Realism versus Relativism: Towards a Politically Adequate Epistemology

  • Anne Seller


Within feminism, the argument between realism and relativism appears to be both acute and political. I shall examine this argument, primarily from a political point of view. My philosophical education taught me to follow reason wherever it went and to distrust political considerations. My experience as a feminist has taught me to stick by my political commitments even when I appear to have lost the argument. In this paper I am trying to reconcile this conflict and I hope to demonstrate that, at least in social and political spheres, the political is, and should be, given equal consideration to the epistemological. I shall do this by first looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the two positions, and suggest that the differences are not as great as first appears, because both need to appeal to the same community, in the same way, in order to decide what is the case and what we should do about it. I call this community a ‘community of resistance’, borrowing the term from liberation theology,1 and I see it not merely as a way of being with other people, but as a way of being in, and knowing, the world; a way which sees both politics and knowledge as process, rather than as achievement. While the paper appears to be about relativism, my main concern is to make explicit the way in which this community offers the democratic epistemology which I seek.


Nuclear Power Station Child Leukaemia Political Commitment Political Sphere False Consciousness 
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© Morwenna Griffiths and Margaret Whitford 1988

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  • Anne Seller

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