Relativism (from Latin relativus – relative) is a philosophical principle that emphasizes the primacy of the connection of objects before their substantial properties, the priority of integrity, the systemic nature of reality over its parts, development – before preservation. The formulation of the principle of relativism, as the unreliability and relativity of any knowledge, is first encountered in the ancient Greek sophists Protagoras and Gorgias, later in ancient skepticism, as well as in modern skepticism and English empiricism. The question of the relativity of knowledge and beliefs continually arises during periods of scientific revolutions, the change of worldview systems, in particular at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and also in our days.
The principle of physical relativism in the framework of the special and general theory of relativity is associated with philosophical relativism somewhat indirectly. Being an element of physical theory, this principle consists in rethinking the concepts of classical mechanics (time, space, mass, speed).
Moreover, within the framework of some interpretations of the special theory of relativity, there is an incorrect identification of the concept of “observer” A. Einstein with the introduction of “subjective element” into the sphere of physical interactions, with a subjective idealistic view of the dependence of reality on the knowing subject. Socio-cultural relativism is the accentuation of moments of originality and historical variability of human-sized systems (social, cultural, linguistic), their situational conditioning, isolation and incommensurability with each other. This type of relativism is usually associated with the negation of the linear development of culture, with the notion of the existence of embracing and different life forms and worldviews that structure the thinking of people of certain eras and cultures (O. Spengler).
It is adjoined by epistemological relativism, which rejects the absolute nature of philosophical categories, scientific laws, sensory concepts, cumulative development of knowledge. His supporters emphasize the loading of empirical data with theoretical interpretations, the dependence of theoretical terms on inclusion in theoretical schemes, the conditioning of theories by worldview systems and social conventions, the functional and substantive dependence of knowledge and consciousness on activity and communication, the discontinuity and unevenness of the cognitive process. As a source of epistemological relativism, the principle of “linguistic relativity” of E. Sepira – B. Worff, the thesis of “ontological relativity” by W. Kuyan, the concept of “incommensurability” (T. Kun, P. Feyerabend) and others are often considered.
Moral relativism denies the absolute character; universality and coercion, morality, emphasizing the conventionality and situational morality. At the same time, the specificity of morality as a movement from the existent to the proper is lost, and morality is subject, as a rule, to subjective predilections or social expediency (extreme variants of hedonism and utilitarianism, bordering on amoralism).
The concept of philosophical relativism is the direct result of a philosophical dispute: it arose as a form of critical appraisal of supporters of the above views from their opponents. Today this accusation sounds in the postmodernist teachings. Not being a particular doctrine, relativism in some cases is close to historicism, sociology, holism and functionalism and is opposed to substantivalism and fundamentalism.