Epistemic Relativism

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Reply Fri 19 Sep, 2008 07:38 am
I have finished reading The Fear of Knowledge by Paul Boghossian for an epistemology class I am taking, which defends against this notion that epistemic facts we claim to know about the world are socially constructed; therefore, there are no absolute facts. Think of what this means in a debate between creationism and evolution. Both would be equally valid, because both are cultural interpretations of the grand scheme of thing. In other words, the history of true thought no longer actually matters, because everything people belief is justified relative to them.

Anyway, I don't really know where I am going with this, so I will pose a few questions? What does it mean to know something? Is there such thing as absolute truth or is everything relative? What does it mean for justification of fact if everything in fact is relative?
 
jgweed
 
Reply Fri 19 Sep, 2008 09:36 am
@Theaetetus,
It may be possible to do away with truth as always meaning absolutely true (casually using "fact" and "truth" interchangeably), and if it is "true" that reality (or a great part of it) is socially constructed, that does not mean that all constructions are equally false or true or "justified."

Are we not often mislead when we use one word, "true," to describe every statement, when there seem to be many different kinds of (degrees of) truth? And cannot we continue in any case to distinguish between truth and opinion, or between immediate sensation and its meaning for me?

I tell someone "I have a pain in my head." Our understanding of what it means to have a pain in the head, and to consequently be able to tell others about it, to describe it and to get sympathy or advice---take all this away, and the sensation of pain is still there. How we feel pain may be socially constructed, or what we call that particular sensation, but can we therefore assert that the sensation-itself is socially constructed?

I am eager to continue this discussion myself, because I am working through some of the problems and issues of a social construction of reality triggered by a reading of Schultz and Luckmann in The Structures of the Life-World (1973).
Cheers,
John
 
Khethil
 
Reply Fri 19 Sep, 2008 10:49 am
@Theaetetus,
Hey there,

Theaetetus wrote:
I have finished reading The Fear of Knowledge by Paul Boghossian for an epistemology class I am taking, which defends against this notion that epistemic facts we claim to know about the world are socially constructed; therefore, there are no absolute facts...


This is a familiar theme 'round these here parts - but a good one to be sure. A couple of observations on this overall theme if I may:

  1. Because something is socially constructed doesn't necessarily equate to it being *false*, all it means is it's socially constructed.
  2. The writer, I'm hoping, also himself jumped down this hole of murky-waters by admitting that the notion that all epistemic facts he claims to know about the world are socially constructed, therefore is probably not true
  3. This sentiment, in my humble opinion, is important to note and be mindful of; however, one who takes it a bit too literally descends into doubting everything. Although this might have some insight to provide, it has the potential for plunging us into a level of doubt so absurd that it short-circuits all rational thought.

Theaetetus wrote:
What does it mean to know something? Is there such thing as absolute truth or is everything relative? What does it mean for justification of fact if everything in fact is relative?


I would say:

  • Absolute truth about "X" exists; whether you or I know it is quite another question.
  • Facts aren't relative in-and-of themselves. What I say is fact is relative to my thoughts, conclusions, perceived evidence and the like. But facts, as defined, aren't. "Fact" is just a word to describe that which the communicator takes as undeniable - as existing in actuality (once again, whether or not it really is, is very much open to debate).
  • In answer to your third question, if you put a gun to my head and asked, I'd have to say: It means that even though we admit we're subject to our own bias, perceptions and failings, I'd like you to give to me your support for the assertion that "X" is true or false.

I think we can, without contradiction, admit to human failings of perception and relative judgment yet still use the words, "fact", "actual" and "objective" to illustrate the weight of our judgment on available evidence.

Good stuff, thanks for your post.

:a-ok:
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Sat 20 Sep, 2008 12:21 am
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:

This sentiment, in my humble opinion, is important to note and be mindful of; however, one who takes it a bit too literally descends into doubting everything. Although this might have some insight to provide, it has the potential for plunging us into a level of doubt so absurd that it short-circuits all rational thought.


