On my post ("The Truth in Relativism") Tristan writes:
It's not clear to me from the post what the scope of the relativism is that he has in mind (is he talking about the subject matter of philosophy? or all subject matter?), and I don't find myself resonating with much of it.I've added some links to the post that might help clarify what I'm talking about, but I'll try to say a little about it here too. I had in mind a very general kind of relativism, what Russell calls "the view which substitutes the consensus of opinion for an objective standard." This view might be held with regard to ethics, say, or to anything else. It seems to me that it can seem that we really have nothing to go on but the consensus of opinion. Don't we decide both matters of empirical fact and ethical questions in this way? (I'm not saying that we do, or don't. I'm saying that it can seem this way.) And maybe everything else too. (Some people seem to talk as if they think this way, at least.) Hence the consensus of opinion is the measure of all things.
But I think that a better measure of opinion than taking a poll is looking at what people actually do. And this includes the way they use words. So step one towards an improved version of relativism is to judge matters of fact, ethics, or whatever it might be by how people ordinarily talk about such things. What is called a fact, what is called right, and so on. (And the "and so on" ought to cover a wide range, including what people actually do as well as what they say they think they ought to do.)
When we take this step we should see that 'right' does not mean (is not used synonymously with) 'considered by the majority to be right' and that 'fact' does not mean 'generally regarded as a fact'. If the consensus of opinion is our guide then we must speak with the vulgar, and the vulgar speak like realists. But they don't mean the philosophically objectionable things that realists mean. So we must speak and think with the vulgar in the sense of not reading philosophical mistakes like platonism into ordinary language, despite the learned temptation (compulsion, almost irresistible tendency) to do so. We must understand, that is, that language does not have--in itself--the metaphysical implications that we think it does (and that, therefore, it really does have, though only for us, not in itself ). So step two is rejecting anything that it would make sense to call relativism and going back to ordinary ways of talking, but rinsed free of the problematic philosophical entanglements that we had found there.
The more I write about this the more convinced I am that it's right but also the more I think I'm just repeating Wittgenstein. (By which I don't mean everything Wittgenstein ever wrote.) So I don't mean to take credit for ideas that aren't mine. But I don't mean to saddle Wittgenstein with my mistakes either. If this sounds like a (crude, blog-post) version of Wittgenstein then good. Perhaps I still haven't explained what I mean well enough for anybody to be able to tell though.