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Relativism at a global scale is a view that our claims about the world, both theoretical and practical, are evaluable only relative to a context shaped by factors such as culture, history, language, and environment - or, "a way of life." It can be at once intuitive and disturbing. While we might expect a way of life to exert some influence on our claims, relativism seems to move to the overly strong conclusion that all of our claims about what is true or good must merely be expressions of cultural bias. It easily opens itself to a host of charges, including paradox and self-contradiction.
Facing Relativism argues that such problems arise largely from a failure to situate the view within the context that has, throughout its long history, been its inspiration: the experience - whether through literature, the imagination, or direct anthropological contact - of deeply engaging with a very different way of life. By starting with a careful analysis of the experience of deep engagement, this book shows that relativism is neither as incoherent nor as alarming as we tend to think. In fact, it might just offer the tools we need to face these times of global crisis and change.
Alyssa Luboff has produced an exceptional defense of a cultural relativism that recognizes how the epistemic and the ethical intertwine in a way of life. Drawing from her deep engagement over many years with the Chachi and traditional Afro-Ecuadorian people, she provides vivid and compelling examples of how one can come to understand another way of life as well-reasoned, coherent, and integrated, as challenging to one's own commitments at the same time that one challenges it. Luboff combines her deep engagement with command of the relevant philosophical and anthropological literature. She presents the major arguments against relativism in a sympathetic and generous way, and carefully responds with a sophisticated relativism that acknowledges how the world resists and responds to different conceptual shapings of it. This book is beautifully written and will engage both the academic specialist and the intelligent general reader. - David Wong, Duke University
By the time her brilliant faceoff is over, philosophical relativism will never again be seen as a straw man. - Richard A. Shweder, University of Chicago
This book will interest readers who seek an astute account of how the pursuit of "truth" - whether relative or absolute - enters into practices of power. Luboff 's treatment is impressive. - Michael Krausz, Bryn Mawr College and Linacre College, Oxford University
1. Deep Engagement1. Introduction1.0 Relativism and Cultural Diversity at First Glance1.1 Cultural Diversity without Relativism1.2 The Turn Toward Relativism2. Deep Engagement2.0 A Few Caveats2.1 Attributive Symmetry2.2 Reflective Symmetry2.3 Complexity of Context2.4 Dangling Pieces2.5 The First Person3. How Close Does This Get Us to Relativism?
2. The Relativist, Anti-Relativist Dance1. Introduction1.1 A Definition of Relativism1.2 Details of the Accusations2. The Relativist ~ Anti-Relativist Dance2.1 Preface2.2 The Charge of Self-Refutation2.2.1 Against Ethical Relativism2.2.2 Against Epistemic Relativism2.3 The Relativist's Response2.4 The Charge of Incoherence2.4.1. Against Epistemic Relativism2.4.2. Against Ethical Relativism2.5 Tools for a Relativistic Picture2.5.1. A Relativist Point of View2.5.2. Relative Content3. Conclusion
3. Science, Success, and Alternatives1. The Tension Between Science and Alternative Epistemic Practices2. The Intuition of a 'Clear Winner' and a 'Clear Loser'3. Comparing the Fruits of Competing Practices3.1 A Particular Example3.2 Why the Intuition Fails3.3 A Bold Claim3.4 Success the Other Way Around4. Comparing the Inner Theoretical Workings of Competing Practices5. Reassessing the Intuition of Success
4. The Dynamic of Resonance and Loss1. Introduction2. Relativism and Ambivalence3. The Dynamic of Resonance and Loss3.1. Two Contrasting Epistemic Stances3.1.1 Relation between Subject and Object3.1.1a Proximity of Subject and Object3.1.1b Likeness between Subject and Object3.1.2 Capturing Knowledge3.1.2a Process of Gathering Information3.1.2b Form of Information3.1.2c Primary Mode of Constituting Knowledge3.1.3 Calibration of Knowledge3.1.3a Measurement of Knowledge3.1.3b Aim of Collecting Knowledge3.1.3c Value of Knowledge3.2 Resonance3.3 Loss3.3.1 The First Moment: Estrangement3.3.2 The Second Moment: Pull4. Assessment is Internal to Stance5. Relativism and the Success of Science: A Shared Space
5. The Space Where Relativism and Realism Meet1. The Remaining Objection2. The Realist Argument against Relativism3. A Thought Experiment4. Incompleteness and the Metaphysical Space for a Genuine Variety of Epistemic Practices5. Reacting to Rich Realism5.1 Uneasiness about Other Worlds5.2 The Burden of the Argument6. The Anti-Relativist's Response6.1 The Broad Claim to Comprehensiveness6.2 The More Limited Claim to Comprehensiveness7. Fitting Realism and Relativism Together
6. Broad, Compelling, and Coherent Relativism1. Entrenched Conflict2. Distinctiveness of Entrenched Conflict2.1 Not Defined by Polar Opposition of Claims2.2 Not Dependent on a Reified Concept of Culture2.3 Not Defined by Complete Untranslatability or Incomprehensibility2.4 Not an "Anything Goes" View2.5 Not Defined by Tolerance2.6 Not an Absolute Claim3. A Space for Criticism3.1 Criticism of Others3.2 Criticism/Construction of Ourselves4. Conclusion