FILO Research Subject Contemporary Philosophy

Course content

FIK04061U  FILO Forskningsfag filosofi

Teachers: Leo Catana, Nana Kongsholm, Klemens Kappel

Relativism is an influential and yet highly controversial position in philosophy. Since it was first formulated in ancient Greek philosophy many different forms of relativism have been stated and defended, but all remain highly controversial in academic philosophy. More recently, forms of cultural relativism embedded in historicism, social constructivism and certain forms of postmodernism has exerted great influence in academia more broadly, in art and culture, in politics, and in society at large. The course will offer a very brief general overview of various forms of relativism as an introduction to more recent scholarly discussions of relativism in three domains: history of philosophy, bioethics and epistemology. The aim of the course is that participants write a paper (11-15 pages) within one of the three topics of the course. Unlike assignments in most other courses, the paper should have the form and content suitable for a research contribution, that is, a paper to be published in a philosophy journal (of course, there is no requirement that the paper should actually be published). To assist and guide students in this, a central part of the course will be a writing workshop where we will focus on feed-back and challenges in the writing process.


The course will be organized as follows. First, we will have a common part where we introduce the general topics, provide instruction about writing processes, feed-back and literature search. Next, we will offer three consecutive and independent course parts, each introducing one of the main topics. The final part of the course will be organized as a joint writing workshop to facilitate the writing of the final exam paper.


Language of instruction: English

Assignments can be written in Danish or in English.


General literature on relativism:

Baghramian, Maria, ’Relativism’, Stanford Encyclopedia,

A Companion to Relativism, ed. Steven D. Hales (2011), available in REX in digital form.


More detailed literature for each of the topics will be made available later on Absalom.

Topic 1. Relativism in Aristotle’s Ethics

Relativism originated in Ancient Greek Philosophy. It emerged among some sophists arguing for epistemological and moral relativism, and their respective views were discussed by Plato and Aristotle, among others. In this course, relativism in the context of history of philosophy will focus on Aristotle’s Ethics II.1. Here it is claimed that all human beings are endowed with the potential to develop virtues of character by nature. It is also claimed, however, that the actual development of virtues of character in individuals is not determined by nature, but by upbringing and inculcated, cultural traditions. The latter feature seems to imply that virtues of character are relative. This passage in the Ethics has given rise to a discussion among modern virtue ethicists about the objectivity of the virtues of character in Aristotelian virtue ethics. We shall look closely at the mentioned passage in Aristotle’s Ethics and discuss a representative selection of the main positions pertaining to this particular discussion about Aristotle’s Ethics.

Topic 2. Relativism in global bioethics

Much of bioethical theory and medical ethics is guided by ethical principles held to be universal in nature, such as autonomy, equality and justice. However, it is increasingly recognized that such concepts and principles do not carry the same moral weight outside the realm of Western ethics in which they originated, and that this in turn has implications for the validity of our bioethical inquiries and their results in non-Western contexts. The question then arises: should we stick to our tried-and-true universal ethical and moral principles in such contexts, or should we allow our moral concepts and principles to be loosened, modified and perhaps suspended relative to the local cultural setting? In this part of the course we will be discussing this matter, covering theoretical ground pertaining to (among others) values in bioethics and medical ethics, value pluralism, cultural relativism, pragmatism and casuistry. To situate our theoretical discussions we will also be looking at case studies regarding medical research in Africa and Pakistan.

Topic 3. Epistemic relativism

Epistemic relativism is the view that what counts as knowledge or justified belief may vary from culture to culture, or may vary with other features. In the most plausible forms, this is because the epistemic standards required for knowledge or justified beliefs are culturally variable. An implication of this view may be that western scientific standards of evidence and inquiry may not, in a certain sense, be universally valid, unlike what is often supposed. Epistemic relativism is an influential view in the broader academic landscape, for example in various forms of social constructivism and post-modernisms. In this part of the course, we will look a recent defenses and critical discussions of epistemic relativism.





Kandidatuddannelse Filosofi.

KA-Tilvalg Filosofi.

Learning outcome

At the examination, the student can demonstrate:

Knowledge and understanding of

 problems and arguments in a defined discussion in current research literature in theoretical philosophy, practical philosophy or in current history of philosophy.

Skills to:

 contextualise topical discussions in current philosophy with reference to classical philosophical problems

Competencies to:

 participate constructively and critically in current research, e.g. by writing short research texts.

Type of assessment
Written assignment
Take-home assignment, optional subject, following active class participation.
Active class participation consists of:
 3 approved assignments, each of 2-4 standard pages.
 The student must give feedback on 3 assignments written by fellow students.
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Course Preparation
  • 353,5
  • English
  • 409,5