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"A theory, especially in ethics or aesthetics, that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them."

Compare relative and absolute theories of modesty:

"Ideas of modesty, therefore, are altogether relative and conventional. Peoples who are accustomed to tattoo themselves are ashamed to appear untattooed ; peoples whose women are in the habit of covering their faces consider such a covering indispensable for every respectable woman ; peoples who for one reason or another have come to conceal the navel, the knee, the bosom, or other parts, blush to reveal what is hidden. It is not the feeling of shame that has provoked the covering, but the covering that has provoked the feeling of shame."--The History of Human Marriage (1891) by Edvard Westermarck


"The provocative gesture of exposing the genitals has become the subject of widespread social control in every human society. There are no peoples in our sample who generally allow women to expose their genitals under any but the most restricted circumstances."--Patterns of Sexual Behavior , p. 94

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Relativism consists of various theories each of which claims that some element or aspect of experience or culture is relative to, i.e., dependent on, some other element or aspect. For example, some relativists claim that humans can understand and evaluate beliefs and behaviors only in terms of their historical or cultural context. The term often refers to truth relativism, which is the doctrine that there are no absolute truths, i.e., that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as a language or a culture.

Contrast with universalism and objectivity.



One argument for relativism suggests that our own cognitive bias prevents us from observing something objectively with our own senses, and notational bias will apply to whatever we can allegedly measure without using our senses. In addition, we have a culture bias — shared with other trusted observers — which we cannot eliminate. A counterargument to this states that subjective certainty and concrete objects and causes form part of our everyday life, and that there is no great value in discarding such useful ideas as isomorphism, objectivity and a final truth.

Postmodernism and relativism

postmodern relativsm


A common argument against relativism suggests that it inherently contradicts, refutes, or stultifies itself: the statement "all is relative" classes either as a relative statement or as an absolute one. If it is relative, then this statement does not rule out absolutes. If the statement is absolute, on the other hand, then it provides an example of an absolute statement, proving that not all truths are relative. However, this argument against relativism only applies to relativism that positions truth as relative–i.e. epistemological/truth-value relativism. More specifically, it is only extreme forms of epistemological relativism that can come in for this criticism as there are many epistemological relativists who posit that some aspects of what is regarded as factually "true" are not universal, yet still accept that other universal truths exist (e.g. gas laws or moral laws).

Another argument against relativism posits a Natural Law. Simply put, the physical universe works under basic principles: the "Laws of Nature". Some contend that a natural Moral Law may also exist, for example as argued by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion (2006) Dawkins said "I think we face an equal but much more sinister challenge from the left, in the shape of cultural relativism - the view that scientific truth is only one kind of truth and it is not to be especially privileged".

Plato opposed relativism. He criticized the views of the sophist Protagoras in his dialogue Thaetetus. In a paraphrased dialogue, the philosopher Socrates argued that relativism is self-defeating with the following: "My opinion is: Truth must be absolute and that you Mr. Protagoras, are absolutely in error. Since this is indeed my opinion, then you must concede that it is true according to your philosophy."

Philosopher Hilary Putnam, among others, states that some forms of relativism make it impossible to believe one is in error. If there is no truth beyond an individual's belief that something is true, then an individual cannot hold their own beliefs to be false or mistaken. A related criticism is that relativizing truth to individuals destroys the distinction between truth and belief.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Relativism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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