File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2000/bhaskar.0002, message 10

Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2000 12:09:19 -0500 (EST)
Subject: BHA: HELP!!  (plus: Yay Gary!)

Hi all,

First of all: Yay to Gary!  I assume that's Doctor Gary now!  Congratulations.
Now what?

Second of all, I need help with a basic epistemology/philosophy of science
question -- I'm hoping that any or all of you philosopher types out there
will take pity on me and respond.  Here's the background:  I've been trying
to clarify for myself just what it is that relativism is a theory of.
(Sorry about the syntax there...)  This lead me to distinguish between
relativism about truth, relativism about knowledge and relativism about
justification/theory preference criteria.  My question has to do with the
third category, relativism about justification.

So here it is.  How do those who do so get from a claim that: 

(i) historically and/or cross-culturally one sees a plurality of
validity-criteria employed for the adjudication of competing accounts, and
that some or all of these principles may conflict with some or all of the

to a claim that:

(ii) all such criteria for deciding between competing accounts are equally

This seems to be the core of Kuhn's incommensurability thesis, but I don't
understand how it follows.  

The only way I can see to get from (i) to (ii) is via some sort of consensus
theory of truth, according to which what it *MEANS* for <x> to be true is
that some identifiable group of people agree with <x>.  Then you could say
that any principle of justification/theory choice that is agreed to is, by
definition, true.  Otherwise all you can do, it seems to me, is say that
there is no way to *assess* the relative soundness of competing principles
of justification.  But this doesn't get you to (ii).

[There are two things to say about the consensus-theory-of-truth move, though.  
One, it seems ultimately question-begging, because then you would then want
to know what those people's *reasons* are, for agreeing to the principles of
agreement (i.e., the validity-criteria) that they have agreed to.  

Two, it worth noting that it relies on a non-relativist approach to the
concept of truth, i.e., on the view that there is a theory of truth (viz.,
the consensus theory) that is preferable to other theories (e.g.,
correspondence, deflationary, coherence, etc.).  Such a stance is not that
same as that of relativism about the concept of truth, according to which
all competing theories of truth would be equally viable.]

So can anyone help with this?  How do they actually make the case?  And who
are the "they"s in question?

In distress,

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