Dell'Utri, Massimo (2008) The Threat of cultural relativism: Hilary Putnam and the antidote of fallibilism. European Journal of Analytic Philosophy, Vol. 4 (2), p. 75-86. ISSN 1845-8475. Article.
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The polemical target of the paper is ‘radical cultural relativism’ —according to which the validity of principles, values, statements, theories and the like is exclusively relative to the culture within which these have developed. Drawing heavily on Hilary Putnam’s thinking, the paper aims to show how this kind of relativism is fundamentally false.
An element that is central to Putnam’s philosophy is addressed, i.e. zitruth —a substantive normative notion discussed by Putnam in connection with the issue of realism, thereby inheriting the achievements gained in the course of his “long journey from realism back to realism”. Some of these achievements are then isolated. Since they seem to compel Putnam to leave no room whatsoever for the notion of objectivity, preventing him from envisaging any anti-relativist position, another element of his philosophy which substantiates the notion of objectivity is tackled: that of fallibilism.
Distancing itself somewhat from Putnam’s later work, the paper then goes on to show how fallibilism enables the formulation of an anti-relativist stance based on epistemic premises.
The paper ends with an analysis of the bearing of this kind of anti-relativism on the notions of universality and absoluteness, as well as a brief discussion of fallibilism itself.
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