Factual relativism

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Factual relativism or epistemic relativism or epistemological relativism is a mode of reasoning that extends relativism and subjectivism to factual matter and reason. In factual relativism the facts used to establish the truth or falsehood of any statement are understood to be relative to the perspective of those proving or falsifying the proposition.[1]


One school of thought compares scientific knowledge to the mythology of other cultures, arguing that it is merely our society's set of myths based on our society's assumptions. For support, Paul Feyerabend's comments in Against Method that "The similarities between science and myth are indeed astonishing" and "First-world science is one science among many" (from the introduction to the Chinese edition)[2] are sometimes cited, although it is not clear if Feyerabend meant them to be taken entirely seriously.

The strong program in the sociology of science is (in the words of founder David Bloor) "impartial with respect to truth and falsity".[3] Elsewhere, Bloor and Barry Barnes have said "For the relativist [such as us] there is no sense attached to the idea that some standards or beliefs are really rational as distinct from merely locally accepted as such."[4] In France, Bruno Latour has claimed that "Since the settlement of a controversy is the cause of Nature's representation, not the consequence, we can never use the outcome – Nature – to explain how and why a controversy has been settled."[5]

Yves Winkin, a Belgian professor of communications, responded to a popular trial in which two witnesses gave contradicting testimony by telling the newspaper Le Soir that "There is no transcendent truth. [...] It is not surprising that these two people, representing two very different professional universes, should each set forth a different truth. Having said that, I think that, in this context of public responsibility, the commission can only proceed as it does."[6]

The philosopher of science Gérard Fourez wrote in that "What one generally calls a fact is an interpretation of a situation that no one, at least for the moment, wants to call into question."[7]

British archaeologist Roger Anyon told the New York Times that "science is just one of many ways of knowing the world... The Zuni's world view is just as valid as the archeological viewpoint of what prehistory is about." [8]


This view has been criticized by many analytic philosophers and scientists. However recently cosmologist Stephen Hawking in The Grand Design has advocated model-dependent realism, which bears close resemblance to a relativist position, as a means of reconciling apparent inconsistencies between different iterations of M-Theory.

Larry Laudan's book Science and Relativism[9] outlines the various philosophical points of view on the subject in the form of a dialogue.

See also


  1. Iris Einheuser, "Varieties of Relativism: Indexical, Propositional and Factual", from the Logos conference on RELATIVIZING UTTERANCE TRUTH, Barcelona, 2005.
  2. Feyerabend, Paul (1992). Against method (Repr ed.). London [u.a.]: Verso. p. 3. ISBN 9780860916468.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "PhilosophyScience2". Retrieved August 11, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Hollis, Martin; Lukes, Stephen, ed. (1982). Rationality and relativism. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT press. pp. 27–28. ISBN 9780262580618. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Latour, Bruno (1987). Science in action : how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 99. ISBN 9780674792913.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Sokal, Alan; Bricmont, Jean (1998). Fashionable nonsense : postmodern intellectuals' abuse of science. New York: Picador. p. 100. ISBN 9781466862401.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Fourez,Gérard (1992). La Construction des sciences, 2eme edition revue. Brussels:De Boeck Université.
  8. Johnson, George. Indian Tribes' Creationists Thwart Archeologists, New York Times, October 22, 1996
  9. Science and Relativism: Dialogues on the Philosophy of Science, ISBN 978-0-226-46949-2


External links