Relativist Fallacy

Also Known as: The Subjectivist Fallacy.


The Relativist Fallacy is committed when a person rejects a claim by asserting that the claim might be true for others but is not for him/her. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:
     Claim X is presented.
     Person A asserts that X may be true for others but is not true for him/her.
     Therefore A is justified in rejecting X.

In this context, relativism is the view that truth is relative to Z (a person, time, culture, place, etc.). This is not the view that claims will be true at different times or of different people, but the view that a claim could be true for one person and false for another at the same time.

In many cases, when people say "that X is true for me" what they really mean is "I believe X" or "X is true about me." It is important to be quite clear about the distinction between being true about a person and being true for a person. A claim is true about a person if the claim is a statement that describes the person correctly. For example, "Bill has blue eyes" is true of Bill if Bill has blue eyes. To make a claim such as "X is true for Bill" is to say that the claim is true for Bill and that it need not be true for others. For example: "1+1=23 is true for Bill" would mean that, for Bill, 1+1 actually does equal 23, not that he merely believes that 1+1=23 (that would be "It is true of Bill that he believes 1+1=23"). Another example would be "The claim that the earth is flat is true for Bill" would mean that the earth really is flat for Bill (in other words, Bill would be in a different world than the rest of the human race). Since these situations (1+1 being 23 and the earth being flat for Bill) are extremely strange, it certainly seems that truth is not relative to individuals (although beliefs are).

As long as truth is objective (that is, not relative to individuals), then the Relativist Fallacy is a fallacy. If there are cases in which truth is actually relative, then such reasoning need not be fallacious.


Jill: "Look at this, Bill. I read that people who do not get enough exercise tend to be unhealthy."
Bill: "That may be true for you, but it is not true for me."

Jill: "I think that so called argument you used to defend your position is terrible. After all, a fallacy hardly counts as an argument. "
Bill: "That may be true for you, but it is not true for me."

Bill: "Your position results in a contradiction, so I can't accept it."
Dave: "Contradictions may be bad on your Eurocentric, oppressive, logical world view, but I don't think they are bad. Therefore my position is just fine."