Rationality in Local and Global Contexts
Reports from the department of philosophy, University of Turku, FinlandReports from the department of philosophy, University of Turku, Finland
Relativism and its sub-species like Moral Relativism or Cultural Relativism are usually understood as a kind of anything goes attitude. Chris Swoyer (2003) provides a more precise analysis of this notion interpreting propositions "X is relative to Y " in functional terms. He reads Y as an independent variable and X as dependent one. Then this proposition says that when Y is fixed X is uniquely determined but different values of Y correspond to different values of X (so the function is non-constant). If X stands for moral and Y stands for culture the relativism about these things amounts to saying that the former functionally depends on the latter. (Notice that the relativism in question is both moral and cultural but not in the same way.) For the obvious reason this may sound very embarrassing for people looking for definite answers to moral questions. Since the kind of relativism just described seems to imply sceptical views one often wishes to weaken it in one way or another. I shall try to show that the problem about this kind of relativism is exactly the opposite: it is a very weak relativism which doesn't really deserve its name. And stronger versions of relativism don't imply scepticism as we shall shortly see. So a reasonable strategy is to strengthen a weak relativism until it brings non-trivial results rather than try to weaken it. I shall demonstrate this claim first with a toy example and then with real examples from science and mathematics.