Journal Article

A consistent relativism

S Hales

in Mind

Published on behalf of Mind Association

Volume 106, issue 421, pages 33-52
Published in print January 1997 | ISSN: 0026-4423
Published online January 1997 | e-ISSN: 1460-2113 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/mind/106.421.33
A consistent relativism

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  • Metaphysics
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Relativism is one of the most tenacious theories about truth, with a pedigree as old as philosophy itself. Nearly as ancient is the chief criticism of relativism, namely the charge that the theory is self-refuting. This paper develops a logic of relativism that (1) illuminates the classic self-refutation charge and shows how to escape it; (2) makes rigorous the ideas of truth as relative and truth as absolute, and shows the relations between them; (3) develops an intensional logic for relativism; (4) provides a framework in which relativists can consistently promote ethical, mathematical, scientific, religious, and political truths (among others) as being relative; (5) argues that the notion of incommensurability is far less troubling than is commonly thought; and (6) argues that the concept of a perspective as needed by the theory is not prey to Davidson's well-known critique of conceptual schemes. The paper will not defend relativism as the correct theory of truth, nor will it provide a fully satisfying theory about the nature of a perspective. The logic of relativism is primarily meant to provide a formal framework in which relativists can consistently develop their theories. This alone is a considerable step forward, since the debate about relativism often founders upon the rock of self-refutation. It is argued that while 'everything is relative' is inconsistent, 'everything true is relatively true' is not. The latter is all a relativist really needs.

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Subjects: Metaphysics ; Epistemology ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Language

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