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Relativism and Objectivity


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to MA students in the Philosophy programme "Philosophy of Knowledge".


There is a familiar distinction between the ways things are in themselves, independently from us, and the ways things are for us, or due to us. That there is a mountain is the case independently of us; that this mountain is beautiful might be how it is for us only. This distinction is of central importance to metaphysics and epistemology.
When things are a certain way ‘only’ due to us, they may also seem to be ‘merely relative’, or lacking in reality altogether. But is that the right way to think about it? And how to think of those things that are obviously socially constructed, which includes much of the social world we live in?

There are related questions about our knowledge. Is there something like ‘objective knowledge’, knowledge that any rational inquirer will arrive at if they just use the objectively correct methods, or is all knowledge ultimately based on the basic epistemic system that we happen to deploy? Is our knowledge relative to basic epistemic systems that merely reflect our ways of doing things?
No philosopher can avoid taking a stance on this family of interconnecting epistemological and metaphysical questions, nor the philosophical arguments and paradoxes that bear on them.

In this course, we explore influential views about the notion of a mind-independent reality with objective structure as well as the idea of objective correctness, and the various philosophical discussions that problematize the notions.

Topics include: the new riddle of induction, the rule-following paradox, ontological relativity and the model-theoretic argument, mind-independence, naturalness and grounding, social construction, realism, pragmatism, and various sorts of epistemic relativism.
We will read works by Nelson Goodman, Saul Kripke, W.V.O. Quine, Thomas Nagel, Richard Rorty, Paul Boghossian, Louise Antony, Iris Einheuser, Sally Haslanger, and David Lewis, amongst others.

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce students to some of the central debates in current metaphysics, 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:

  • various philosophical problems surrounding the idea of an objective structure, such as the new riddle of induction, the rule-following paradox and the model-theoretic argument;

  • various philosophical approaches to objectivity, such as realism, expressivism, social constructivism, epistemic relativism, and pragmatism;

  • various key concepts of contemptorary theoretical philosophy, such as mind-independence, social construction, naturalness and grounding;

  • some of the current methodological developments in theoretical philosophy.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • read and reflect on the required readings;

  • verbally formulate views on abstract topics and defend them against criticisms, as well as listening to others and responding to their views;

  • do the independent research required for the presentation and final paper (collecting literature, reading independently, evaluating views, and planning the draft, presentation and final version).


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars.

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


Students will write a short abstract and offer a (graded) presentation of a draft of their final paper, a final version of which is then submitted for assessment. In this way, students practice both the oral and written presentation of their own ideas.


  • Presentation + abstract (30%);

  • Final paper (70%).

The final mark for the course is established by (i) determination of the weighted average combined with (ii) additional requirements, namely of adequate participation during the seminar, which includes having attended at least 10 of the seminars, having done the readings and active participation.


The resit offers an opportunity to rewrite the final paper. The grade for the other component of assessment, the presentation, remains in place. Students can only re-submit a failed paper.

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

Feedback on the abstract+presentation as well as of the paper will be made available through Turnitin.

Reading list

Readings will be provided in the form of recent articles and book chapters.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

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


Not applicable.