Metaethical Relativism

Authored by: Isidora Stojanovic

The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138812208
eBook ISBN: 9781315213217
Adobe ISBN:


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Although relativism may be said to be one of the oldest doctrines in philosophy, dating back to the teachings of Protagoras in the fifth century B.C., when it comes to contemporary philosophy, there is no consensus on what makes a view qualify as “relativist.” The problem is particularly acute in metaethics, since most of the views that up to a decade ago were described as “relativist” would be more accurately described as “contextualist” or even “expressivist” in light of the distinctions currently drawn in the philosophy of language and semantics. In this chapter, we distinguish two construals of relativism, developed in the second and third section: the “metaphysical” construal, based on the idea that there is no single, absolute, universal morality, and the “semantic” construal, based on the idea that the truth value of moral claims is relative to a set of moral standards, or moral practices, or some other suitable parameter. The first section introduces the core relativist ideas in an informal way, and warns against possible misinterpretations.

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