Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 33, Issue 3, 2023

Stanisław Czerniak
Pages 81-96

Karl Mannheim’s Sociology of Knowledge versus the Problem of Relativism and the Objectivity of Cognition

Below I ask whether the theoretical assumptions of the sociology of knowledge imply a subjectivistic and relativistic approach to cognition theory—a matter that has already been discussed in Polish subject literature (among others by Adam Schaff). Does the “social conditioning of cognition” conception propounded by the sociology of knowledge deny the existence of objective truth and adequate knowledge? Karl Mannheim himself called the sociology of knowledge an anti-relativist position. The critics of his anti-relativist argumentation say it is full of ambiguities and contradictions. I will attempt to take a closer look at this problem, and, at the same time, at the relation between Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge project and such measures of the adequacy of knowledge as the coherence and general consensus criterion. The main question I will try to answer is whether the Mannheimian sociology of knowledge project is a form of epistemological relativism (in the specific meaning of the term I use here), and if not, in what sense and to what degree it can be considered a position convergent with the relative truth conception.