Thursday, May 28, 2009

5a Is the relativist right?

Relativism is sometimes identified as the thesis that all points of view are equally valid. You certainly know such situations, where the other ends or actually kills a debate by saying: "Oh well, that is YOUR opinion."

What was the debate about,...... the truth? And do we have to conclude now that there is no truth but only us with all our opinions? Ok, we hold a lot of opinion, but something isnt right here. Isnt there an opinion, which is not just an opinion, but which is also true? Or is the relativst right?

Relativism comes in many flavors. You can be an epistemological relativist, a moral relativist, a cultural relativist , an aesthetic relativist and so on. But all these relativistic theories have two things in common:

1) They all assert that one thing (e.g. moral values, beauty, knowledge, taste, or meaning) is relative to some particular framework or standpoint (e.g. the individual subject, a culture, an era, a language, or a conceptual scheme).

2) They all deny that any standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.

Relativism is at least as old as philosophy. I dont know how it is with you, but I constantly live in a state of philosophical schizophrenia. On the one hand I have the (intuitive) idea that there is some truth, and on the other soon as I think, yes that could be the truth, I immediately question this "truth'.

Which way to go? The first discussion on relativism maybe: Let's listen in and hear what Socrates (390 B.C) has to tell in his conversation with Theaetetus:

Socrates: You say that knowledge is perception?
Theaetetus: Yes.
Socrates: Well, you have delivered yourself of a very important doctrine about
knowledge; it is indeed the opinion of Protagoras, who has another
way of expressing it, Man, he says, is the measure of all things, of the
existence of things that are, and of the non-existence of things that
are not:-You have read him?
Theaetetus: O yes, again and again.
Socrates: Does he not say that things are to you such as they appear to you,
and to me such as they appear to me, and that you and I are men?
Theaetetus: Yes, he says so.

Is Protagoras right? True is how something appears to you, which is derived from perception? There is something odd in his thesis. For if “X appears to me to be Y (or looks Y to me)” and “X appears to you to be Z (or looks Z to you)” are equivalent respectively to “X is Y” and “X is Z"

Or as Socrates said...the wind appears to me warm and to you the wind appears to be cold. So do we have to conclude now that the wind is warm and cold at the same time?

There is another strong argument against extreme relativism. Especially against those people who always say "Yes, but that is YOUR opinion." We run into a strange situation here, for the person who utters that statement, claims that his opinion is the right opinion, while you claim that your opinion is the right one.

That cant be right. It cant be possible that two people hold opinions, which are contradictory. This shows to be untenable especially when the opinions relate to events in the future.

It is like the weathermen on TV. One promises you a bright and sunny day and the other promises you a stormy and rainy day.

But it is not that simple. Imagine two men: Tycho Brahe (an advocate of a geocentric picture of the solar system, 1590) and Johannes Kepler (an advocate of a heliocentric view,1610) as they gaze to the east at sunrise.

Although they do see the same object, the sun, they see it very differently. Tycho sees the sun rising, whereas Kepler sees the horizon dipping or falling away from the fixed and immobile sun. Hence there is no neutral observational framework that allows them to determine who is correct.

As a philosopher to be qualified as a relativist is a kiss of death, a negative image. But in the 1960s many historians and philosophers of science reacted against what they saw as the insufficiently historical and overly formalistic approach of the dominant philosophy of science of their day.

The key insurrectionists were Norwood Russell Hanson , Stephen Toulmin , Paul Feyerabend , and, above all Thomas Kuhn, whose "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (1970b, first edition 1962) has sold over a million copies.

I then was a university student of philosophy and read Kuhn (bought one of that million copies:-) and Feyerabend. They didnt surprise me. Their views fitted in perfectly with my own ideas. I smile when I remember those days as a student.

None of these writers, save Feyerabend in some of his varied moods, viewed themselves as relativists, but many of their views suggested relativistic conclusions to many of their readers.

I kept notebooks, in which I wrote down all MY philosophical ideas. And then I learnt a lesson, because when reading Kuhn and Feyerabend I had to discover that they already had published almost every thought I had written down in my own notebooks.

So far I only talked about epistemological relativism. I think the "That is YOUR opinion" relativism is a dead end street and untenable, even self-refuting. However, the epistemic realm includes standards or norms for justification and reasoning (e.g., logic, probability theory, guidelines for revising beliefs),

ideals of rationality, standards for intelligibility and explanation, epistemic commitments and values (e.g., learning the truth, gaining insight, avoiding error, avoiding ignorance),

virtues (e.g., being open-minded) and vices (e.g., having a tendency to jump to conclusions). This is a mixed bag, and one can be a relativist about some of the things in it (e.g., standards of explanation) but not others (e.g., logic).

