False Prophecy Versus True Quest A Modest Challenge to Contemporary Relativists

Joseph Agassi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A good theory of rationality should accommodate debates over first principles, such as those of rationality. The modest challenge made in this article is that relativists try to explain the (intellectual) value of some debates about first principles (absolute presuppositions, basic assumptions, intellectual frameworks, intellectual commitments, and paradigms). Relativists claim to justify moving with relative ease from one framework to another, translating chunks of one into the other; this technique is essential for historians, anthropologists and others. Thus ideas concerning false prophecy are transferable to contemporary discussions. Ancient false prophets offered illusions of overcoming difficult problems cheaply; relativists do that too. The problem that relativism purports to solve cheaply is that of legitimizing pluralism. As the absolutist theory of truth is intuitively problematic, relativism seems intuitively more acceptable, but this intuitive advantage vanishes when it manifests as false prophecy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-312
Number of pages28
JournalPhilosophy of the Social Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1992


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