Philosophical Idling and Philosophical Relativity


  • For comments and discussion I wish to thank E. J. Coffman, Nathan King, Alvin Plantinga, Mitch Stokes, and an anonymous referee of the journal.


Peter Unger has challenged philosophical objectivism, the thesis that traditional philosophical problems have definite objective answers. He argues from semantic relativity for philosophical relativity, the thesis that for certain philosophical problems, there is no objective answer. I clarify, formulate and challenge Unger's argument. According to Unger, philosophical relativism explains philosophical idling, the fact that philosophical debates appear endless, philosophical disagreements seem irresolvable, and very little substantial progress seems made towards satisfactory and definite answers to philosophical problems. I argue, however, that the reality of philosophical idling is doubtful and, ironically, undermined by philosophical relativism. I then raise problems for several steps in Unger's argument for philosophical relativity. I conclude by arguing that philosophical relativism can avoid self-defeat only by an ad hoc limitation of its scope.