Relativism was: Greens

From: Dan Fabulich (
Date: Thu Nov 16 2000 - 13:24:16 MST

Nicq wrote:

> Sorry, the only thing I'm a true believer in is relativism- I'm a
> skeptic that has taken his skepticism to an absurd level for the
> sheer absurdity of it (and I'm a philosophy student, no less!).

Being, as I am, a philosophy student from a similar background to
yourself, I might suggest that relativism makes no sense to anyone.
So, an honest relativist can't help but notice that relativism is
false for some people. But can it be true for YOU? If relativism can
be false for some people, but true for others, I'm not sure what the
position amounts to, since that's not relativism any more.

(This problem extends from the fact that relativism has too much to
say about the truth of all belief everywhere. It's an attempt to
reach an objective view about beliefs where, it must be admitted, no
objective view is possible.)

Anyway, I might reccomend instead an open-minded ethnocentrism.
(Where your group or ethnicity may include only you [though I rather,
rather doubt it.]) Sure, everyone has their own internally consistent
justifications for their own beliefs, but that doesn't make THEM right
about anything. I believe what I believe, but I'll take you seriously
if you have something to tell me.

Alternately, take Wittgenstein seriously with his private language

When I say language, assume that this includes at least some minimal
apparatus for determining the truth and falsehood of statements. So,
if we fully disagree about how to determine the truth and falsehood of
statements, we're not speaking the same language. To see this,
suppose I told you: "I know what apples are. They are large four
legged solid-hoofed mammals that are good for riding." You might say
that I'm wrong about apples, but it would make just as much sense to
say that I'm speaking a different language in which "apple" means
"horse." All of this turns on whether it is true in my language that
apples have the character I described above, that is, whether my claim
can be true by definition. (Ever wonder why they call it "logic,"
after the greek term for "word"? It's because modern logic was
designed by philosophers of language to analyze our language's truth
conditions. Logic is a study of language truths.)

But, if relativism is true, then there's no possibility for us to have
the same conditions for evaluating truth/falsehood, because we can't
share truth/falsehood. I'm evaluating truth-for-me, and you're
evaluating truth-for-you. ("But those could be the same!" No, they
can only be same-for-me, or same-for-you.) That implies that
everything I say is true-for-me in my language (i.e. by definition),
and everything you say is true-for-you in your language.

But when we make a statement that's true by definition, we're not
making a claim about the world, we're just making a claim about what
our words mean. But if we NEVER make a claim about a world, if we're
ALWAYS talking in definitions, then none of our words can ever
actually have a referent. So we're never talking about anything in
particular. So relativism REALLY makes no sense.

[Many will criticize my picture of reference, (I only picked it
because it's a natural one that requires little explication,) but I
can recriticize relativism from just about any theory of reference via
a similar argument. For example, suppose words have no reference, but
only a use. Nonetheless, if there's no such thing as right uses and
wrong uses, then words have no *particular* use, and, thus, no

All this can be avoided if we just fall back on ethnocentrism. And,
again, so long as we're open-minded in our ethnocentrism, that's OK.


      -unless you love someone-
    -nothing else makes any sense-
           e.e. cummings

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