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The Problem With Relativism

 
 
Reply Wed 14 Dec, 2011 02:17 pm
Relativism allows differing viewpoints to be considered equally correct on the basis that each is valid within its own cultural, religious, or political framework. For example, creationism is valid within a particular religious framework and therefore no less plausible than a scientific explanation of the natural world.

To me, relativism seems to take away the justification for judging one claim superior to another claim. In the absence of being able to make such judgments, how can knowledge advance?
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Type: Discussion • Score: 5 • Views: 4,142 • Replies: 32
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thack45
 
  2  
Reply Wed 14 Dec, 2011 02:24 pm
@wandeljw,
Empirical knowledge advances in spite of relativism.
JLNobody
 
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Reply Wed 14 Dec, 2011 05:41 pm
@thack45,
It also advances in spite of absolutism.
I think we should keep in mind that those advances are never matters of absolute facts. All "facts" are grounded in theoretical contexts that are always changing. In that sense relativism is more fundamental that absolutism, although they both have a place in reality. But truths are ultimately provisional, subject to inevitable replacement as new "facts" are constructed and theoretical contexts change. Paradigm shifts.
wandeljw
 
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Reply Thu 15 Dec, 2011 06:14 am
@JLNobody,
What about the idea that facts exist independently and are subsequently employed in hypotheses and then theories? Are you certain that frameworks precede facts?
JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 15 Dec, 2011 04:06 pm
@wandeljw,
Phenomena exist as expressions of the relationship between objective conditions and subjective dispositions (the observed-observer equation), but their significance as meaning-bearing things, i.e., facts, depends on conceptual frameworks. I am comfortable with this formulation, but I hope that in the future I will enjoy a more useful one.
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wandeljw
 
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Reply Thu 15 Dec, 2011 05:07 pm
Critics of social constructivism point out that it leads to some nonsensical assertions. A bacteria would not exist until it was actually discovered by someone. Scientists examining the mummy of Ramses II concluded that he died of tuberculosis. French sociologist Bruno Latour denied that this was possible: “How could he pass away due to a bacillus discovered by Robert Koch in 1881?”
JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 15 Dec, 2011 07:59 pm
@wandeljw,
Constructivists talk about how we came to describe the world of things like bacteria. The world does not consist only of our constructions but our understandings of the world do.
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wandeljw
 
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Reply Fri 16 Dec, 2011 08:51 am
Relativism in knowledge leads to a doctrine of "equal validity." Facts are based on individual perception or constructed by social agreement. Truths are based on what your culture tells you is true. In this way all beliefs have equal justification because they are based on adopted standards.
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Fri 16 Dec, 2011 11:02 am
@wandeljw,
There is something about "constructivism" that evades most people. It is about culture or meaning rather than the absolute structure of the physical world--i.e., physics. We do not simply make up facts; we interpret the content of experience. And those interpreted inventions--our "cooked" not just our "raw" experiences but our glosses of them--become our reality. As far as I'm concerned there IS a "real" reality that is both beyond and the ground of all interpretation (one cannot describe it, one can just "be" it)--indeed it includes the act of interpretation. This is consistent with the buddhist notion, which I endorse, that all (meaningful experience) is delusion. Frankly, I love the delusions provided by of art and literature and the much of the everyday life of my culture.
So, you seem to insist that the world is real and that constructivists treat it as consisting only of fictitious constructions based on "adopted standards". I think there's considerable truth to that. But I still insist that the "real" world is that which is described and understood in terms of cultural fictions, i.e., human creations. Fictions can be useful and consistent with experience or they can be destructive and inconsistent with all but the most distorted experience.
I guess my bottom line--if I dare to have one--is that Reality is fundamentallly meaningless; it does not come with labels, identities and meanings. WE create them. We are all constructivists even if we reject "Constructivism"!
JLNobody
 
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Reply Fri 16 Dec, 2011 11:11 am
@JLNobody,
With regard to "relativism" I don't say that all is equal; I say that things are ranked according to created standards and criteria of evaluation. But by relativism I mean that everything is related to other things, in varying degrees. Nothing exists sufficient unto itself. All is co-existent. Nevertheless, when I focus on a particular entity I see it as "absolute", for the moment. I focus on its uniqueness, its "suchness", but when I want to understand how and why it came about and how it persists, declines and ends, I have to examine it in context, in terms of its relationships--i.e., relativism.
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wandeljw
 
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Reply Fri 16 Dec, 2011 11:13 am
@JLNobody,
Thanks for the interesting response, JLN.

I only have a layman's understanding of relativism and constructivism. I am examining these ideas because I have seen them used in various ways to challenge science education in the United States.
JLNobody
 
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Reply Fri 16 Dec, 2011 11:34 am
@wandeljw,
Yeah, sometimes it is carried too far (or to careless extremes)--as expressions of post-modernism.
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bluemist phil
 
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Reply Thu 9 Feb, 2012 08:43 am
@wandeljw,
wandeljw wrote:

Relativism in knowledge leads to a doctrine of "equal validity." Facts are based on individual perception or constructed by social agreement. Truths are based on what your culture tells you is true. In this way all beliefs have equal justification because they are based on adopted standards.


