Article

Relativism

Paul O’Grady

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online September 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0084
Relativism

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Philosophy
  • Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art
  • Epistemology
  • Feminist Philosophy
  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Metaphysics
  • Moral Philosophy
  • Non-Western Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Law
  • Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Social and Political Philosophy

GO

Show Summary Details

Preview

That people disagree about fundamental issues—such as the nature of reality, the scope of knowledge, or what moral code is correct—is uncontroversial. What is much more controversial is the thought that antagonists in such debates may both be right, that there is a sense in which people legitimately may hold competing views. This is understood not merely in the political sense of allowing people to hold views no matter how daft they may seem, but also in the stronger sense that there is no single correct view but a multiplicity of equally viable, conflicting alternatives. This is the intuition behind relativism. Normally one might think that this simply leads to contradiction and chaos. However, the relativist argues that relativism offers a way of avoiding both contradiction and chaos. In modern academia, relativistic views are widely found across the humanities. Partly this is due to the influence of postmodern thought, but it has other roots in philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and W. V. O. Quine. Yet in academic philosophy, relativism has always been a minority view and reckoned as something pernicious. Even Richard Rorty, a figure widely held to be an archetypal relativist, denied that he is a relativist and argued it was an untenable position. This points to the proliferation of views on what exactly constitutes relativism and over what domains it might be appropriate to hold relativistic views. For example, some might think that moral beliefs are relative to the culture or historical period but consider scientific beliefs to be firm and absolute. However, relativizing the claims of science has produced some of the liveliest controversies in recent academia (the so-called science wars). The debates about relativism flow over to related discussions of realism and antirealism, representation and reality, constructivism and concept formation, and thus feature in metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophies of science, mind, and language. In the past decade, the debate has taken an interesting turn, with a proliferation of studies exploring and defending relativism from within the analytical philosophy of language. It is treated as a semantic theory offering ways of solving technical problems about the meaning of sentences of certain kinds, such as future contingents or epistemic modals. This “new relativism” is narrower and more focused than previous approaches to the topic. Nevertheless, the kinds of analysis offered yield genuine advances about defining relativism, for example, and shed light on the bigger issues treated in earlier discussions of relativism.

Article.  7411 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political 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.