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The basic proposition of Relativism is that any interpretation can be invalidated given a different context.

Oposers of Relativism like to whine and scream about this, but in the end there’s only one reasonable argument against it.

This argument could go like this: if one can undo any argument by “relativizing” it, in essence one will be accepting only the arguments that pleases him.

The relativist will be a crybaby-theorist! When confronted with some idea that goes against his convictions, the relativist could only cry for mama relativity and she would make it all go away.

To address this criticism, it is first important to admit that it is true. Relativism does indeed provide easy escapades for lousy discourses. It has tools for changing the accepted values of ideas, tools which are not joined by strict utilization rules.

But Relativism also has a direct tool to address crybaby interpretations. And this tool is simply direct addressing of the subjects attitude. “What will you do about it?”

This is important because it ties any argument to the circumstance lived by the speakers. It stresses that the act of expression depends directly on the other acts of the person. It clarifies the meaning of words by connecting them with the life of the person.

This discourse tactic maintains it’s relativistic stance in that it does not work with a single and authoritative source for meaning, but instead brings all meanings to the foreground of language as active negotiations.

It is also important to notice how this is different from Schoppenhauer’s 16th stratagem, the ad hominen argument.

The difference is that the Relativist goal is to enhance the “ontological data” available. That is, instead of fixing the circumstance of the debate, you are asking for further contextualization. Instead of reducing the interpretation space available, the goal here is to widen it.

It might seem that this still doesn’t fix what most bothers the anti-relativist: that there are no firm stances, that you can never be sure of anything.

But “i refuse to take any sides” is indeed a firm stance. And a prudent one at that.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] is all implied in the previous posts of this “in which” series, but i felt the need to talk about it explicitly. The […]

  2. By truth in lowercase « Truth of the Lesser Men on 20 Apr 2008 at 8:23 pm

    […] can be used for the same purposes. Bad scholarship is not a consequence of epistemological stances, it is just bad scholarship. Bad scholarship most often does not have any epistemological stance at […]

  3. By un-naive truth « Truth of the Lesser Men on 19 Jul 2008 at 1:37 pm

    […] Mark is just a caricature. When, for example, he says: Look, you’re taking the wrong attitude by treating my statements as hypotheses, and carefully deriving their consequences. You need to think of them as fully general excuses, which I apply when anyone says something I don’t like. It’s not so much a model of how the universe works, as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. […]

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