Well, you hit the nail on the head. This is the fundamental problem with epistemic relativity--short circuiting all rational thought. According to Aristotle, rational thought and the ability to use reason are what differs humans from beast. Thus, it potential drag humanity towards the beast.
 
nameless
 
Reply Sat 20 Sep, 2008 12:50 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;25245 wrote:
Well, you hit the nail on the head. This is the fundamental problem with epistemic relativity--short circuiting all rational thought. According to Aristotle, rational thought and the ability to use reason are what differs humans from beast. Thus, it potential drag humanity towards the beast.

As about so much, Aristotle was incorrect here also.
Damn 'beastly' meditators! Darn Buddhists! Such beasts!
I would offer, that those who regularly meditate, who transcend 'rational thought', behave less like 'beasts' than the average compulsive 'thinker'.

Quote:
Think of what this means in a debate between creationism and evolution. Both would be equally valid,...

Oh nooo!! Think of what this means to the ego!!! There HAS to be a loser! I MUST be 'right'!
Pffft!
 
Robert Drane
 
Reply Wed 8 Oct, 2008 06:30 am
@nameless,
What are "facts"? There is a phenomenal world, which we physically inhabit, and in that world, EVENTS occur. There is the realm of meaning, which comes into existence when we come along and ATTRIBUTE significance to an event. It is a fact that the event occurred in the phenomenal world. The philosophical issue lies in the meaning we attach to the event: some of us regard it as a fact, or truth, some of us see it as, say, disastrous, others as a blessed event. That's when the arguments start. That's when "fact" becomes blurred - a matter of opinion. I guess that's where philosophy begins!

Laughing
 
jgweed
 
Reply Wed 8 Oct, 2008 09:24 am
@Robert Drane,
To say the world is socially constructed may actually be more of a guarantee of its truth (not in an absolute sense) than one might suppose, especially in matters of fact. Science, for example, may be seen as socially constructed since its world (or horizon) and its interpretations of nature are subject to constant verification and revision by scientists everywhere.

Any discussion about any subject involves language, and this social commonality seems to change and adapt itself to describe new events, procedures, and objects. Language adequately describes, for example, the common world of the internet and computing---neither of these existed in the lifetime of many who frequent these forums. The internet did not adapt to the language, but the language to the internet.

Nor is it certain that all forms of epistemic relativism reject rational inquiry and logic, or that they must do so in their search for adequate explanations, just as to say that if all explanations are relative, all are equally true or valid, even though their truth is not absolute.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Wed 8 Oct, 2008 09:38 am
@Robert Drane,
Hey Robert, May I?...

Robert Drane wrote:
What are "facts"? There is a phenomenal world, which we physically inhabit, and in that world, EVENTS occur. There is the realm of meaning, which comes into existence when we come along and ATTRIBUTE significance to an event.


Sure, events occur. But a fact may be an event, a condition, an effect, a calculation, a consequence, etc., etc. An Event may be a fact, but that's not to say all facts *are* events (not sure if this was what you were saying but I felt the implication - apologies in advance if I misconstrued).

Robert Drane wrote:
The philosophical issue lies in the meaning we attach to the event: some of us regard it as a fact, or truth, some of us see it as, say, disastrous, others as a blessed event. That's when the arguments start. That's when "fact" becomes blurred - a matter of opinion.


VERY true and a pit in which I think a LOT of us fall into. Thus enters (as you stated) the philosophical aspect: acknowledging our failings in perception and relativity (when warranted or confronted with evidence, etc.). Nice point - interpretation of senses as often derailing what factual input we receive.

I'll again assert that there are many facts that exist (something must be objectively true about that which I perceive to be 'a rock' - that's not the question; the question is: is that which I perceive to be fact, REALLY objectively true). Just cuz.... well... I feel the need to :shifty:

Thanks again
 
jgweed
 
Reply Wed 8 Oct, 2008 10:10 am
@Khethil,
It may help to distinguish between the facticity of appearances and our interpretation of them from within different perspectives, some of which be personal, some social, and some "neutral." It may be that our thinking that "truth" must be always the same and absolute is a philosophical prejudice inherited from Plato, when often what we mean by truth actually varies depending upon how we look at it and what rules and procedures we find appropriate to that particular stance.
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Tue 14 Oct, 2008 07:56 pm
@Theaetetus,
I just took a midterm on this material and one of the questions asked what the argument in support of epistemic relativism was. Well, unfortunately I forgot to finish what I had started here, so my essay wasn't as good as it could have been had I kept this thread going. At least it is never too late to continue.

