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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 20, 1995

Harold Zellner
Pages 287-295

“Is Relativism Self-Defeating?”

Plato seems to have claimed that epistemological relativism is self-defeating in two ways. As reformulated by Siegel: arguments for relativism must be advanced as either relativistically or non-relativistically sound. In either case they are dialectically ineffective for the relativist. Second, relativism is either relativistically or non-relativistically true. Either choice commits the relativist to major concessions to her opponent, or so the story goes. But the relativist can advance her arguments as non-relativistically sound, for the consumption of the non-relativist. Moreover, relativists can claim that relativism is true not only for the relativist, but for her non-relativist opponent as well. Relativism is not self-defeating in either of these ways, for much the same reasons that skepticism is not self-defeating. But we cannot live as relativists, because relativism leads to epistemic paralysis, as the example of prediction shows.

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