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I have often wondered how proponents of the doctrine of "historical relativity" manage to avoid an inherent contradiction. For example, if one asserts "all truths are relative" (to an historical epoch or weltenschaung, e.g.), must one not also apply that observation to the "truth" that "all truths are relative?" Which means, of course, that the relativist's position is untenable, because it is itself merely relative and, hence, untrue in a trans-historical sense, at least based upon the relatavist's own assertion. If the only truth that is NOT relative is the relativist's supposed insight, one must ask on what grounds it is exempted. I suppose it might relate to the fact that the relativist stands at the end of Hegelian history, but still, it smacks of inconsistency. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Charles M. Lansing, MI

I think you raise one of the strongest objections possible to relativism, one so strong that it renders relativism impossible to formulate in that way (i.e., "All truths are relative"). But I do warn you that things get stickier as your get into relativistic theories. What makes them compelling? Here are a couple of general strategies that I've run across. 1. Negative Proof : Negatively, non-relativistic theories of truth seem, at least in the view of many, to have irresolveable problems of their own, arguably greater problems. So, if non-relativistic theories can't be right, some kind of relativism must be correct. 2. Positive Proof : Positively but indirectly, relativism seems (1) to answer serveral questions about the way the meaning of language and the designation "true" is determined and correlatively (2) it seems to be the consequence of investigations into matters concerning topics like whether a body of evidence can determine only one conclusion (answer: no), whether a word can...

Can there be such a thing as 'progress' in human history? Does time and circumsance have a more than superficial bearing on our beings? Or are we essentially the same regardless of historical epoch or geographical conditioning? I refer to the so-called 'birth of reason' in 17th century Europe, and its so-said 'dawn of modernity'.

There can be no simple, unqualified, unequivocal "progress" in human history because what is to count as progress or regress must be determined as such by some measure, some set of criteria for progress. But, so far as I can seen, anyway, there is no unqualified set of criteria to measure by. One can, however, speak meaningfully about specific kinds of progress. For example, one can speak of technological progress in processor speed, or progress in understanding black holes, or in eliminating poverty, or in curing lung cancer, or in reaching the end of a journey, or in gaining financial independence. Mere "progress" itself, however, seems to have little meaning. About whether or not we remain "essentially the same" across space and time, I think the answer depends upon what you mean by "essentially." For myself, I think of people as plastic but not infinitely plastic. Just as one can make many different kinds of things with clay (even an infinite number of different things), one can't make anything....