Relativism, as opposed to rationalism, is inclined to seek the essential meaning of things trying to be less categorical than rationalism is. In this respect relativism is full of skepticism on the nature of things and phenomena. In the historical cut, it is quite possible to state that during one period of time people thought of some things to be rationally framed. Thereafter, with more knowledge gained by the time, such statements were considered as follies. Thus, rationalism is constantly getting through a right-or-wrong justification of things while relativism has an argument that there are “no context-free or super-cultural norms of rationality” emphasizing the existence of a strong doubt where it is stated as impossible (Barnes and Bloor 27).
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First off, it is necessary to take a look at how both concepts define the state of things. In this respect relativism highlights “the essential identity of things” without separating its meaning while rationalism tends to explain things through the concept of dualism realized through the “distinctions of true or false” (Barnes and Bloor 25). It makes positions of rationalism quite categorical in its judgment on the subject matter. Definitely, arriving at its title, rationalism aims at showing the ultimate truth even though such attempts were redefined and even excluded in the course of time. Development of the mankind is a dynamic system where the universal knowledge gained at the moment is always under the process of reconsideration.
One of the examples is geocentric versus heliocentric concept of the Earth. The mankind due to the elites trusted the idea of geocentric concept because of a lack of research on that problem and technological inability to prove it previously. One more thing is that many of traditional theoretical approaches have been redefined due to some empirical controversies. Thus, truth and reality becomes “shaky” and vague if not critically examining it. Facts are stubborn thing. This is why relativism does not aim to follow the idea of some absolute truth as it seems a fallacy for relativists.
However, relativism grounds its arguments based on the rational hypotheses. Thereupon, the research shows a particular contextual entity of arguments and counter arguments suggested by two concepts: “Epistemological skepticism, like selective relativism, is not possible without implicit reliance on the capacity for rational thought: It proceeds by the rational identification of logical possibilities compatible with the evidence, between which reason does not permit us to choose” (Nagel 19). Hence, rational “objectivity” is, thereafter, reduced by relativist as “subjectivity”.
A causative-consecutive chain of events reasoned in keeping with a good tradition of logic should shed light on the objective reality, first of all. The thing is that a rationalist would likely to “say that the above argument only applies to what are taken to be reasons, rather than to what really are reasons” (Barnes and Bloor 29). This opposition seems true on the part of rationalists who are usually confined to some concrete absolute understanding of natural phenomena without further research on them.
Norms of rationality cannot be taken in order to just state them as the only idea of how things exist in the universe. It is a pit of fallacies which gathers more and more individuals who were once influenced by some sophisticated idea without expressing their own opinions which, in turn, could lead them toward better understanding. As Socrates once said Truth is sprout in discussion. In case disputes are rejected by either of the parties, there is nothing to do with finding out some true statements. If there is a situation or discussion in which one observes a certain kind of impasse, the strategy of internal reasons comes once the conflict has arisen between two parties (Hales 335).
Besides, two philosophical concepts may live in one and the same mind of one and the same person by dint of parsing different domains: “…somebody might hold to absolutism in the cognitive domain, but relativism in the moral and aesthetic domains” (Krausz 57). This strategy has to do with the ambiguity of one’s ideals put in terms of real life and personal preferences. What is more, it justifies the infinite nature of disputes between rationalists and relativists, as even the most ardent supporters of either concept borrowed or absorbed a part of theoretical background from the opposite group of philosophers. Of course, it also depends on the context in which the discussion takes place.
Touching upon the concept of cultural or supper-cultural norms of rationality, culture itself is a process of development in which obsolete norms are followed by some new ones. In this case the idea of rationalistic misinterpretation is also another relativist strategy for attacking the arguments of rationalism (Nagel 9). Obviously, personal inclinations of a rationalist usually lead him/her to a total discourage once his/her idea is proved wrong. In this respect the subjectivist’s strategy helps in achieving this goal (Nagel 111). Once again, relativist skepticism grounds on different ways of translating cultural peculiarities rather than choosing an absolute one and keep it in mind as the only possible argument.
Given that, the opposition between rationalism and relativism is ostensibly grounded on misinterpretation of the objective reality which, on the one hand, seems usual and, on the other hand, unknown to a researcher. A more detailed approach to studying things from inside out gives relativists more opportunities to argue an alleged rational justification thereof. This is why absolutism is limited and gives no way toward a deeper research so that to omit any change of traditional knowledge.
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