I am a bit confused about what is the position of relativism with respect to objective truths.

Protagoras was the foundational relativist philosopher:

According to Plato, Protagoras thought: Each thing appears (phainesthai) to me, so it is for me, and as it appears to you, so it is for you—you and I each being a man. (Theaetetus 152a 6–8).

But, as far as I can tell from the SEP entry on Protagoras and after reading the dialogue, he does not explicitly deny every absolute truth:

Protagoras’ aim is not merely to abolish the idea of truth which is shattered into an endless number of private truths; his aim is to replace this criterion with another, more effective criterion, that of the useful.

So, does relativism deny the existence of an objective truth, or just our ability to grasp it? Because, in the latter case, it would be the opposite: it would assume an absolute, unaccessible truth, right?

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    For people loving post-modern philosophers: "“Perspectivism, or scientific relativism, is never relative to a subject: it constitutes not a relativity of truth but, on the contrary, a truth of the relative.” (Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? 1994) Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 13:50
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    @irecorsan plato.stanford.edu/entries/relativism/#VarRel looks like a start.
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 19:13
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    There is no reason "what appears to me" is unrelated to "what appears to you". The two can be related in such ways that make something common unquestionable. For example one can say "the earth is moving" or "the sun is moving" but the two are related and produce same results.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 14:07

2 Answers 2


I suspect you will always find outliers who disagree, but relativism generally denies that truths are absolute and objective. At the very least, relativists would say, truths are tinged with some form of subjectivity that depends upon the framework in which facts are evaluated. Importantly, they would add, there can be no absolute framework which is correct and truly untainted by subjectivity in one way or another, so it is meaningless to talk about absolute truths.

There is a parallel with relativity in physics, in which all frames of reference are equally valid, so by definition there can be no absolute frame.

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    But, in physics, the frames are related to each other via similarity transformations. So there is a way different frames can agree with each other about results (eg invariants). There is nothing a priori impossible about different points of view to relate to each other similarly. So there is nothing in relativisim that necessarily makes agreement impossible.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 14:27
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    I think the key difference is that perspectivism allows there to be absolute truths which can appear to be different when viewed from different perspectives, whereas relativism denies that there can be absolute truths- all there is is perspectives. Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 14:47
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    Clearly the terms relativism and perspectivism are fuzzy and overlapping, so untangling the two isn't a trivial ask. Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 14:49
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    @irecorsan I would say relativism in this extreme form, is not corroborated by actual practice. In practice we do find that we do agree, even though our angle of seeing things is not the same.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 15:07
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    @MarcoOcram Perspectivism is a type of relativism in which the individual or the agent is the unit of measure when it comes to determining relativity. Social constructivists maintain instead that relativity stems from differences in groups so it is another form of relativity. Both are epistemological perspectives.
    – J D
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 20:58

I'm going to borrow @JD useful comments on this other question which I believe clarify the issue I was having. I was considering relativism as a philosophy, whereas nowadays in contemporary philosophy it is mostly used as an adjective for specific philosophies:

You speak of relativism as if it's a single doctrine. It is not. It's a property of doctrines which merely asserts that there is some form of subjectivity in the doctrine. Relativistic physics has subjective frames of reference. Relativistic religious practice, ecumenicalism, is theology that says that religious themselves are subjective. Perspectivism is that something, usually truth, is relative to the individual. Social constructivism is that things, usually truth are relative to the society. It's a term that is best understood by prototype theory. [..] They have naive formulations, but no one in philosophy treats them as philosophies unless they are invoked in a context, such as subjective idealism, eliminative materialism, mereological nihilism, and so on. Radical relativism is any philosophy that asserts there is no truth/it cannot be determined... But most other theories have some relativistic quality. Think of theories as entities, and these terms as properties of entities where some criterion or criteria allows us to describe the theory in term of the property.

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