So next lecture we will look into moral and cultural relativism.

The Discussion

[13:27] itsme Frederix: What to do? The unmoved mover view or .. stay relative
[13:27] herman Bergson: What do you mean, Itsme?
[13:27] itsme Frederix: well the unmoved mover idea is the same (in a way) as absolute truth
[13:28] itsme Frederix: it give a fixed point, an absolute coordinate
[13:28] Samuel Okelly: just as an absence of proof is not of itself a proof of absence, where is the "logic" to relativism?
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: very open ended
[13:29] herman Bergson: Yes Gemma
[13:29] herman Bergson: I have to think about your remark samuel..:-)
[13:30] herman Bergson: I am wondering myself to what extend I am a relativist myself
[13:30] itsme Frederix: just a proof of one occasion is not a proof for all Sam?!
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: i think most of us are under the skin
[13:30] herman Bergson: But it fascinates me
[13:30] itsme Frederix: why make an occasion absolute and master
[13:30] Samuel Okelly: I can’t help but see a naive arrogance in assuming that an individual subjective understanding of Truth represents Truth in its totality.
[13:31] herman Bergson: Explain Samuel
[13:31] herman Bergson: is there a difference between truth and Truth for you?
[13:31] Samuel Okelly: it appears self-evident that our "understanding" is subjective
[13:32] herman Bergson: true
[13:32] herman Bergson: truism
[13:32] herman Bergson: so?
[13:33] Samuel Okelly: but though we may not be able to ascertain the nature of objective truth, then why assume that an objective Truth does not exist?
[13:33] itsme Frederix: a subjective statement this SELF evident
[13:33] herman Bergson: Ok..Samuel....
[13:34] Samuel Okelly: This to me is an arrogant and narrow-minded view
[13:34] Samuel Okelly: (in a philosophical sense)
[13:34] herman Bergson: we may not be able to ascertain the nature of objective truth?....where did you get that?
[13:34] herman Bergson: I mean your knowledge of that objective truth?
[13:35] Samuel Okelly: with respect, how we obtain knowledge of an objective truth is a seperate debate
[13:35] herman Bergson: That is what we are all looking for...that anchor point
[13:35] herman Bergson: For the relativist it is the quintessence of the debate right now
[13:35] itsme Frederix: why accept ontological objective truth but say you can not know (epistological) it
[13:36] Samuel Okelly: science, philosophy and religion all search for truth and understanding
[13:36] herman Bergson: A pragmatist wouldnt agree Samuel
[13:36] herman Bergson: it is an assumption
[13:37] Samuel Okelly: on what grounds would they disagree?
[13:37] herman Bergson: Well..the pragamist isnt interested in truth and understanding at long as it works
[13:38] herman Bergson: whatever it is...a scientific theory..a social plan..
[13:38] itsme Frederix: how do you judge it works
[13:39] itsme Frederix: in many cases you need some ethical goal or idea
[13:39] herman Bergson: Well..Itsme...seems clear to me..empirical data will proof if you are right or wrong
[13:40] herman Bergson: If your theory says it wont blow up, and yet it blows up...didnt work...did it? :-)
[13:40] herman Bergson: Yes...I agree Itsme..
[13:40] itsme Frederix: agree, but that does not mean blowing up is the right thing
[13:40] herman Bergson: But that is the next station....moral and cultural relativism
[13:41] itsme Frederix: this presumes moral knowledge does not influence epistomological things?
[13:41] Samuel Okelly: “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts” (forget who said that)
[13:42] herman Bergson: Well Samuel...where to get that objective truth..a relativist would drool to see that
[13:42] herman Bergson: I dont agree Samuel..
[13:42] herman Bergson: You are not entitled to your own opinions
[13:43] herman Bergson: If you have the opinion that it was a good thing to gass 6 million jewish people, you are not entitled to that opinion
[13:43] Samuel Okelly: as a person of faith it is hardly surprising that I would challenge relativistic ideas ;-)
[13:44] herman Bergson: may enjoy your opinion, but I would prosecute you for it
[13:44] itsme Frederix: still its faith and not fact
[13:44] herman Bergson: what...? the death of 6 million peole?
[13:44] Samuel Okelly: to use your own analogy ppl WERE prosecuted in 1930s Germany
[13:44] itsme Frederix: no that person of faith
[13:45] herman Bergson: It is about entitled to have your own opinion....
[13:45] herman Bergson: and I think there are limits to that
