Manual The Metaphysics and Ethics of Relativism

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However, you would have a hard time justifying absolute morality in this case. Descriptive relativism simply describes the differences between cultures, without saying anything about how they should be; this is the usual in anthropology. Can refer to any aspect of culture—religion, language, everyday behavior—but practically speaking, cultural relativism is usually about what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable—such as tipping, marrying children, and eating beef, all practices which are right in some cultures and wrong in others.

This means that how you know things can be different in different contexts and cultures. For example, in some cultures, people believe that they can learn true things from dreams. If you felt obligated to respect that idea, you might be an epistemic relativist. Also known as alethic relativism — means that truth is relative, as discussed in previous sections; this is the one kind of relativism that is equally opposed by some religious and some scientific authorities!

As discussed throughout this article, says that right and wrong is relative to your belief system or culture.

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What do you think? What about a religion that requires people to take illegal drugs? What about a nation which does not give individuals all the human rights that we believe in? These are real examples—ones which we in America, as a nation, have accepted. In general, we DO feel obligated to accept the practices of religions and cultures that we might disagree with—even some that violate our laws. But there are limits; for example, we oppose the practice of female genital mutilation, which is traditional in some countries.

There is no rule to tell us when to be relativists and when to enforce our own beliefs. So, we seem to be relativists, within limits—limits we are still arguing about in our society.

(PDF) A Brief History of Relativism | Maria Baghramian -

The same is true for relativism about truth. Some Americans believe that it is wrong to teach only evolution, and not creationism, in schools. They argue that we are obligated to present all beliefs. In any case, the tension between relativism and our belief that some things are just right or wrong continues to be a huge source of social controversy.

If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. Robert Anton Wilson has been on a crusade in support of truth relativism for decades. He often writes about the idea that whenever you say X is Y , you are at best stating a limited truth, if any truth at all. Here, Pope Benedict expresses a common fear about relativism—that it means believing and doing whatever you feel like. Relativism does open the door for people to choose their own individualistic beliefs, and that opposes the idea that the Bible provides absolute truth. However, relativism does not support whatever you feel like; relativists still need to engage in critical thought!

Although relativism has made the philosophical scene off and on throughout history, it is mainly a twentieth century philosophy, especially in the Western world. The Greeks dabbled in relativism, starting with Protagoras at least, and Plato tried to refute it.

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But after that, we need to leap forward to the Enlightenment and Age of Reason 16 th th centuries. As with many other modern philosophical developments, relativism was partially inspired by the rejection of traditional authority in matters of truth and morality. The Catholic Church is correct to say that relativism implies the rejection of any absolute truths or morals as expressed in the Bible.

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  • The inspirations for relativism among philosophers are credited most to Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche. This relationism seems to support relativism and, in fact, the two ideas are often mixed up.

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    Meanwhile Nietzsche emphasized that all our inherited ideas are just that—inherited and ideas, not objective truths. But, both Kant and Nietzsche were more relativist about truth than morality. Although, many philosophers and scientists feel that it is misguided to support cultural or moral relativism on the basis of relativity or quantum theory.

    In other words, two people moving in different directions while observing the same thing would measure it to have different lengths. Many people take this as a good analogy for philosophical relativism. This is important to our notions of truth because it provides a counter example to the rule of traditional logic that nothing can be two mutually exclusive things at the same time; apparently, electrons can, so maybe other truths can be this way too. Perhaps people would not have applied these ideas to cultural and moral issues if the dawning sciences of anthropology and linguistics had not supported that leap.

    The most famous early representatives of cultural and linguistic relativism were Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf, anthropologists who studied Native American languages; they discovered that those languages seemed to represent the world very differently from European languages, pointing towards the idea that people in different cultures, or with different languages might experience reality differently. Meaning in Life. Thaddeus Metz. Maria Baghramian.


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