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Philosophical Relativity$
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Peter Unger

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780195155532

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/019515553X.001.0001

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The Hypothesis of Philosophical Relativity

The Hypothesis of Philosophical Relativity

(p.3) I The Hypothesis of Philosophical Relativity
Philosophical Relativity

Peter Unger (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Introduces the notion of philosophical relativity, the thesis that the answers we give for many philosophical problems are functions of arbitrary assumptions made at the initial stages of inquiry, and ipso facto that such problems lack objective solutions. Philosophical relativity is argued for via semantic relativity, the thesis that many of our terms do not have objectively specifiable semantic content. Semantic relativity is in turn argued for via an explication of the conflict obtaining between contextualism, the view that the semantic content of a lexical expression is whatever the speaker intended it to be, and invariantism, the view that the semantic content of a lexical expression is always its literal meaning. If semantic relativism can be shown to hold with regard to terms central in philosophical debate, then we have established philosophical relativism. Parallels with Quine's indeterminacy of interpretation thesis are drawn, with the present scenario being intralanguage indeterminacy as opposed to interlanguage indeterminacy. Strong indeterminacy is rejected, in an irregular move, via an appeal to a semantic holism.

Keywords:   contextualism, indeterminacy of interpretation, invariantism, philosophical relativity, Quine, semantic holism, semantic relativity

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