Relativism

Relativism
L.Alevin
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Posted Jun 24, 2011 - 10:37 PM:
Subject: Relativism

Do you think the following is a relativist claim:?

"The fundamental properties of physical entities are a set of relationships, which evolve dynamically. There are no intrinsic, non-relational properties, and there is no fixed background, such as Newtonian space and time, which exists just to give things properties." - Lee Smolin

wuliheron
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Posted Jun 25, 2011 - 7:37 AM:

Dictionary.com wrote:
Relative
rel·a·tive   
[rel-uh-tiv] Show IPA
–noun
1. a person who is connected with another or others by blood or marriage.
2. something having, or standing in, some relation to something else.
3. something dependent upon external conditions for its specific nature, size, etc. ( opposed to absolute).


Relative refers to the relationships between things defining them so, yes, that is a relativist statement by Smolin.
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Posted Jun 25, 2011 - 12:52 PM:

I think that a statemnt is relative when its truth depends of conditions or circumstance. Like it is wise to lie, but only when the murderer arks "hey, are you Luke?" etc.

I think that epistemological relativism says that there are various truths for various people, not one truth for all.
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Posted Jun 25, 2011 - 2:15 PM:

I think there's a confusion between relativism and relationalism.

The term relativism is little more than a polemical device charging the person with the intellectual crime of self-contradiction or illogical reasoning. But fear not, there are charitable readings of those thinkers of ill-repute such as this nifty epistemological category: relationalism.

W. K. C. Guthrie, the 900 pound name in ancient Greek philosophy, argued that Sophists refused to undertake the Eleatic dilemma (the choice between being and becoming, stability and flux, reality and appearance). The Sophists concluded that they were incompatible concepts and gave up on the idea of a permanent reality behind appearances, settling for an extreme phenomenalism, relativism and subjectivism. Nonetheless, recent scholars like Richard Bett, Paul Woodruff, and others deny that the sophists were ever relativists, that they were diametrically opposed to objectivity. What the sophists actually embraced was a "trivially relativistic doctrine" which is now called relationalism, where certain predicates apply objectively but not absolutely. In other words, the applicability of objectively applied predicates is contingent of certain sort of circumstances. The phrase 'good for' or 'bad for' is a relational notion. What is good for me, is good. What is good for another, is good for that person. All such judgments are relational, but they are also objectively true or false.

In Plato's Protagoras 334, Protagoras acknowledged relationalism and also made a conciliary concession in Theaetetus that judgments about what is beneficial are objective, that it is an objective relational fact that X is bad for me, but good for somebody else. Nietzsche also held this view, that certain types of moralities are good for certain types of people but bad for others.


Since relationalism does not undermine objectivity, it is not a strawman relativist doctrine some would have you believe.
L.Alevin
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Posted Jun 30, 2011 - 10:08 PM:

I fear my interlocutors missed the complex nature of the question. A person who doesn't believe in any intrinsic properties of physical objects but situates them contextually but refers to context as "fundamental" does not neatly fit into philosopher's lexicons  regarding absolutism/relativism or essentialism/ existentialism. I was hoping for a bit more from you folks. How about looking at this from the POV of the debate between process ontology and essentialist ontology (or any sort of catalogue-based ontology)?
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Posted Jun 30, 2011 - 10:57 PM:

L.Alevin wrote:
I fear my interlocutors missed the complex nature of the question. A person who doesn't believe in any intrinsic properties of physical objects but situates them contextually but refers to context as "fundamental" does not neatly fit into philosopher's lexicons  regarding absolutism/relativism or essentialism/ existentialism. I was hoping for a bit more from you folks. How about looking at this from the POV of the debate between process ontology and essentialist ontology (or any sort of catalogue-based ontology)?



Smolin has written a book about Taoism, "The Tao is Silent", which is sometimes described as a religion of relativism. Taoists are famous for merely describing what they observe just as a physicist might and in this case Smolin also happens to be a physicist. Therefore without any other context the simplest assumption is that he is merely describing what he observes and his description could be called relativism. Like a lot of relativists he might find your insistence on rigorously labeling and categorizing his statement humorous.

People often make the mistake of attempting to interpret the statements of relativists in metaphysical terms or whatever. Often relativists will even encourage such behavior as a means of personal growth. You say Smolin "...refers to context as 'fundamental'" which is not what he literally said. If you are going to insist on interpreting relative statements you may never find clarity on the issue. The Taoist philosopher Chaung Tzu is famous for having once claimed that Taoism has no metaphysics whatsoever. He always was the dramatic type who liked to exaggerate, but it certainly has at most a minimalist metaphysics. Of course, whether you want to call them metaphysics, paradoxes, or just what they observe is completely up to you.

