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Arguments Against Relativism

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ARGUMENTS AGAINST RELATIVISM

Resisting the Evidence
Sure enough there is plenty of evidence favoring the genuineness of a relativistic attitude in a wide variety of situations. Cultural relativism, religious relativism, linguistic relativism, scientific relativism, relativism moving from different historical perspectives or miscellaneous social positions: these is just the beginning of a list of sources motivating the genuineness of contrasting perspectives on a specific topic at hand. And yet, in some occasions, one may want to resist the idea that the relativistic stance is the best theoretical option: in some case, it just seems that one of the contrasting views should get it more right than the others. On what grounds could such a claim be made?

Truth
The first ground on which a relativistic attitude can be resisted is truth. If you accept relativism, while holding a certain position, it seems that you are at once undermining that position. Suppose, for instance, that you claim that abortion shall never be endorsed, while agreeing that such a judgment is relative to your upbringing; aren’t you at once conceding that abortion may be reasonably endorsed by those who had a different upbringing?

Thus, it seems, a relativist is committed to the truth of a claim X, while holding at once that X may not be true when contemplated from a different perspective. That seems an outright contradiction.

Cultural Universals
A second point that has been stressed is the presence of universal traits across different cultures. True enough the idea of a person, of beauty, of good, of family, or of private property differ across cultures; but, if we look close enough, we can also find common traits. It can hardly be disputed that human beings can adapt their cultural development to the circumstances they come to live in. No matter who your parents are, you can equally learn English or Tagalog, if you are grow up with a community of native speakers of one or the other language; ditto for traits concerning manual or bodily skills, such as cooking or dancing.

Common Traits in Perception
Even when it comes to perception it is easy to see that there is an agreement across different cultures. No matter what your culture is, it is probable that a powerful earthquake or a fierce tsunami will elicit fear in you; no matter your social upbringing, you will be moved by the beauty of the Grand Canyon. Similar consideration hold for the brightness of the sun at midday or the feeling of discomfort provoked by a room at 150 degrees Fahrenheit. While it is certainly the case that different human beings have different experiences of the nuances of perceptions, there seems also to be a shared common core, on the basis of which a non-relativistic account of perception may be built.

Semantic Overlap
What goes for perception goes also for the meaning of our words, that which is studied by the branch of Philosophy of Language that goes under the name of Semantics. When I say “spicy” I may not mean exactly what you mean; at the same time, it seems that there has to be some kind of overlap in meaning if the communication is effective at all. Thus, what my words mean cannot be fully relative to my own perspective and experience, on pain of an impossibility of communication.

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