Philosophical Studies

, Volume 174, Issue 3, pp 659–680 | Cite as

Relativism, translation, and the metaphysics of realism



Thoroughgoing relativists typically dismiss the realist conviction that competing theories describe just one definite and mind-independent world-structure on the grounds that such theories fail to be relatively translatable even though they are equally correct. This line of argument allegedly brings relativism into direct conflict with the metaphysics of realism. I argue that this relativist line of reasoning is shaky by deriving a theorem about relativistic inquiry in formal epistemology—more specifically, in the approach Kevin Kelly has dubbed “logic of reliable inquiry”. According to the theorem, two scientists, who share some background knowledge but follow different appropriately reliable methods, will converge to relatively formally translatable competing theories, even if meaning, truth, logic and evidence are allowed to vary in time depending on each scientist’s conjectures, actions, or conceptual choices. Some final remarks on the relevance of the theorem to the incommensurability thesis that has vexed twentieth century philosophy of science are adduced.


Relativism Metaphysics of realism Translatability of theories Reliable inquiry 



This research has been co-financed by the European Union (European Social Fund—ESF) and Greek national funds through the Operational Program “Education and Lifelong Learning” of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF)—Research Funding Program: THALIS -UOA- Aspects and Prospects of Realism in the Philosophy of Science and Mathematics (APRePoSMa).


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Law, School of Applied Mathematical and Physical SciencesNational Technical University of AthensZografou, AthensGreece

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