Relativism

Key Terms:
*1. relativism
*2. subjectivism [individual relativism]
*3. cultural relativism
4. skepticism
*5. objectivism
*6. universalism
*7. absolutes
*8. [contextualism]

Some Questions:

1. How is relativism tied to skepticism?

2. How does relativism deal with questions of true or false (scientific truth), right or wrong (actions), good or bad (purposes or values), beautiful or ugly (aesthetic judgments)?

3. Distinguish between relative to individual or social preferences and relative to changing conditions (context).

4. Are matters of taste (food or works of art) easier or harder to verify than moral principles? Can moral principles and moral values be tested?

5. What is the real meaning of tolerance? Does relativism contribute to or take away from a spirit of tolerance?

6. Does objectivism or universalism reduce our freedom of choice? Or does it shift our attention to different areas requiring choice?

7. Is the notion of degrees of probability in science (as opposed to certainty) supportive of relativism?

8. Should awareness of diversity of cultures and opinions make us unwilling to make any truth-claims whatsoever?

9. Does moral valuation come down to what a person or society likes or dislikes? Can one distinguish between what is desired (liked) and what is desirable? What standard or authority might be brought to bear to determine what is desirable? Individual experience? Collective experience? Logic? Transcendent norms beyond space and time? God's will?

10. Are the feelings of an individual a sufficient basis for moral judgments? Are quickly changing social "fads" a sufficient basis for moral judgments?

11. What does it mean for "standards to be transcultural" or for "values to transcend space and time"? Where are they? Did human values exist before human beings existed?

12. Are we forced to choose between absolutism and relativism? Is there no kind of "objectivity" between timeless and spaceless absolute and unchanging principles and "it's all a matter of taste"?

*13. Can individuals and cultures make mistakes? If so, what are the consequences for relativism?

14. Do cultures, like individuals, make mistakes and need improvement? On what basis are cultures to evaluate and revise their own beliefs, values, and principles?

15. What constitutes a culture? The beliefs of a majority (50% plus one, or more)? Should individuals conform to custom? How do changes come about? If there is change, is it for the better or for the worse? Is there any way of knowing?

16. How is one to treat different cultures throughout time -- such as medieval Spain and modern Spain, Nazi Germany and Germany in the 1990's? Are these different cultures equally valuable? Is the idea of progress (as social progress) limited to Euroamerican society?

17. Would other cultures be improved if their peoples realized that their beliefs were no better and no worse than any others? And which beliefs? All taken together? Are some beliefs better than others? Is every culture composed of better and worse beliefs, some a model for other cultures and some a matter of shame?

18. Why do individuals fight for changes within their culture? Are individuals to conform to social codes as if they were sacrosanct?

19. If cultural values are relative and not absolute, what advantage do they have over individual values which are relative and not absolute? Cultural differences are to be respected and tolerated, but individual differences within a culture are problematic (seen as lack of conformity to the code of the group)? Are cultural values better than individual values? Why? Is there an absolute premise lurking here?

20. We should study other cultures to become objective, but other cultures need not study other cultures and should be spared the need to become objective?

21. Does the relativistic assertion that all values are equally valuable (not better or worse) necessarily result in the assertion that all values are equally valueless? Is a tolerance based on relativism really the same as a nihilism, the belief that nothing in itself really matters very much?

22. Does relativism overlook the ethical use of experience to revise values? What is the basis for judging new principles to be better than old ones?

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