Document Type


Publication Date



Epistemic relativism rejects the idea that claims can be assessed from a universally applicable, objective standpoint. It is greatly disdained because it suggests that the real 'basis' for our views is something fleeting, such as "the techniques of mass persuasion" (Thomas Kuhn 1970) or the determination of intellectuals to achieve "solidarity" (Rorty 1984) or "keep the conversation going" (Rorty 1979). But epistemic relativism, like skepticism, is far easier to despise than to convincingly refute, for two main reasons. First, its definition is unclear, so we cannot always tell where relativism leaves off and other views, such as skepticism or subjectivism, begin. Consequently, it can be difficult to tell when a criticism has done enough. Second, the grounds for relativism are unclear, which can make it hard to know how to attack it or whether we have dismantled all of the ways of supporting it.

As I see it, the case for epistemic relativism involves (one form of) skepticism, and cannot be defeated satisfactorily unless we simultaneously deny it the skeptical resources upon which it draws. And that is not something we can do unless we challenge beliefs lying deep in the heart of mainstream epistemological thought. To defend epistemic absolutism, I will argue, we must move closer to skepticism and relativism, without succumbing to either.1

I'll start by clarifying epistemic relativism and its relation to some allied doctrines.




Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Publication Information

Philosophical Issues

Included in

Philosophy Commons