Edited by wuliheron on Jun 30, 2011 - 11:06 PM
L.Alevin
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Posted May 12, 2012 - 9:14 PM:

Is the fact that he thinks this or that relative?

Overall, I was trying to see if there was a way to articulate that the context dependent nature of facthood is not necessarily relativist. Take geometry as an analogy. Once the bracket - domain - bracket space has been specified, the ineluctable principles emerge. Yet there is some creativity to defining the space.
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Posted May 13, 2012 - 7:43 AM:

L.Alevin wrote:
I fear my interlocutors missed the complex nature of the question. A person who doesn't believe in any intrinsic properties of physical objects but situates them contextually but refers to context as "fundamental" does not neatly fit into philosopher's lexicons regarding absolutism/relativism or essentialism/ existentialism. I was hoping for a bit more from you folks. How about looking at this from the POV of the debate between process ontology and essentialist ontology (or any sort of catalogue-based ontology)?

It makes perfect sense to me when I read it, but I guess I'm partial to it.

To your question here about "not fitting neatly into philosopher's lexicons" I think that is at least in part because these lexicons are speaking from a different system, from a different background, using its expressions and speaking in its terms. So like languages in that they are conceptual schemes, ones we "bring them to bear" in full when we use them.

When I read through this I think of Dipert, of his ontology based literally on the relation, and as opposed to our object-with-property based monism. So I see an ontology for starters. That is easy to merge with perspectivism, and you could do that. You can probably go all sorts of directions with it, but something who "speaks absolutism" or "speaks essentialism" will see and/or describe this differently than one who "speaks relationism" (if that makes any sense). I read it and think of relation, context, emergence, bootstrapping, reality in the plural, as realities, interwoven, interpenetrating, things like that. Not of objects, not of properties, also not of "relativism".

I don't know about the debate between process and essentialist ontologies. What I have long wondered about an ontology based on relation like Dipert's is how it would translate into a process ontology, since I am partial to that anyway, it "feels right" to me (without even knowing that much about it). Because relational structure alone has a static feel to it, it lacks a dynamic.

It is just an oldish paper I read once by the way, I believe it was called "The world as graph" or something, but had some very interesting ideas in it.


Edited by mutemaler on May 13, 2012 - 8:44 AM
L.Alevin
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Posted May 13, 2012 - 9:16 AM:

mutemaler wrote:
It is easy to merge this with perspectivism for example, which is clearly a relativist system (which is what I do). You can probably go all sorts of directions with it, but something who "speaks absolutism" or "speaks essentialism" will see and/or describe this differently than one who "speaks relationism" (if that makes any sense).


Here's a question for you on perspectives. If a physicist decides to model gravity in a two dimensional universe in order to solve some outstanding problems that the normal 4-D universe model renders overly complex, is there not some kind of absolute tucked away in there? Pretty well any sane model has implications - and the implications are built right into the terms of the model. Although a model is a perspective (and we're always limited to perspectives) there may be a rule distinguishing models that generate more reliable information from those that tend to require ad hoc adjustments, or which only work because they are extremely narrow and have dismissed from consideration anything that could make a difference. My guess would be something like:

Physical models work because they can dismiss most things from consideration because the phenomena they describe are universal (and vice versa). So basically, physics picks out regularities by defining elementary phenomena (those for which environmental factors can be controlled for; i.e., those least influenced by the broader context or for which the terms of influence can be algorithmatized ), and makes predictions by supplying context (a manageable context) post hoc through the identification and isolation of initial and boundary conditions. (which is why most other fields will never match physics in precision).

There may however be several viable ways of describing the regularities in nature, not necessarily consistent. Would that imply a relativistic position? Not so long as we can distinguish between better and worse models.
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Posted May 13, 2012 - 10:33 AM:

L.Alevin wrote:
Do you think the following is a relativist claim:?

"The fundamental properties of physical entities are a set of relationships, which evolve dynamically. There are no intrinsic, non-relational properties, and there is no fixed background, such as Newtonian space and time, which exists just to give things properties." - Lee Smolin


It seems like a Buddhist claim "the dependent origination of all things". It could also be construed as a process ontology claim, reality is a continuous process composed of events and relationships between events. Reality is not a substance composed of objects with properties.

The notion that one can pluck objecsts out from the reality in which they are embedded and from which they have arisen, and that somehow these abstracted objects would retain their "properties" is a fallacy. It is the result of the reductionist and object, subject, property (being) mindset which has plauged Western philosophy since Parminedes and Democritus.

Eastern philosophy has always viewed the material physical world as one of flux, change, flow, impermanence (becoming and process). Of course Eastern philosphy always postulates another realm or level of reality behing the illusions of the physical world as does all religious philosophy.

All abstract conceptual models only have pragmatic utility within a given context. That goes for scientific models as well.
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