"The Paradox of Cognitive Relativism Revisited: A Reply to Jack W. Meiland," by Edward Beach, in Metaphilosophy 15, Nos. 3 & 4 (July/October 1984).


Jack W. Meiland has argued, in a paper entitled, "On the Paradox of Cognitive Relativism" (Metaphilosophy vol. 11, no. 2, April, 1980, pp. 115-26), that the charges of self-refutation often leveled at relativism are in fact avoidable. He argues, using the formal symbols of three-term relational predicates, that as long as the relativist only claims a relative truth-status for the thesis of relativism itself, she cannot be faulted for inconsistency.

My rebuttal shows that this strategy is less felicitous than Meiland imagines. Even if the relativist only argues that relativism is true for her -- i.e., within a perspectivally delimited perspective -- this argument still presupposes that the truth-for-her of the relativist thesis ought to be acknowledged by others (including objectivists) as internally consistent according to her own lights. Yet to make this latter claim is implicitly to assert cross-perspectival (and hence, supposedly objective) judgments once again.

Furthermore, when the relativist contends that disputes across different frames of reference are inherently non-adjudicable, this very contention is itself a covert attempt to maintain objectivity for the relativist position. The flaw is revealed as soon as the relativist attempts to argue for her own position using the methods of formal logic; for to employ these methods is implicitly to allege that other rational minds ought to recognize and acknowledge the objective truth of what is being argued.

My essay has been cited several times in the relevant philosophical literature. See, for example, Harvey Siegel's book, Relativism Refuted: A Critique of Contemporary Epistemological Relativism (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1987). Also cf. Peter Davson-Galle "Weak Neo-Meilandian Relativism about Truth," in EJournal of Analytic Philosophy (ejap@phil.indiana.edu), Issue 2, April, 1994.