Relativism: What It Is, Origin, Criticism, Examples And Characteristics

We explain what relativism is and its main characteristics. Also, criticism of this current of thought, examples and more.

What is relativism?

Relativism is a current of philosophical thought that considers knowledge to be incomplete and that it is absolute only in comparison or in relation to something else. That is, human knowledge is relative, subjective and incapable of expressing the world objectively because it is conditioned by history and acquired preconceptions.

The relativist current derived from the ideas of subjectivism of the 5th century BC. C. that the philosophers who taught the knowledge of Socrates , the so-called sophists, had elaborated. It was from the transcendental idealism of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in 1787, that the concept of relativism was emphasized. Kant stated that knowledge can only refer to phenomena and not to things in themselves, therefore it is relative.

The current of relativism maintains that there is no single truth, immutable and universal, but that truth or knowledge is related to the subject who believes he has it, his context and the historical moment, for which there are as many truths as there are subjects.

Characteristics of relativism

Among the main characteristics of relativism are:

  • Knowledge is not unique and absolute , but in comparison to something else or its context. For example: something is considered good compared to something bad and in a specific circumstance.
  • Knowledge is conditioned by culture , morality and preconceptions that each individual has. For example: something is true in a certain culture, but in another it is considered false, due to the beliefs and customs that condition the definition of concepts.
  • The notion of relativism can be applied to the field of knowledge in general, although it is better distinguished in the field of morals, ethics and culture .
  • The different ways of interpreting and explaining the world are valid , as long as they are formulated based on understandable and justifiable arguments.
  • The opposition to the objectivist current that maintains that truth and knowledge are independent of individuals and their context.

example of relativism

example of relativism The understanding of a phenomenon is conditioned by the context and the historical moment.

An example of relativistic thinking is the conception that has been had of thunder throughout the history of mankind. Primitive civilizations have interpreted thunder as the manifestation of “anger of the gods” instead of considering it as a meteorological phenomenon.

The definition or explanation of the event is influenced by the context and the historical moment in which it takes place. As time and place change and individuals evolve, the conception of the same event becomes relative or different.

According to relativism, it is not that one culture is better or superior than another , but that both are important and are sustained based on their own knowledge and beliefs that, despite being different, are necessary to better understand the world ( as long as their concepts are substantiated).

Criticism of relativism

Criticism of relativism The relativistic position was criticized by many of the hard sciences.

Among the main criticisms of relativism, the following positions stand out:

  • Everything ends up being subjective . There are certain issues that are impossible to address from absolute subjectivity, so coherence is lost when trying to accept absolutely all points of view. It is a subjective current due to the lack of parameters.
  • Relativism contradicts itself. There are universally valid premises that transcend time, for example: that day and night determine the course of a day. That premise exists even if it is not put before other concepts, which is why it confuses the fact of forcing it to be compared with a subjective point of view.

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