Summer School - Social Epistemology and Relativism: Historical and Systematic Issues, 3-9 July 2017, Inter-University Centre Dubrovnik, Croatia

Publish Date: Dec 26, 2016

Deadline: Mar 01, 2017

Course description

Over the last two decades social epistemology has emerged as one of the most innovative and productive fields in philosophy. At the same time, and relatedly, semantic and epistemic forms of relativism and contextualism have found a number of new, original advocates and opponents. This summer school will bring these discussions together, and in both systematic and historical perspectives.

We will discuss questions like the following: What is the relationship between epistemic and semantic relativism? Is knowledge a natural or a social kind? What implications do different answers have for issues of relativism or normativity? How does feminist epistemology conceptualize relativism and objectivity? How should we think about disagreements concerning fundamental principles of rational belief formation? What role do epistemic and semantic forms of relativism play in the sociology of knowledge? What can we learn about relativism from late nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century debates? And how should we conceptualize the relationship between judgement and cognitive relativism?

This is the second IUC Summer School organized by the Vienna ERC Advanced Grant Project “The Emergence of Relativism: Historical, Philosphical and Systematic Issues” (2014-19) in co-operation with Croatian and other colleagues.

Course Directors:

  • Prof. Martin Kusch, Univ. of Vienna
  • Prof. Jure Zovko, Univ. of Zadar

Teaching staff:

  • Dr Natalie Ashton, Univ. of Vienna
  • Dr Delia Belleri, Univ. of Hamburg & Univ. of Vienna
  • Prof. Martin Kusch, Univ. of Vienna
  • Dr Robin McKenna, Univ. of Vienna
  • Dr Thomas Raleigh, Univ. of Vienna
  • Dr Johannes Steizinger, Univ. of Vienna
  • Prof. Jure Zovko, Univ. of Zadar

Here is a brief description of the different topics:

- “Relativism in Feminist Epistemologies” (Ashton): We will look at different conceptions of relativism and objectivity in feminist epistemology. We will discuss key texts from a systematic perspective.

- "Relativism and Relativistic Semantics in Epistemology" (Belleri): When it comes to epistemic notions like knowledge and justification, we can assume (broadly construed) relativistic positions about the conditions in which knowledge itself or justification itself obtain; or we can elaborate a semantic theory that tells us when sentences like "S knows that P" or "S is justified to believe that P" are true. Various epistemological and semantic options will be presented and their mutual relationships will be analyzed.

- "Epistemic and Semantic Relativism in the Sociology of Knowledge" (Kusch): Authors developing the “Strong Programme” in the “Sociology of Scientific Knowledge” have long defended both epistemic and semantic (“finitist”) forms of relativism (e.g. David Bloor and Barry Barnes). This session will assess their proposals in light of recent philosophical discussions of related issues.

- “Naturalism and Sociologism in Contemporary Epistemology” (McKenna): In contemporary epistemology there is a divide between those who tend to view knowledge naturalistically and those who tend to view it as a kind of social product. Prominent figures on the naturalistic side of the divide include W.V.O. Quine and Hilary Kornblith; prominent figures on the social side include Robert Brandom and Martin Kusch. Many epistemologists fall somewhere in the middle (e.g. Ernie Sosa). This session will look at both sides of the divide, with a strong focus on the issues of relativism and normativity.

- “Rationality, Testimony and Disagreement” (Raleigh): Can it ever be rational to lower one's confidence in a fundamental principle of rational belief formation because an epistemic peer disagrees with you about that rational principle? We will briefly review some of the familiar issues concerning Testimony and Peer Disagreement and then go on to consider what we should say about rationality in these kinds of tricky cases.

“Historical and Sociological Perspectives: Epistemology in late 19th and early 20th Century German Philosophy” (Steizinger): We shall focus on relevant texts of historical key figures (Nietzsche, Dilthey, Simmel and Lukács), analyze their innovative methodologies (genealogy, hermeneutics, sociology of knowledge and historical materialism) and consider their contribution to the debate on relativism.


The course fee is €40. It can be waived in case of financial hardship. Successful applicants will normally have to cover the costs of their travel, hotel and meals, though financial assistance is likely to become available for students of the University of Vienna.

Applications should be sent (electronically) to: Martin Kusch

The deadline for applications is March 1st, 2017.

The application should contain a copies of degrees, a transcript of marks, a letter explaining motivation, and one letter of recommendation. The latter should be sent directly to the above email address and should reach us by March 1st. Successful candidates will be informed by April.

Martin Kusch
University of Vienna

Professor of Philosophy of Science and Epistemology
Principal Investigator 'The Emergence of Relativism'


The course is open to Master and PhD students. The language of instruction is English. The number of participants is restricted to 25. It is possible to earn 5 ECTS credits through attending the course and fulfilling the course requirements (preparatory reading, regular attendance, active participation in the discussions, oral presentation, and a final paper of around 5000 words).

For more information click "Further official information" below.

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