Relativism refers to any of several similar philosophical concepts:
- Moral relativism
- holds that "moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances." It is in opposition to moral absolutism.
- Cultural relativism
- is the methodological principle in anthropology that "an [individual's] beliefs and activities should be interpreted in terms of his or her own culture."
- Cognitive relativism (or epistemological relativism)
- "claims the truth or falsity of a statement is relative to a social group or individual."
- Aesthetic relativism
- is an aesthetic philosophy that "the judgement of beauty is relative to individuals, cultures, time periods and contexts, and that there are no universal criteria of beauty." (Somewhat less controversial than the other three.)
Relativistic arguments, by their nature, cannot ask for reference from outside sources, but can be judged by their own internal consistency. In other words, while evidence cannot be applied to relativistic arguments, the argument can be shown as false if it contradicts itself.
Consider that relativism is often employed to declare that two arguments are equally valid or improvable. Now apply that framework to a comparison of realism and relativism.
Interestingly, relativism itself can be shown to be inconsistent within its own framework. First take the standard claim of relativism, that all points of view are equally valid relative to the standards of those views, and that no truth exists outside of views. Then consider that if all points of view are true according to their frame of reference, then realism is also true according to its framework. Realism says that there exists truth outside of viewpoints, so if realism is true then relativism is not, but as shown realism is true according to relativism.
The beauty of this argument is that it functions on internal consistency, and all relativism can ask for is internal consistency as it fundamentally denies that there is an externality to the matter.