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Understanding Relativism

Feelosofi –  Relativism is a philosophical view that assumes that values, truths, or moral norms are relative, meaning they depend on context, culture, or an individual’s point of view. In this context, there is no absolute universal standard for assessing whether a value or truth is “right” or “wrong”. Conversely, moral values ​​and norms may differ from one culture or individual to another. This view emphasizes the importance of understanding cultural differences and social contexts in appreciating the diversity of human values.

Relativism is often distinguished between cultural relativism and moral relativism. Cultural relativism says that moral values ​​and social norms emerge from a particular culture and cannot be applied universally. On the other hand, moral relativism focuses more on the view that moral truth is relative and subjective, depending on the individual or group who determines it.

However, relativism is also often the subject of debate in the world of philosophy, especially in the context of ethics . Some critics argue that this view can be dangerous, because it can provide a moral basis for actions that actually harm individuals or society. In contrast, advocates of relativism argue that it is a more inclusive approach and respects the diversity of views in an increasingly connected global society. Regardless of the pros and cons, understanding relativism is important to open dialogue and critical thinking about differences in values ​​and truth in an increasingly complex and diverse society.

History Of The Development Of Relativism

Relativism is a philosophical concept that has existed throughout the history of human thought. The development and evolution of this view can be traced in various historical periods and in the context of various cultures around the world.

One of the early milestones in the history of relativism was sophist thought in Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC. The sophists, such as Protagoras, are known for stating that “Man is the measure of all things,” which reflects the idea that reality and values ​​are relative and subjective. They question the concepts of value and absolute truth promoted by philosophers such as Plato .

Then, in the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, the idea of ​​moral relativism began to reappear. Figures such as David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau explored the view that moral values ​​are relative and can change according to circumstances and culture. They question universal moral criteria.

During the 20th century, relativism again gained widespread attention in the worlds of philosophy and social science. Postmodernist thought, which reached its peak in the mid-20th century, emphasized uncertainty and diversity in the interpretation of reality. Theories in cultural anthropology also contribute to a deeper understanding of cultural differences and relativism.

The history of the development of relativism shows that this idea has developed and changed throughout human history. Although often controversial, relativism remains relevant in the context of an increasingly connected and multicultural global society. This view continues to be the object of debate and research in various fields of study, including philosophy , sociology, and anthropology, because it involves complex questions about values, truth, and moral norms in various cultural and historical contexts.

Figures Of Relativism

Relativist figures have played an important role in the history of philosophical and social thought. They have contributed to the development of views that emphasize the relative nature of values, truth, and moral norms in various aspects of human life. The following are some famous figures associated with relativism:

  • Protagoras : Protagoras, an ancient Greek sophist, is known for his famous statement, “Man is the measure of all things.” He championed the idea that truth and values ​​are subjective, varying according to individual viewpoints, and that there is no absolute standard by which to measure truth.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche : This 19th century German philosopher is known for his thoughts on morals and ethics . Nietzsche supported the idea that moral values ​​are relative and derived from power and culture. He popularized the terms “master morality” and “slave morality” to describe differences in moral views.
  • Michel Foucault : Foucault was a French philosopher who was very influential in postmodern thought and critical theory. He questions the idea that moral values ​​are constant, and proposes that social and moral norms are historical and can change over time.
  • Jean-François Lyotard : Lyotard was a French philosopher known for his contributions to postmodern thought. He proposed that grand narratives that try to provide a universal explanation of reality are increasingly irrelevant, and the world is full of a variety of local narratives.
  • Clifford Geertz : A renowned anthropologist, Geertz advocated a descriptive approach to understanding culture. His thinking underscores the importance of understanding cultural context to appreciate the diversity of social values ​​and norms.

These figures have made significant contributions to the development and understanding of relativism in various contexts, from philosophy to sociology. Although their approaches vary, they have all influenced contemporary thinking about truth, morality, and cultural diversity, and continue to be the subject of extensive debate and research in the academic world.

