Start Date: 05/19/2019

Course Type: Common Course

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About Course

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

Course Syllabus

Module 1
Module 2
Module 3
Module 4

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Course Introduction

Relativism is an ancient philosophical doctrine which has recurred time and again in the history of philosophy. It has also transcended the boundaries

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Article Example
Relativism Methodological relativism and philosophical relativism can exist independently from one another, but most anthropologists base their methodological relativism on that of the philosophical variety.
Relativism The concept of relativism also has importance both for philosophers and for anthropologists in another way. In general, anthropologists engage in descriptive relativism, whereas philosophers engage in normative relativism, although there is some overlap (for example, descriptive relativism can pertain to concepts, normative relativism to truth).
Factual relativism Factual relativism (also called epistemic relativism, epistemological relativism or cognitive relativism) is a mode of reasoning that extends relativism and subjectivism to factual matter and reason. In factual relativism the facts used to establish the truth or falsehood of any statement are understood to be relative to the perspective of those proving or falsifying the proposition.
Relativism On the other hand, others wish to equate relativism, relationism and even relativity, which is a precise theory of relationships between physical objects: Nevertheless, "This confluence of relativity theory with relativism became a strong contributing factor in the increasing prominence of relativism".
Relativism Philosopher Richard Rorty has a somewhat paradoxical role in the debate over relativism: he is criticized for his relativistic views by many commentators, but has always denied that relativism applies to much anybody, being nothing more than a Platonic scarecrow. Rorty claims, rather, that he is a pragmatist, and that to construe pragmatism as relativism is to beg the question.
Relativism The term "relativism" often comes up in debates over postmodernism, poststructuralism and phenomenology. Critics of these perspectives often identify advocates with the label "relativism". For example, the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is often considered a relativist view because it posits that linguistic categories and structures shape the way people view the world. Stanley Fish has defended postmodernism and relativism.
Relativism 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 (cultural relativism).
Relativism Pope Leo XIII (1810–1903) was the first known Pope to use the word relativism in the encyclical "Humanum genus" (1884). Leo XIII condemned Freemasonry and claimed that its philosophical and political system was largely based on relativism.
Relativism The philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend wholeheartedly embraced relativism at many points of his career.
Cultural relativism Political scientist Alison Dundes Renteln has recently argued that most debates over moral relativism misunderstand the importance of cultural relativism. Most philosophers understand the Benedictine-Herskovitz formulation of cultural relativism to mean
Relativism 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).
Relativism Relativism is not skepticism. Skepticism superficially resembles relativism, because they both doubt absolute notions of truth. However, whereas skeptics go on to doubt all notions of truth, relativists replace absolute truth with a positive theory of many equally valid relative truths. For the relativist, there is no more to
Relativism The Catholic Church, especially under John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, has identified relativism as one of the most significant problems for faith and morals today.
Relativism Relativism is the idea that views are relative to differences in perception and consideration, and intrinsically, have no absolute truth or validity
Relativism As moral relativism, the term is often used in the context of moral principles, where principles and ethics are regarded as applicable in only limited context.
Relativism Anthropological relativism refers to a methodological stance, in which the researcher suspends (or brackets) his or her own cultural biases while attempting to understand beliefs and behaviors in their local contexts. This has become known as methodological relativism, and concerns itself specifically with avoiding ethnocentrism or the application of one's own cultural standards to the assessment of other cultures. This is also the basis of the so-called "emic" and "etic" distinction, in which:
Relativism It was Aristotle who held that relativism implied we should, sticking with appearances only, end up contradicting ourselves somewhere if we could apply all attributes to all "ousiai" (beings). Aristotle, however, made non-contradiction dependent upon his essentialism. If his essentialism is false, then so too is his ground for disallowing relativism. (Subsequent philosophers have found other reasons for supporting the principle of non-contradiction).
Moral relativism Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. "Descriptive" moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; "meta-ethical" moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and "normative" moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it.
Cultural relativism According to Marcus and Fischer, when the principle of cultural relativism was popularized after World War II, it came to be understood "more as a doctrine, or position, than as a method." As a consequence, people misinterpreted cultural relativism to mean that all cultures are both separate and equal, and that all value systems, however different, are equally valid. Thus, people came to use the phrase "cultural relativism" erroneously to signify "moral relativism."
Relativism In April 2005, in his homily during Mass prior to the conclave which would elect him as Pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger talked about the world "moving towards a dictatorship of relativism":