You totally misunderstand relativism. What you are saying is the usual BS written all over, but it is all wrong. Thanks to Aristotle's smears against the then prevailing philosophy.

Think man, is there *anything* absolute in this world? Then why do I get a day older each day? Why must I shave every morning, why don't I stay just as I was when I was 18?
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 9 Feb, 2012 10:36 am
@wandeljw,
Objectivists argue that theories consist of "facts" and relativist-constructivists argue that facts are little theories. Like a catchy tune.

BTW Wandeljw. nice thread.
wandeljw
 
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Reply Thu 9 Feb, 2012 11:06 am
@JLNobody,
Thanks, JLN!
0 Replies
 
bluemist phil
 
  2  
Reply Tue 14 Feb, 2012 05:31 pm
@wandeljw,
wandeljw wrote:
... relativism and constructivism. I am examining these ideas because I have seen them used in various ways to challenge science education in the United States.

You are right, in this. Relativism is deliberately miscontrued to mean that "anything goes if things are relative". This is a flat out fallacy. Amazingly, even noted philosophers have actually published papers with this assertion. After that, anything people want to bash is "relativism", moral relativism, cultural relativism, theological relativism, you name it.

Science is a peculiar case, because all modern science is demonstrably relative, and has been so since Galileo. His famous thought experiment of a steadily moving ship viewed from either aboard or from shore demonstrated that what is moving or is not moving is relative to the observational framework. After that, one can fairly say that all things are moving and not moving at the same time from *different* respects.

It could be argued that Galileo only affects physics. But that would not be true. Even scientific definitions and facts are relative to the community of specialists who weigh those things.

However, rather than things becoming "anything goes" whatsoever, scientific facts have spiraled upwards in accuracy and usefulness. But "truth" evades science and always will, because "truth" is not a scientific term but a logical or philosophical term derived from truth tables. Science employs degree of correlation, instead.
Procrustes
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Feb, 2012 07:18 am
@wandeljw,
Quote:
To me, relativism seems to take away the justification for judging one claim superior to another claim. In the absence of being able to make such judgments, how can knowledge advance?

I think what your looking for is a sort of 'undeniable truth' that is repeatable, easily understood and shared. But the problem is finding what that 'truth' is and convincing people of it.
JLNobody
 
  2  
Reply Wed 15 Feb, 2012 10:30 am
@bluemist phil,
Excellent post, Bluemist Phil (from now on BP). It also addresses the thread, Philosophy Is Dead.
0 Replies
 
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Feb, 2012 11:17 am
@Procrustes,
Procrustes wrote:

Quote:
To me, relativism seems to take away the justification for judging one claim superior to another claim. In the absence of being able to make such judgments, how can knowledge advance?

I think what your looking for is a sort of 'undeniable truth' that is repeatable, easily understood and shared. But the problem is finding what that 'truth' is and convincing people of it.

I think is even worse then that Proscrutes , I think ultimately, Relativism undoes itself...if we are to "relativise" relativism to exclude any form of absoluteness, relativism falls apart on its very own premiss...and I think this is not just a fortuitous rhetorical display for the sake of arguing problem being raised here, this is a genuine observation regarding the ultimate consequences on the rational consistency of a relativistic approach to the experience of reality...
On that regard, is then, it seams necessary, to continually make a clear distinction between the undeniable existence of a Truth or a True state of what we call Reality and the possibility of perfectly knowing, almost like "repeating" such Reality for what it is onto itself...Reality as a whole is not repeatable if One !...thus and therefore to my view, to avoid the usual chain of mess and confusion, the need and the relevance of qualifying knowledge on its proper rightful ground... "knowing" is not an adjective who can qualify to "mimic" reality as a whole in a chain of causes and explanations but rather refers to an objective particular form of relation regarding the seeking of a particular conscious being, or a particular Civilization, who is absolutely phenomenally valid, even if subjective on what it can account for, reason about, or what it refers to, once finite in extension and meaning, which again is itself an objective part of reality, or Truth itself, Truth which is itself the very root of all subjective and relative experience as an objective noumena on its unshaken unquestionable necessary wholeness...thus Knowledge is/must be, an objective part of the process we use to call "reality" which as a set, accounts for a partial explanation, a summary or a resume upon those aspects or property´s of relations between "entity's of experience" or phenomena, which at some point in history can be meaningful to us... but of course sounds reasonable to conclude, that knowledge cant ever account for reality itself as whole if an inclusive part of such reality which itself is not resumed to the existence of knowledge...
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Feb, 2012 11:55 am
@Fil Albuquerque,
Knowing what is not being what, although it almost tends and aims to that...a form of feeding from the "otherness", or a form of "acquisition", ever hopelessly reaching for infinity, when the infinity because not transcendent is within oneself without knowledge of it...
Knowing what, is knowing what to me, and socially, what to others relates to what to me, on what I am, as much as in me, as in me on others...it reminds me of Plato´s reminiscence...
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