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Relativism and Objectivity


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to MA students in philosophy.


There is a familiar distinction between the ways things are in themselves, out there, independently from us, and the ways things are for us, or due to us. 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 relative matters: a certain way for some of us and not others.

What is it for the world to have an objective structure, a way that it is in itself, and can we make sense of this notion? How does such am objective structure bear on our understanding of things? 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, nor the philosophical arguments and paradoxes that bear on them.

In this course, we explore influential views about the notion of an objective structure and an mind-indepent reality, and the various philosophical discussions that problematize the notions. Topics will likely include: the new riddle of induction, the rule-following paradox, ontological relativity and the model-theoretic argument, mind-independence, realism, expressivism, social construction, epistemic relativism, pragmatism, naturalness and grounding. We will likely read works by Goodman, Kripke, Quine, Putnam, Boghossian, Haslanger, Lewis, Fine and Dasgupta, 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:

  • 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.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


Students will offer a presentation on a pre-existing essay or book chapter. This is not required reading for the other students. Students will also write a short argumentative paper on a topic of their choice (covered in the course).


  • Presentation: 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 can only resubmit 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 short 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.