Sunday, December 28, 2008

Skepticism and Relativism

Post moved to the top (originally posted on April 23) because there's a new comment:

An interesting paper by Otávio Bueno entitled "Relativism and Scepticism" has just appeared in the International Journal of Philosophical Studies. It forms part of a book symposium on Steven Hales' Relativism and the Foundations of Philosophy. I think that Otávio's interpretation of the dialectical character of Pyrrhonism is entirely correct. You can find his paper here.


  1. I just finished to read Bueno's aforementioned paper. My own position is that scepticism should be still distinguished from relativism, although both share a perspectival view of truth:
    - according to relativism, truth is essentially perspectival, so that to be true is to be possibly true
    - according to scepticism, truth is essentially perspectival too, but that doesn't mean that truth should be assimilated itself to possible truth
    On the contrary: for a sceptic like Pyrrho, it seems that being true is being absolutely or necessarily true, i.e. irrespective of the perspective upon which the sentence is assessed.
    For these reasons, sceptic truth may be equated with Gödel's intuitionistic translation of truth as necessary truth, while relativist truth may be equated with Jaskowski's paraconsistent translation of truth as possible truth. The latter could be equated with Indian Jainism, furthermore.
    But that is another story ...
    As a conclusion, I'd say that scepticism and relativism are rightly said to share a perspectival view of truth (through tropes), but they oppose to each other with respect to their definition of "truth".

    What do you think about this?

    Very yours,
    Fabien SCHANG (Nancy, France)

  2. I should reread Otavio's paper, but right now the first thing that comes to my mind after reading your remarks is: what type of skepticism are you talking about? There is, of course, a big difference between ancient and contemporary skepticism, but also between Pyrrho's stance and Sextus Empiricus'. If we take Sextus, for instance, I think it is quite problematic to talk about his position on truth, because his discussion of this notion is dialectical, i.e., it's an attack on Dogmatic theories of truth.


  3. You're right: there are sensible differences between a number of non-dogmatic views on truth, and even within the very sceptic trend that includes Pyrrhonism and the New Academy.
    Now I'm not a specialist of such subtleties; my comment was restricted to the ancient Pyrrhonist view on truth, in order to argue that Bueno's connection between relativism and such a scepticism should be limited to their common account of perspectives (tropes).
    But my claim was only the following one: this connection doesn't entail that sceptics and relativists made the same use of perspectives as a proper truth-assignment: context-dependence is incompatible with truth for sceptics (whatever sceptics they are); context-dependence is compatible with truth for relativists.

    Am I wrong, or is it trivial to say this?
    I'd have still other questions about scepticism, more generally; but I postpone them to another occasion.


  4. Hi Fabien,

    I think, in a nutshell, that a Sextan Pyrrhonist would (should) suspend his judgment about whether or not truth is context-dependent. Of course, in his discussion with a Dogmatist, he may take for granted that truth cannot be context-dependent, but only for the sake of argument. Note that I'm not saying that Sextus does say so, but only that he would say so if asked. If this interpretation is correct, then there's still a big difference between a Pyrrhonist and a relativist.

    Bien à toi,


  5. So we mainly agree about this point: the common role of "perspectives" (contexts, possible worlds, or tropes) in sceptic and relativist accounts of truth does not entail that both share a common definition of truth. I felt such a conflation in Bueno's paper, maybe wrongly ...

    May your blog be visited more often! I'd still have more topics to submit to you, especially concerning
    1. The practical import of isostheny;
    2. A so-called "Pyrrhonist Paradox" (I'm about to prepare a paper about this topic)
    3. The plausible connection between:
    - ancient scepticism and Sanjaya's Four-Cornered Negation
    - eclectism and Jaina doctrine of relative truth

    To be continued, hopefully ...
    (I contacted Stéphane Marchand about the topic 3)

    Very yours,