The Hypothesis of Philosophical Relativity

Peter Unger

in Philosophical Relativity

Published in print November 2002 | ISBN: 9780195155532
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833818 | DOI:
The Hypothesis of Philosophical Relativity

Show Summary Details


Introduces the notion of philosophical relativity, the thesis that the answers we give for many philosophical problems are functions of arbitrary assumptions made at the initial stages of inquiry, and ipso facto that such problems lack objective solutions. Philosophical relativity is argued for via semantic relativity, the thesis that many of our terms do not have objectively specifiable semantic content. Semantic relativity is in turn argued for via an explication of the conflict obtaining between contextualism, the view that the semantic content of a lexical expression is whatever the speaker intended it to be, and invariantism, the view that the semantic content of a lexical expression is always its literal meaning. If semantic relativism can be shown to hold with regard to terms central in philosophical debate, then we have established philosophical relativism. Parallels with Quine's indeterminacy of interpretation thesis are drawn, with the present scenario being intralanguage indeterminacy as opposed to interlanguage indeterminacy. Strong indeterminacy is rejected, in an irregular move, via an appeal to a semantic holism.

Keywords: contextualism; indeterminacy of interpretation; invariantism; philosophical relativity; Quine; semantic holism; semantic relativity

Chapter.  8945 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.