Thursday, November 16, 2006

Pluralistic relativism

Jeff Meyerhoff
Pluralistic relativism could mean many things. The many meanings of relativism are described by Michael Krausz and Rom Harre in their book Varieties of Relativism and by Maria Baghramian in her book Relativism. I will name some major theorists who could be, and sometimes are, called pluralistic relativists. Nelson Goodman, one of the great philosophers of the second half of the twentieth-century, defended what he called a “radical relativism.” Paul Feyerabend, one of the five most important philosophers of science could be described as a pluralistic relativist. The philosopher and translator of Nagajuna, Jay Garfield, gives a strong relativist reading of Nagajuna's Buddhism in his book Empty Words.
The philosopher Richard Rorty, while denying the label relativist, is very often accused of being, what could be called, a pluralistic relativist. The Princeton political philosopher Philip Pettit, while perhaps not wanting the label relativist (no one does because it is more an epithet than a description), has defended what could be called a pluralistic relativism in his essay “A Sensible Perspectivism.”
We learn from the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy that “moral relativism is a standard topic in metaethics, and there are contemporary philosophers who defend forms of it: The most prominent are Gilbert Harman and David B. Wong.”[3] David Bloor, Barry Barnes and their strong programme in the sociology of science are accused of relativism. And these examples are all from the Anglo-American tradition. The Continental postmodernists are even more notorious for their alleged relativism.

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