Skip to main content

Motivations for Relativism as a Solution to Disagreements

  • Steven D. Hales

There are five basic ways to resolve disagreements: keep arguing until capitulation, compromise, locate an ambiguity or contextual factors, accept Pyrrhonian skepticism, and adopt relativism. Relativism is perhaps the most radical and least popular solution to a disagreement, and its defenders generally think the best motivator for relativism is to be found in disputes over predicates of personal taste. I argue that taste predicates do not adequately motivate relativism over the other possible solutions, and argue that relativism looks like the most promising approach when disputants cannot even agree on the meta-evidence for a contested proposition.

Hide All

1 James, William, Pragmatism, a New Name For Some Old Ways of Thinking (New York: Longman, Green, and Co. 1907) 4345.

2 Kölbel, Max, ‘“True” as Ambiguous’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77:2. (2008), 359384.

3 Sosa, Ernest, A Virtue Epistemology: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Sosa, Ernest, Reflective Knowledge: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

4 John MacFarlane, ‘Varieties of Disagreement’, forthcoming, draft, 2009.

5 Mates, Benson, The Skeptic Way, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 89.

6 Ibid., 5.

7 A somewhat similar approach is dialethic logic. Unlike relativism, which regulates contradictions by allowing p and not-p to both be true so long as they are in different perspectives, dialethism forgoes perspectives and embraces true contradictions straight up. Relativism is compatible with classical logic (I argue in Relativism and the Foundations of Philosophy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006) that a suitable relativist logic is a monotonic extension of ordinary modal logic), but dialethism explicitly is not. It is also debatable whether dialethism allows disagreement. For some discussion of this latter point, see Priest, Graham, In Contradiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed. 2006.), §20.4. I think it is clear that dialethism is more controversial than relativism and that whatever else might said for it, irreconcilable differences alone will not motivate it over relativism.

8 Lewis, David, On the Plurality of Worlds (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 212213.

9 Rovane, Carol, ‘Relativism Requires Alternatives, Not Disagreement or Relative Truth’ in Hales, Steven D. (ed.), A Companion to Relativism (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011); Boghossian, Paul, ‘Three Kinds of Relativism’ in Hales, Steven D. (ed.), A Companion to Relativism (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

10 MacFarlane, John, ‘Relativism and Disagreement’, Philosophical Studies 132 (2007), 29.

11 McGinn, Colin, The Problem of Consciousness (Blackwell, Oxford, 1991).

12 Wright, Crispin, ‘Intuitionism, Realism, Relativism, and Rhubarb’ in Greenough, Patrick, & Lynch, Michael P (eds), Truth and Realism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 41.

13 Kölbel, Max, ‘Faultless Disagreement’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 104:1 (2004), 53.

14 Op. cit. note 10, 39.

15 Op. cit. note 11, 58–9, cf. Euthyphro 7b–c.

16 Op. cit. note 8, 17.

17 For a recent critical study and meta-analysis, see Rhodes, Gillian, ‘The Evolutionary Psychology of Facial Beauty’, Annual Review of Psychology 57:1 (2006), 199226.

18 Although there is also evidence that characteristic preferences are evolutionary spandrels related to information processing. See Ibid., 7.18–7.19.

19 Kim, Jaegwon, Philosophy of Mind (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996.), 4.

20 Ancestors of this paper were presented at the Institute of Philosophy in the School of Advanced Studies at the University of London, the 6th Conference of the Spanish Society for Analytic Philosophy, and the University of Western Michigan. Many thanks for the constructive comments at those venues. Completion of this work has been granted by Spanish Government (Ministerio de Economía y Competividad), Research Projects FFI2008-01205. Puntos de Vista. Una Investigación Filosófica and FFI2011-24549. Puntos de vista y estructuras temporales.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 15
Total number of PDF views: 41 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 325 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th June 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.