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Relativism and Objectivity


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Knowledge

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Natural Sciences

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Psychology


There are all sorts of matters about which we have an inclination to say: “That’s not fully objective but only holds relative to something. It’s not part of reality as it is in itself.” This course will look at different ways of making such thoughts precise and different views about the epistemology and metaphysics of apparently relative matters.

What should we think of intellectual disagreements, can two conflicting parties sometimes both be right? Are facts ‘constructed’? Are things coloured ‘out there’ when things have different colours to different perceivers? Is there such a thing as ‘relative truth’ or ‘relative knowledge’? No philosopher can avoid taking a stance on this family of interconnecting epistemological and metaphysical questions.

In the first half of the course, we lay the groundwork for our discussion by reading (most) of Boghossian’s much discussed book Fear of Knowledge: against Relativism and Constructivism. This will be supplemented with recent articles and book chapters.

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce students to some of the central debates in current epistemology and philosophical methodology. Our focus throughout will be on philosophical discussion and argumentation, not only between the philosophers that we read but also amongst ourselves.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • what is involved in knowing something;

  • the ways in which knowledge may fail to be objective;

  • differe theoretical approaches to subjective and relative matters;

  • current developments in theoretical philosophy.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • formulate their views on abstract questions and defend them against criticisms;

  • write in a confident, informed and precise manner about current issues in theoretical philosophy; including epistemology, metaphysics and the philosophy of language (broadly construed).


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


Students will work their way to a final paper, by first writing an abstract and giving an oral presentation of the content of their paper (as one would at a philosophy conference). Feedback on the abstract and talk are to be incorporated in the final paper. The aim is to give students a taste of the standard academic practice in philosophy.


  • Abstract + talk (30%)

  • Short paper (70%)

These assignments need to be completed in order to pass the course. Similarly, proper attendance and preparation are required to pass the course.


The resit offers an opportunity to redo the final paper. The grade for the other component of assessment remains in place. Students who have obtained a satisfactory overall grade for the first examination cannot take the resit. Attendance and active participation in class is required for admission to the resit.

Inspection and feedback

Essays and feedback will be made available through Turnitin.

Reading list

Readings will be provided, mostly in the form of recent articles, but we will occasionally read book chapters. Although it’s available through the University Library as e-book, students can consider buying:

  • Boghossian, P. (2006). Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism. Oxford University Press.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga


Not applicable.