneberg who conducted experiments designed to find out whether color perception varies between speakers of languages that classified colors differently. As the study of the universal nature of human language and cognition came into focus in the 1960s the idea of linguistic relativity fell out of favor among linguists. A 1969 study by Brent Berlin and Paul Kay demonstrated the existence of universal semantic constraints in the field of colour terminology which were widely seen to discredit the existence of linguistic relativity in this domain, although this conclusion has been disputed by relativist researchers.

From the late 1980s, a new school of linguistic relativity scholars has examined the effects of differences in linguistic categorization on cognition, finding broad support for non-deterministic versions of the hypothesis in experimental contexts. Some effects of linguistic relativity have been shown in several semantic domains, although they are generally weak. Currently, a balanced view of linguistic relativity is espoused by most linguists holding that language influences certain kinds of cognitive processes in non-trivial ways, but that other processes are better seen as arising from connectionist factors. Research is focused on exploring the ways and extent to which language influences thought. The principle of linguistic relativity and the relation between language and thought has also received attention in varying academic fields from philosophy to psychology and anthropology, and it has also inspired and coloured works of fiction and the invention of constructed languages.

Moral nihilism

Moral nihilism (also known as ethical nihilism) is the meta-ethical view that nothing is morally right or wrong.

Moral nihilism is distinct from moral relativism, which allows for actions wrong relative to a particular culture or individual. It is also distinct from expressivism, according to which when we make moral claims, "We are not making an effort to describe the way the world is [...] we are venting our emotions, commanding others to act in certain ways, or revealing a plan of action.".Nihilism does not imply that we should give up using moral or ethical language; some nihilists contend that it remains a useful tool.

Moral relativism

Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it.

Not all descriptive relativists adopt meta-ethical relativism, and moreover, not all meta-ethical relativists adopt normative relativism. Richard Rorty, for example, argued that relativist philosophers believe "that the grounds for choosing between such opinions is less algorithmic than had been thought", but not that any belief is as valid as any other.Moral relativism has been debated for thousands of years, from ancient Greece and India to the present day, in diverse fields including art, philosophy, science, and religion.

Objectivity (philosophy)

Objectivity is a philosophical concept of being true independently from individual subjectivity caused by perception, emotions, or imagination. A proposition is considered to have objective truth when its truth conditions are met without bias caused by a sentient subject. Scientific objectivity refers to the ability to judge without partiality or external influence, sometimes used synonymously with neutrality.

Protagoras

Protagoras (; Greek: Πρωταγόρας; c. 490 BC – c. 420 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. He is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato credits him with inventing the role of the professional sophist.

Protagoras also is believed to have created a major controversy during ancient times through his statement that, "Man is the measure of all things", interpreted by Plato to mean that there is no absolute truth but that which individuals deem to be the truth.

Although there is reason to question the extent of the interpretation of his arguments that has followed, that concept of individual relativity was revolutionary for the time, and contrasted with other philosophical doctrines that claimed the universe was based on something objective, outside human influence or perceptions.

Pyrrhonism

Pyrrhonism was a school of skepticism founded by Pyrrho in the fourth century BC. It is best known through the surviving works of Sextus Empiricus, writing in the late second century or early third century AD.

Regressive left

"Regressive left" (also formulated as "regressive liberals" and "regressive leftists") is a neologism and political epithet, used as a pejorative to describe a section of left-wing politics who are accused of holding paradoxical, reactionary views by their tolerance of illiberal principles and ideologies, particularly their tolerance of Islamism, and their opposition to free speech for the sake of multiculturalism and cultural relativism.

British political activist Maajid Nawaz, American political talk-show hosts such as Bill Maher and Dave Rubin, as well as New Atheist writers like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are among those who have used the term.

Universality (philosophy)

In philosophy, universality is the idea that universal facts exist and can be progressively discovered, as opposed to relativism. In certain theologies, universalism is the quality ascribed to an entity whose existence is consistent throughout the universe, whose being is independent of and unconstrained by the events and conditions that compose the universe, such as entropy and physical locality.

This article also discusses Kantian and Platonist notions of "universal", which are considered by most philosophers to be separate notions.

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