Relativism, Perspectivism, and the Universal Epistemic Language

Philosophy of the History of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Recent research gives perspectivism the status of a stand-alone epistemological research program. As part of this development, it must be distinguished from other epistemologies, especially relativism. Not only do relativists and perspectivists use a similar vocabulary—even the supposed tenets (features of the doctrine) seem to partially overlap. To clarify the relation between these programs, I suggest drawing two important distinctions. The first is between the (1) terminological and (2) doctrinal components of epistemologies, the second between the (2a) analytical and (2b) synthetical doctrinal elements. The method of the originalistic linguistic analysis that I introduce in this article shows that both relativism and perspectivism are using the same matrix of interconnected linguistic expressions that belong to what I call the universal epistemic language. Furthermore, this method reveals which doctrinal components necessarily follow from this linguistic basis and the terms “relativism” and “perspectivism” and which are a result of deliberate philosophical constructions. As for the linguistic basis and analytical doctrinal components, relativism and perspectivism are complementary members of one epistemology. Doctrinal additions that transform the original meaning of the terms “relativism” and “perspectivism”, such as “indifferentism” and “non-absolutism”, should be always explicitly mentioned to avoid confusion and strawmen debates in philosophy.

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Michael Lewin
Goethe University Frankfurt

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