Relativism is an ancient philosophical doctrine which has recurred time and again in the history of philosophy. It has also transcended the boundaries of that discipline, for it has shaped much of the methodology in anthropology and sociology, as well as in critical theory and literary studies. While often advocated for its supposed tolerance of differences, relativism has profound consequences for how we think of reality, for the possibility of knowledge, both in the factual and in the moral domain, and may engender the practice of double standard.
If a wind is hot for me and cold for you and none of us is at fault, does this mean that reality is always perspectival, or that it admits of contradictory descriptions? If a belief turns out to be justified when evaluated within a certain epistemic system (such as religion, for instance), while it turns out to be unjustified if assessed from within a different one (science, say), does relativism undermine the very possibility of knowledge? If an action can be morally permissible within an ethical system and not so within a different one, does that challenge the idea that there are moral truths and moral progress? These are some of the questions we will engage in during the course, while considering examples taken from the history of science, such as the Bellarmine-Galileo dispute, and from everyday life.
This course is aimed at anyone who is interested in learning more about philosophy, along with those who are looking for strategies to combat extremism in their communities. Using these approaches, no matter what your skill levels in topics you would like to master, you can change your thinking and change your life.
In this course, learners will:
Explore the concept of Relativism
Discuss the role of Relativism in contemporary society
Identify common responses to Relativism
Compare/Contrast various forms of Relativism
Recognize how epistemic relativism can be used to explain important events in the history of science and crucial discoveries in anthropology
Create a presentation with your personal perspective on one of the forms of relativism
Welcome to Module 1: Introduction to Relativism. In this module, we will explore how current issues in public debate (climate change denial, fake news, vaccine skepticism, religious and political extremism) trade on relativism, and how relativism may be thought of as being a source of good by promoting pluralism and tolerance. We will begin by defining Relativism, and review the various forms, including faultless disagreement, relativism of difference, and local vs. global Relativism.
Welcome to Module 2: Alethic Relativism. This week we will explore the structure of alethic relativism in Protagoras’ philosophy, examine the structure of contemporary alethic relativism, and identify the main objections to both forms of alethic relativism.
Welcome to Module 3: Epistemic Relativism. In this module we will explore the structure of epistemic relativism and identify how epistemic relativism can be used to explain important events in the history of science and crucial discoveries in anthropology. We will also review the main objections to epistemic relativism and examine how the data provided by the history of science and anthropology could be understood without appealing to epistemic relativism.
Welcome to Module 4: Moral Relativism. In this module we will explore the structure and framework of ethical relativism and review alethic relativism and relativism of distance as applied to ethics. We will identify the main objections to these forms of ethical relativism and recognize the difficulty of formulating a coherent relativist proposal. Finally, course participants are asked to apply their understanding of one of the forms of relativism and create a presentation to share their personal perspective.