Metaethical Relativism

In David Plunkett & Tristram McPherson (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics. Oxford: Routledge. pp. 119-134 (2017)
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Although relativism may be said to be one of the oldest doctrines in philosophy, dating back to the teachings of Protagoras in the 5th century B.C., when it comes to contemporary philosophy, there is no consensus on what makes a view qualify as "relativist". The problem is particularly accute in metaethics, since most of the views that up to a decade ago were described as “relativist” would be more accurately described as "contextualist" or even “expressivist” in light of the distinctions currenty drawn in philosophy of language and semantics. In this chapter, we distinguish two construals of relativism, developed in sections 2 and 3 respectively: the “metaphysical” construal, based on the idea that there is no single, absolute, universal morality, and the “semantic” construal, based on the idea that the truth value of moral claims is relative to a set of moral standards, or moral practices, or some other suitable parameter. Section 1 introduces the core relativist ideas in an informal way, and warns against possible misinterpretations.
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