What is Relativism?
The relativism is a "movement of thought that runs through the centuries since the ancient Greco-Roman", to designate a set of diverse doctrines that have in common to defend the thesis that the meaning and value beliefs and human behaviors do not have absolute references that would be transcendent. The success of cultural relativism from the second half of the twentieth century, as well as for political purposes in the 1980s, in the West, ensured the primacy and even the exclusivity of this sense of the word. Anti-relativism ideologues have also frequently used the term "relativism" in a lax fashion because it relates to historicism, one of the features "the most marked of our time”.
Indeed, relativism concerns all the fields of philosophy, there is consequently a cognitive relativism espousing a point of view according to which "knowledge is the product of construction that it cannot, therefore, be held to be. Objective and cultural relativism are affirming that norms and values are specific to each "'culture' or 'subculture' and those they cannot, therefore, be recognized as objectively founded”. Here’s what the relativism is?
“Man is the measure of everything”. It is with these words, attributed to the sophist Protagoras that the first relativist philosophy was formulated.
The Gnostic Carpocrates and his followers maintain, for example, that Buddha, Moses, Mani and Jesus had the same value on the human level.
Epistemological relativism was an accusation before being claimed, formulated above all against Thomas Kuhn (challenge taken up by Paul Feyerabend).
George Lakoff defines relativism in his work Metaphors We Live By, as a rejection of subjectivism and objectivism to focus on the relationships between them, that is, how we put in relation to our current experience with the previous one. This attitude brings him closer to the anti-realism of Pierre Duhem and Henri Poincaré (cited by Alan Chalmers in What is this thing called Science?): the value of a scientific theory is comparable to that of a library catalog; it is its usefulness, not whether it is true or false. Bruno Latour points out that the opposite of relativism is not universalism, but absolutism.
The concept of cultural relativism is important to philosophers, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists. Philosophers explore how the truth of our beliefs depends or not on, for example, our language, our vision of the world, and our culture while ethical relativism by providing an example. For their part, anthropologists try to describe human behavior. For them, relativism refers to a methodology with which the researcher tries to suspend (or put in parentheses) his own cultural bias to understand beliefs and behaviors in their local contexts.
Moral (or ethical) relativism is the position of thought which consists in saying that it is not possible to order moral values by the use of classification criteria.
Idealistic thinkers, like Kant, will seek to demonstrate the uniqueness of "Morality" by securing Christian morality which wants to be unique and universal.
Materialist thinkers, like Spinoza or Nietzsche, will preserve the plurality of human morals while trying to find criteria making it possible to evaluate a value ("What is the value of a moral value?"). Favoring or harming life is the criterion most frequently encountered among materialist thinkers.
Criticisms of relativism
Critics of relativism, like Alan Sokal, have pointed out that the claim that “there is no absolute truth” is trivially self-contradictory. Indeed, if the proposition is admitted as true, then it must apply to itself and is consequently false.
The simplifying statement "Everything is relative" could be subjected to this demonstration. In reality, this statement is never used by relativists, except as a joke. It should also be pointed out that this statement is also used, in an increasingly erroneous manner, in connection with the theory of relativity. In reality, relativity in the sense of Albert Einstein, on the contrary, seeks to show the existence of invariants.
Among the claimed opponents of relativism, Pope Benedict XVI denounced in a speech delivered on April 18, 2005, the day before his election "a dictatorship of relativism which recognizes nothing as definitive and which gives as an ultimate measure only its own ego and its desires. "
Author: Vicki Lezama