Philosophy of Religion
February 11, 2009
BLACKMAN’S HALF-BAKED THEORY OF RATIO NALITY
The following definitions will be helpful in this course.
As some of you know, I use this in my Humanities
courses (under the title “Conceptual Framework”), but it will be useful here as well.
: This is the observation that different cultures in fact have differing views on a wide
range of subjects. It is an empirical thesis; that is, one discovers whether it is true or false by observation
and/or experimentation. The disciplines of anthropology and sociology do a bang-up job on cultural
relativism. It is undoubtedly, unquestionably true. However, it is of limited interest in the humanities.
While an awareness of cultural relativism helps us to overcome our ethnocentrism, which is beneficial,
there is a tendency among some to confuse cultural relativism with general and/or ethical relativism,
which is a mistake. From the fact that different cultures in fact have differing views, it does not follow that
these views are all equally true.
: This is the thesis that what a person or group believes to be true is, in fact, true.
Presumably, this was held by Protagoras and the other ancient Sophists. It was rejected by Socrates,
Plato, and Aristotle. General relativism is tantamount to the rejection of facts. Often, people fail to realize
the absurd consequences of general relativism. If someone were to believe
that the moon is made of
green cheese, then the moon would indeed be made of green cheese simply in virtue of one's believing
it. Also, general relativism violates the law of contradiction. The law of contradiction states: For every
, it is not the case that p
is both true and false. Take the proposition, "Snow is white." If the
law of contradiction were false, then both the affirmation
and the denial
of the proposition, "Snow is
white," would be true. In Plato's Theaetetus
Socrates refuted general relativism by pointing out that it is
inherently contradictory. Protagoras held the thesis of general relativism, namely, what anyone believes to
be true is true. But Socrates claimed that the thesis of general relativism is false. What Protagoras failed to
notice is that, on Protagoras' own grounds
, Socrates' claim is true. Socrates really believed
to be false, and Protagoras was maintaining that whatever anyone believes is true is true. So if Socrates
believed that general relativism was false, then it was false. In other words, the relativist is saying, "There
are no facts, and that
is a fact," namely, that there are no facts. We ought not confuse general relativism
with skepticism. In effect, general relativists deny the existence of truth. Skeptics can admit that truth
exists, but they claim not to know
what it is, usually because they think there is insufficient evidence.