[13:45] itsme Frederix: that in itself is a opinion
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:46] itsme Frederix: which you may wish to be used as fact
[13:46] herman Bergson: And there we are back to the basics...
[13:46] herman Bergson: to kill a debate by refering to a thought as just a private opinion
[13:46] Samuel Okelly: i see it less as a question of “entitlement” and more of one of empirical observation, we each self-evidently have our own understanding
[13:47] itsme Frederix: did not mean to kill any idea Herman
[13:47] Superbus Atlas: sorry i'm late!
[13:47] herman Bergson: Dont take it personal Itme..
[13:47] herman Bergson: this is a open debate..
[13:47] itsme Frederix: mmm double things in that sentence in this context herman
[13:47] herman Bergson: But your remark shows how relativism works..
[13:48] itsme Frederix: I know how to use it
[13:48] herman Bergson: it is my opinion that it wasnt right to kill 6 million people...
[13:48] herman Bergson: That is not just an opinion
[13:48] Samuel Okelly: why was it wrong in your opinion herman?
[13:49] herman Bergson: it is about the fact that someone says..ok..that is just your opinion
[13:49] Samuel Okelly: the interesting question is not so much "is X wrong?" but "WHY is X wrong?"
[13:50] herman Bergson: that is another dimension indeed Sauel
[13:50] Jangle McElroy: Is it then partly about the view of the crowd, consensus, rather than the individual point of view? Surely not - for example the crowd condemned Jesus in front of Pilot.
[13:50] itsme Frederix: not pragmatic if it is right (or wrong) take the fact for granted and go to the next
[13:50] herman Bergson: That is also an important issue Jangle...the opinion off the crowd
[13:51] herman Bergson: Is truth just a majortity vote?
[13:51] Superbus Atlas: Truth is relative to a community
[13:51] herman Bergson: If you say yes..that is fundamental relativism
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: yes it is!!
[13:51] Qwark Allen: mmmm
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: great example
[13:51] Superbus Atlas: But that does not make the biggest community correct
[13:51] Qwark Allen: i`m not with that opinion
[13:52] itsme Frederix: Even if that is the case you might wish there is room for other opinions (On Liberety - Mill)
[13:52] Samuel Okelly: FTR, i believe in an objective Truth (which includes an objective morality ;-)
[13:52] herman Bergson: No Superbeus...
[13:52] Superbus Atlas: Why not pray tell
[13:52] herman Bergson: YEs..I understand Samuel...that is a real fundametal thing too..and personal...
[13:53] itsme Frederix: Sam why that Capital
[13:53] herman Bergson: I dont want to put that to the debate
[13:53] Qwark Allen: i`m glad the new papua head hunter society doesn`t rule the world, or at this point will be admissible the
[13:53] Superbus Atlas: As long as you have to justify yourself to a community, you are not a relativist
[13:53] Samuel Okelly: "Truth" as a noun denoting an idea itsme
[13:53] herman Bergson: I dont agree Superbus.
[13:54] Qwark Allen: got to go
[13:54] itsme Frederix: I see the Platonic Idea
[13:54] Qwark Allen: cya thursday
[13:54] herman Bergson: also that community is just a majority vote only
[13:54] Samuel Okelly: sorry folsk must dash
[13:54] Samuel Okelly:
[13:54] Samuel Okelly: †
[13:54] Samuel Okelly: † (( take care everyone )) †
[13:54] Samuel Okelly: †
[13:54] Samuel Okelly:
[13:54] herman Bergson: Bye Sam
[13:54] Superbus Atlas: If the majority disagree, you may still be right - but then you simply belong to a different community
[13:54] Ze Novikov: bb
[13:55] Superbus Atlas: Everything else is Nietzsche
[13:55] itsme Frederix: Sup that means disagreement give fundamental borders - thats not the way to solve it
[13:55] Jangle McElroy: Surely everything is Nietzsche, not everything else? :)
[13:55] Superbus Atlas: :)
[13:56] Superbus Atlas: Justification opens up paths to other communities
[13:56] herman Bergson: I thank you all for your participation..:-)
[13:57] herman Bergson: Next lecture will be on moral and cultural realivism :-)
[13:57] itsme Frederix: By the way Jan? is Nietzsche part of everything
[13:57] Superbus Atlas: oo my favorite subject
[13:57] herman Bergson: feel free to continue the debate tho :-)
[13:57] Jangle McElroy: justification can also create a sense of legitimacy in the beliefs of others - such as views against those opportating terrorism. Debate and argument of their views magnifies their right to exist in some sense.

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