Types Of Relativism

Relativism is a view that recognizes the relative nature of values, truths, or moral norms. There are several types of relativism that develop in various contexts of philosophical and social thought. Here are some important types of relativism:

  • Cultural Relativism : This type of relativism emphasizes that social values ​​and norms originate from a particular culture and cannot be applied universally. Cultural relativism recognizes the diversity of social norms, ethics , and beliefs that exist throughout the world, and avoids judging other cultures by one’s own cultural standards.
  • Moral Relativism : Moral relativism is the view that moral values ​​are relative and subjective, differing between individuals or groups. This means there are no universal moral standards that apply to everyone. Moral relativism can raise questions about how we can measure or justify ethical actions .
  • Linguistic Relativism : Linguistic relativism says that the language and concepts used by a culture influence the way individuals from that culture understand the world. This means that language and culture play an important role in shaping a person’s worldview.
  • Epistemological Relativism : Epistemological relativism is concerned with the nature of knowledge. It holds that knowledge and truth are relative and depend on the context, point of view, or framework of understanding of the individual or group. This suggests that what is considered “true” in one context may not be true in another context.
  • Descriptive Ethical Relativism : Descriptive ethical relativism is the view that ethical values ​​originate from social and cultural conventions, and differ between various societies. It is a description of how ethical values ​​operate in everyday practice without claiming these values ​​to be right or wrong.
  • Normative Ethical Relativism : Normative ethical relativism, on the other hand, is the view that because ethical values ​​are relative, we should accept different ethical views as equal and agree with each other’s truth.

Each of these types of relativism has different implications in various contexts, including philosophy , sociology, and anthropology. Despite the variety of approaches to relativism, the concept continues to be the subject of philosophical debate and is gaining attention in cultural studies and social sciences, as it raises important questions about the diversity and differences of views among societies and individuals around the world.


The conclusion about relativism is that it is a philosophical view that recognizes the diversity of values, truths, and moral norms in various cultural, social, and individual contexts. Relativism holds that there are no absolute standards for judging what is right or wrong, and values ​​themselves are subjective, varying from one culture or individual to another. This is the result of understanding that an individual’s culture, language, and background influence how they view the world and make ethical judgments .

Although relativism offers an inclusive perspective and values ​​a diversity of views, this view often raises challenges and debate. Some critics worry that this view may provide a moral basis for actions that actually harm individuals or society. However, relativism plays an important role in promoting a deeper understanding of culture, reducing ethnocentrism, and encouraging intercultural dialogue.

As the world becomes increasingly connected and multicultural, relativism continues to be relevant in exploring questions about differences in values, truth, and moral norms. Although many question the impossibility of having universal standards, this view reminds us to better understand human diversity and strive for cross-cultural understanding in an increasingly complex global society. The final conclusion is that relativism is a view that encourages critical thinking and appreciation for the diversity of views in the world.


What Is Relativism?

Relativism is a philosophical view that recognizes that values, truths, or moral norms are relative, varying according to certain cultures, individuals, or contexts. This means that there is no absolute standard for judging what is right or wrong.

Is Relativism The Same As Moralism?

No, relativism is the opposite of moralism. Relativism holds that moral values ​​are relative and subjective, while moralism assumes that there are absolute and universal moral standards that must be followed.

How Does Relativism Impact Ethics?

Ethical relativism states that ethical values ​​are relative and can differ between individuals or cultures. This raises the question of how we can assess ethical actions and establish moral foundations in diverse societies.

Is Relativism Dangerous?

There is no consensus about whether relativism is dangerous. Some argue that this view can give rise to weak morals and apathy towards immoral actions, while others argue that it is an inclusive approach and respects diversity of views.

Do All People Who Support Relativism Reject Moral Values?

No, supporting relativism does not necessarily mean rejecting moral values. Many who support ethical relativism maintain personal moral views and adhere to social norms. They may simply be more open to differing ethical views .


  • “ Relativism: A Guide for the Perplexed ” by Simon Blackburn (2001).
  • “ After Philosophy: End or Transformation? ” by Kenneth Baynes (1987).
  • “ In Defense of Moral Relativism ” by Steven Lukes (2009).
  • “ The Ethics of Belief and Other Essays ” by William K. Clifford (1877).
  • “ On Certainty ” by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1969).

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Raymond Kelvin Nando, "Relativism," Feelosofi, 1 November 2023,
Raymond Kelvin Nando
Writer, Researcher, & Philosophy Enthusiast