What relativism means to me

As a relativist, I don’t see myself as an anti-realist, but as an irrealist.

To say “the world is not real” or “it is the case that all things are relative” makes a pretty obviously self-contradictory statement. I’d prefer to turn aside from this binary opposition of “real/not real” altogether.

I understand relativism as a movement, a gesture: that of taking something identified as fixed, essential, or universal, and treating it as fluid, relational, contingent. Taking things which appear, in our thoughts and actions (our praxis), as absolute, and relativizing them.

I find myself endlessly curious to see how far this gesture can go.

5 thoughts on “What relativism means to me

  1. There’s been a conversation about this post on Facebook:

    K try this on – Lumber from trees, lets call it wood, is real – it has properties, it has a density, a strength etc -BUT the number of houses we can build from that wood is infinite – (hence the relativity of wood).
    Yesterday at 9:57am · Like

    S How can the number of houses built from wood be infinite? There is an end to the amount of wood…
    Yesterday at 10:00am · Like

    Chris Powell Hm. We say the wood is real because it has properties. But doesn’t everything?
    Yesterday at 10:06am · Like

    Kelly Gorkinheimerschmidt
    ‎@ shannon, yes, but there is not a limit to how many houses we can conceive – the wood doesn’t determine the reality, yet its necessary. @ chris – wood is not defined solely by its physical properties – we can’t universalize it – thus its
    relative. The material reality has primacy, but there is a gap between it and reality (Spinoza). The building of the house isn’t caused by wood, to explain the actuality of the house, we need to understand mechanisms of physics that allow the material to be put together. To me this is relational, not causative. Sayer calls it a synthesis, but i think it proves relativity. (that was quick cuz i have to write….although i could banter about realism all day….)
    Yesterday at 10:27am · Like

    Білл Голка who’s got wood?
    Yesterday at 10:49am · Like · 1

    ‎@Chris: let me know if I’m understanding you. The “irrealism” move is analogous to the agnostic rather than atheist move in that it sidesteps the (unresolvable) metaphysical debate and focusses instead on the epistemological issues and esp
    ecially on the pragmatic aspects of negotiations across diversity. Is that right? I appreciate this move because metaphysical arguments rarely help in the pragmatic discussions. I’m also of the view that arguments also rarely help in the pragmatic discussions, but instead a variety of psychological moves of persuasion tend to be more effective (listening, acknowledging, and, of course, manipulation).
    23 hours ago · Like

    Chris Powell K: I was going somewhere different with my comment about physical properties, which, long story short, to bring up the way that the word “real” bundles together many disparate concepts, such as “has physical properties”, “exists independently of our perception of it”, and “has the property of Being”. I’ll write a post about that soon. But I agree with your comment about wood, except I’d offer the notion that the wood “underdetermines” the uses that can be made of it; i.e. its physical properties have some determining effect on its uses, but they are only one factor in a complex figuration.
    6 minutes ago · Like

    Chris Powell But although the presence of underdetermination makes a strong argument for complexity, hence contingency, it only makes an indirect argument for relativism. I want to ask, what do we gain by saying that the wood is “real”, as opposed to saying it is “material”? For me the concept of reality includes much that is not contained in the concept of materiality. For theists, God is real, although God is very definitely not material, and whether one agrees with them or not this is a perfectly consistent use of the concept of the real.
    about a minute ago · Like

    Chris Powell R: Yeah, that’s a good analogy. Agnostic not in the sense of “well, I haven’t decided and am open to either possibility” but in the sense of “I find the question itself problematic and would rather go around it than through it”.
    about a minute ago · Like


  2. Wonderful. I started a comment that I’m moving into a post on thegoodbadpeople; I’ll be pinging you. Also, you have the best Facebook conversations. When mine are really fabulous like that it’s because things have devolved into surreality.


  3. Pingback: Moving through utopian space | thegoodbadpeople

  4. Pingback: Moral Relativism Is Dead. What’s Next? » iPandora

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