Sunday, November 19, 2006

Priest On The Logic Of Relativism

Today at the Arché grad conference Graham Priest entertained us with a fun talk on the logic of relativism.

Amoung other things, Graham considered the following problem that (some) relativists seem to face. Suppose you are the kind of relativist who thinks that as a relativist you should not make absolute claims (A), but only claims about what holds according to some perspective (SA - where S stands for 'syat', a Sanskrit term of art which apparently is used by Jains to mean something like 'from some perspective'). This gives rise to a regress: one should not assert SA absolutely but only the qualified SSA; not SSA but SSSA; and so on. It turns out nothing is assertible.

Graham proposed a system in which A and SA (and hence SSA, SSSA etc.) are all logically equivalent, and suggested that this would solve the problem, since whenever one asserts A one is thereby asserting (something equivalent to) SA, SSA and so on.

But I wondered how this proposed solution would work. The thought motivating the problem was not that the relativist should say SA as well as A, but that the relativist should say SA instead of A: that she was wrong to assert the unqualified A. If A and SA, SSA etc. turn out to be equivalent, the wrongness of asserting the unqualified A has not (for all that's been said so far) been removed. So for all that's been said so far, none of SA, SSA etc. are assertible because they are all equivalent to the unacceptable unqualified A.


Andreas said...

I agree. The problem is not whether or not the relativist can construct a semantics upon which A and SA mutually entail each other. The problem is that the relativist cannnot make sense of any statement not pre-fixed by S. So, if SA entails A. Then SA entails a meaningless statement.

Jonny Blamey said...

There is a difference between non assertable and meaningless. Why can't A be meaningful, verifiable or whatever, but not assertable, or knowable because to be assertable or knowable it has to be true from a perspective. SA means true from a perspective. A perspective could be a criteria for assessment. Different criterias for assessment could yield different truth values.
Let A be the sentence"This colour patch from this angle in this light at this time appears red." One criteria of assessment could be if it appears red to George, it appears red. Another could be if it appears red to Jim, it appears red. It seems perfectly possible that it appears red to George and not to Jim. Therefore SA. What is needed to block the jump from SA, to SSA, is to stipulate that for SSA to be true, there has to be a perspective from which it is true that SA. If George tells Jim that it appears red, then Jim knows SA through testimony. It isn't obvious to me that Jim knows A. Now SSA is true from George's perspective, but only in so far as that SA is true from a perspective, namely Jim's criteria of assessment using testimony. I don't see how either 1. Jim is forced to agree with George about A, just because he accepts SA or 2. There must be a perspective (SSSA)from which there is a perspective (SSA) from which there is a perspective (SA) that the patch appears red. (A)