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(V) THE ANCIENT DEBATE ABOUT RELATIVISM THE SOPHISTS 1. Ancient defenders of value relativism 2. Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic Representative sophist and his argument of “might makes right” which often follows from relativism, if there is no absolute right or wrong then the stronger party is the one that is going to prevail and makes the right that’s part of the sophist view of things 3. Protagoras Most famous sophist in the reading said “man is the measure of all things” meaning that we measure all things, there is no absolute knowledge or truth, no absolute values, we make what is true, true or good, good by our own believing it to be so (that’s clearly a kind of subjectivism or relativism about truth and value and many of the sophists held that as well) 4. Plato opposed them and argued for some absolute values, his ideal forms THE MODERN DEBATE ABOUT RELATIVISM (BENEDICT’S ARTICLE) CULTURAL RELATIVISTS, like Benedict, point to conflicting views about what is normal or abnormal, right and wrong, in different cultures as evidence for value relativism (that there is no absolute right of wrong of things) ( Examples to consider): 1. Suicide In cultures like our own with a Judah Christian heritage in which suicide is thought to be wrong and a sin, we take for granted that all cultures may feel the same Ex. Japanese culture, for many centuries it was the right thing to do if you disgraced your family/group to commit suicide as a matter of honor, not only therefore was it something alright to it, it was something you had to morally do, the right thing to do under certain circumstances, our of a sense of honor and duty to whoever was involved Two different views of the nature of suicide: can we say one view is right and one is necessarily wrong? What’s ok for you in your culture may not be ok for us in our culture would be a relativist reaction to the whole story (Three from Benedict): 2. Homosexuality and the Berdache In many human cultures, homosexuality is thought of as abnormal, as deviant and so on but that is far from the general view from all human history and all human culture Page 3: she mentions certain American Indian tribes and tribes of other parts of the world that have a kind of tradition called the Berdache, which 1
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were homosexuals in the culture (they had a place, they had a role in society) 3. The Dobu of Melanasia (collective paranoia) She describes these people as what we would regard as totally abnormal and paranoid because they were always afraid that someone else would poison their soup and guarded their soup and their food everyday, and entirely paranoid about the situation In addition, what Benedict says in effect, is in that society, if somebody were not paranoid about these matters, if they were happy go-lucky and didn’t worry about their soup or whatever and so on, they would be regarded as abnormal, they would be regarded as deviant and sick, whereas it is just the opposite in many other societies
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This note was uploaded on 09/27/2009 for the course PHL 301 taught by Professor Bonevac during the Fall '08 term at University of Texas at Austin.

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