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The Social Sciences and the Two Types of Relativism

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

The social sciences have contributed a great deal to make credible two types of relativism: cognitive and cultural relativism. They constitute basic ingredients of postmodernism. Why are they held as credible? Doubtful ideas are often hyperbolic versions of true ideas. Cognitive relativism is grounded on the failure of the objective followed by the Vienna Circle and by Popper: identifying the demarcation line between science and non science and on the work of post-Popperian philosophers of science, as Kuhn. Cognitive relativism draws hyperbolic conclusions from these two sources. Cultural relativism has been legitimated by hyperbolic conclusions extracted notably from core ideas drawn from Montaigne, Hume and Max Weber. The influence of these hyperbolic conclusions is also due to the fact that they have been introduced in the market in a conjuncture where they have been perceived by various audiences as "useful" in Pareto's sense. Once this deconstruction is made, the two forms of relativism appear as less solidly grounded than they look and as less credible than postmodernists notably believe.


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