Is Everything Relative?

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Relativism, that may include any notion that supports ‘everything is relative’ has been an intriguing topic, in the contemporary world, subject to wider criticism. The two key criticisms made against relativism, within the western philosophical traditions are that relativism is self-refuting and that relativism encourages pernicious consequences, both starting from Plato’s famous arguments on the issue. The objective of this paper, is to present how an ancient analytical view of two-truths doctrine, found within the Buddha’s teachings, articulated by the second century Indian philosopher Nagarjuna, could be used to defend relativism against such accusations, using Kant’s theorem in the Critique of Pure Reason, where he says that the only world we can know or talk about meaningfully is the one that has been shaped by the human mind, as an entry point. This approach, however, would not espouse relativism as the one and only doctrine to follow, giving up all other doctrines, which, anyway, is the approach a staunch relativist, would take. Also, it will not save the relativist from the passivity accusations in the ever-growing perniciousness of the current world political climate. Since the arguments made against relativism are at a broader and fundamental level, the focus of this paper is on cognitive relativism, which is representative of such form of relativism, out of all the varying forms found today.

Nishanathe Dahanayake

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