Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Relativisms and absolutisms in a broader context

Paul Grobstein's picture

Welcome to the public on-line forum area for Phil 310 = Bio 310 at Bryn Mawr College. This is not a required part of the course. It is, though, a way to keep course conversations going between meetings, and to do so in a way that makes our course conversations available to others who may in turn have interesting thoughts to contribute to them. I'll be posting my thoughts in progress here throughout the course, and would be delighted to have others join in.

Feel free to write about whatever has been on your mind this week. The focus of class discussion was on MK's "Interpretation and its objects: a synoptic view" and "Mapping relativisms".

Paul Grobstein's picture

Realism and constructivism: clarifying relativisms

Interesting/useful to set our discussions of philosophy of science in the broader context of distinct kinds of interpretation and distinct kinds of relativism, as outlined in MK's work and interpreted by Kyla and Valeria. Our movement to date does seem to be in the direction of some kind of relativism as an interpretational posture for science (though with some "realists" still holding out) but what kind exactly? And is it appropriate to equate "realism" with some kind of "absolutism"? or are those different concepts?

Among the things that struck me particularly was the issue of whether when one dissociates attributes one loses distinctiveness. The question was most sharply posed in connection with "pluralizing" and "aggregating" as strategies for singularists debating with multiplists (and vice versa). A singularist, for example, might aggregate interpretations ("particles", "waves") and thereby held out hope for a singularist posture in the face of mutliple incompatible interpretations. So a singularist can be a realist in principle and a constructivist in practice. Similarly a multiplist could be a constructivist in principle but a realist in practice (by finding it useful for construction to act as if they were a single interpretation to be found). The question arises whether a realist multiplist and a constructivist singularist are actually at all different in practice, ie whether in this state of dissociation of related attributes, differences in labels come to be fully "semantic", ie lacking in any implications for choosing directions for further inquiry. If experience is naively multiplist, as it seems to be, what is the useful implication of a singularist (or realist) posture? Does it matter if one is a multiplist realist as opposed to a singularist constructiviist?

MK's notion of relativism as in opposition to ... a variety of things collectively called "absolutism" also seemed useful in helping us clarify scientific postures, and potentially troublesome. Is scientific relativism contra objectivism? foundationalism? universalism? Or is it in fact a "braid" of the three? Do the "realists" among us recognize the three? or one more than another? Can one be a realist without any of the three? a realitivist while accepting one or more of them?

For the sake of the record, I'm comfortable not being any of the three. And the issue of "non-foundationalism," in particular, is one we'll be looking at for the next couple of weeks. Along those lines, some relevant recent materials about "emergence" include

Also relevant to the upcoming as well as last week's allusion to ambiguous figures is