Anyway, according to Paul Boghossian in the book Fear of Knowledge:

1. If there are absolute epistemic facts about what justifies what, then it ought to be possible to arrive at justified beliefs about them.

2. It is not possible to arrive at justified beliefs about what absolute epistemic facts there are.

Therefore,

3. There are not absolute epistemic facts.

4. If there are no absolute epistemic facts then epistemic relativism is true.

Therfore,

5. Epistemic relativism is true.

The argument is certainly valid but there is a serious issue with the second premise. If it is not possible to come to justified beliefs of absolute epistemic facts, then that would suggest that it is impossible to come to the conclusion that epistemic relativism is true. This would be an example of formulating a justified belief about an absolute epistemic fact--the nature of the very epistemic system argued for.

The problem comes when two opposed systems come into contact with one another. One system would have to justify itself over the other. Obviously one party would believe that the other parties system is false and their's is correct. How can one system be justified over the other within a system that does not allow for justified verdicts?
 
jgweed
 
Reply Wed 15 Oct, 2008 09:36 am
@Theaetetus,
There is always a paradox in saying something like "it is absolutely true that absolute truth does not exist." This tells us more about the rules of language than it does invalidate the conclusion.
Not having read the text in question, I am, though, confused about the first premise, perhaps because I do not understand how "epistemic facts" could "justify" anything.
 
boagie
 
Reply Wed 15 Oct, 2008 10:01 am
@jgweed,
Yo!Smile

I am confused myself on this topic, to my way of thinking all knowledge all meanings is biologicallly dependent, truth is the experience and evaluation of the relation between subject and object, there is no absolute truth that can be said to objectively exist. That truth and/or meaning can be socially conditioned is a given I think, not from the experience of sensation but through the conditioned power of our process of understanding.
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Wed 15 Oct, 2008 10:31 am
@Theaetetus,
Welcome to my confusion. I am stuck in a class called the Theory of Knowledge which is an epistemology course.

Many philosophers believe that epistemic facts must be justified to count as knowledge. Epistemic facts help justify beliefs that individuals hold. In science the speed of light, acceleration rate, etc are examples of epistemic facts. I guess the point is do the observations justify the theory. According to epistemic relativism E=mc^2 is equally as valid as saying that the will of god is responsible for energy.

Honestly, I am as confused as the rest of you. I was just trying to see if there was a way out of the confusion.
 
boagie
 
Reply Wed 15 Oct, 2008 10:42 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus,Smile

See how they respond to a nihilistic understanding of the fact that the physical world is without meaning in the absence of a subject, that apparent reality is a biological readout. There are no facts no meaning without a subject, if the speed of light is a given, it is given through the perception of a subject, indeed without the subject there is no light.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Wed 15 Oct, 2008 10:51 am
@Theaetetus,
Well, one could always say that "facts" are what we want them to be depending on the way we are looking at them at the time. I think it is a mistake to think of facts with only one "picture" of them in our minds and then make judgments based on that picture alone. For example, there are scientific "epistemic facts" such as the speed of light or the exemplars of the law of gravity, and there are other kinds of facts, such as Springfield is the capitol of Illinois that have other grounds for acceptance (perhaps the verifiability principle might be one of them).

It might not be the case, again, that there are observations on the one hand, and theories on the other. There is a constant interplay between the two, and it may be that this process actually is creative of what is real about both.
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Wed 15 Oct, 2008 11:26 am
@boagie,
Boagie,
I agree with you that the physical world is meaningless without a subject. Without a subject to experience phenomena, did said phenomena even happen or exist. I also think that throwing one's arms up and saying, oh well, its all relative anyway is far more nihilistic than observing that subjects give the world meaning.

jgweed,
I think academic philosophers have a tendency to look at the world like it is a static existence and the fail to see living processes. For example, the interplay between observations and theories. Our observations formulate theories and then our observations confirm or deny them which may even change the way in which we observe the world, which in turn will formulate new theories.
 
Dadblast
 
Reply Tue 17 Apr, 2012 09:58 am
@Theaetetus,
Peter Boghassian wrote a followup to this article, supporting foundationalism and rejecting relativism.

-Will Hart
 
 

 
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