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Framework Relativism: A Defense Against Absolutism & Traditional Refutations.

Framework Relativism: A Defense Against Absolutism & Traditional Refutations.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Dargan Crowley-Long. Originally submitted for Relativism at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Dr Paul O'Grady in the category of Philosophical Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Dargan Crowley-Long. Originally submitted for Relativism at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Dr Paul O'Grady in the category of Philosophical Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
Framework Relativism: ADefense AgainstAbsolutism & TraditionalRefutations.
 
I. Introduction.
Can a relative theory of truth be justifiably held when it comes to truth and the way in which we justify ourbeliefs? In this brief essay I hope to propose a relativistic theory which I think can withstand the traditionalobjections to relativism. This relativism will be greatly influenced by Kolbels notion that there are certain
priori 
objective truths which we cannot argue against thus it is not a radical relativism which believes that allnotions which concern truth are relativised to a particular perspective. Rather, I will show how relativism canonly be held if it concerns judgements of taste. The paper will be structured as followes:I.An Absolutist Version of Truth.II.Epistemic Framework RelativismIII.The Traditional RefutationsIV.Kolbel &
A Priori 
Ob jectivityV.Conclusion.
II. An Absolutist Version of Truth.
Reality is often seen as a pre-given whole. It, thus, provides absolute and disinterested standards by whichwe can verify whether we are correct in holding a belief, declaring our statements or proposing our theories.For example, I might believe that I am 6 feet high and if I question this belief I need only measure myself inorder to find out whether my original belief is true or not. This process of verifying our beliefs against anapparent objective standard is based on an absolutist assumption regarding epistemological inquiry wherebyabsolutism, as Edward Beach points out is:
ʻ
The thesis that there exists a set of necessary principles which are available to knowledge and are capable of grounding an eternallyvalid, incorrigible belief system.
ʼ
1
 
Reality provides a privileged epistemological framework, according to the absolutist, whereby beliefs andstatements are compared to and grounded in an immovable set of standards in order to discern their truth orfalsity.
2
Absolutism
ʼ
s task is to advance an
ʻ
objectively true characterization of reality.
ʼ
3
This,
ʻ
absoluteconception of reality
ʼ
, sounds,
prima facie,
plausible. Nevertheless, there has been dispute as to whether wecan know the world as objectively as we commonly think we do. Can we know an objective reality? Somephilosophers have challenged this assumption. Kant, for example, proposes that we cannot know the
ʻ
in-itself
ʼ
(objective reality as it really is). He believed that we cannot go beyond our own subjectiverepresentation of the world and thus, we find that all we can know for certain is what we represent in space
1
Siegel, H.,
Relativism Refuted,
Reidel, 1987, p.161
2
Siegel, H.,1987, p. 160
3
Lupper,S.,
Epistemic Relativism,
Philosophical Issues, 14, Epistemology, 2004, p.271
 
and time (concepts which we ourselves constitute within us).
4
Kant, thus, raises a sceptical challenge to theabsolute conception of reality. He questions our ability to know reality beyond the filtered version weexperience through our senses. Our human subjectivity is inescapable and thus absolute knowledge isimpossible. We are, therefore, left with the sceptical conclusion that we can have no knowledge of reality ifwe also believe that an absolutist viewpoint is the way forward.
5
III. Epistemic Framework Relativism.
ʻ
It is easy to over-intellectualize the notion of a conceptual framework. On most accounts frameworks are not tidy and precise cognitiveartifacts like road maps or axiomatic formal systems. They are often messy, indefinite, and may include vague intuitions or cognitivehabits as well as specific principles and standards.
ʼ
6
-Chris Swoyer.
Karl Popper states that relativism is the view that,
ʻ
truth is relative to our intellectual background orframework: that it may change from one framework to another.
ʼ
7
No one theory or conceptual framework canbe said to be better than another. The theory rejects the idea that claims can be assessed
ʻ
from a universallyapplicable, objective standpoint.
ʼ
8
Lewis points out that the investigation into human concepts and theirrelations amongst themselves is not an empirical one and thus not absolutist.
9
Rather, the investigationshould be seenas human and subjective. A process of reflection across our actions makes us aware of anethics, logic and methodology particular to our human interests where reality, for an individual within aframework is relative to these interests.
The results of this reflection yield a set of categories that mediatereality for us.
11
4
 
ʻ
Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects byestablishing something in regard to them
a priori,
bymeans of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must thereforemake trial whether we may not have more successin the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to ourknowledge.
ʼ
-Kant, I.,
Critique of Pure Reason,
trans-Kemp-Smith, N., Macmillan Press, p. 22 {Bxvi} 
5
Now this sceptical conclusion was not one which Kant was comfortable with. Even though we could not come to know the
ʻ
in-itself
ʼ
westill, according to Kant, must believe that there is an
ʻ
in itself
ʼ
for it would be absurd not to.
6
 
Swoyer, Chris, "Relativism",
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition)
, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2010/entries/relativism/>
7
Siegel, H., 1987, p. 33
8
Lupper,S., 2004, p.271
9
O
ʼ
Grady, P.,
Relativism,
Acumen 2002. P. 12
10
O
ʼ
Grady, 2002, p. 12
11
ibid- Of course this framework avoids absolutist implications by remaining changeable across different societies and different times.Our epistemic judgements are in a sense bound within this framework. The framework is the limit in which we are contained andconstitute the truth or falsity of a given claim at a given time. It is thought that, in adopting a relativist position we lose objectivity, lose areal sense of truth and thus we are thrown into a world where anything goes which would not seem intuitively correct. However, later inthis paper I shall argue that this is not the case for within different perspectives there can be truth but not truth in the sense theabsolutist has put forward.

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