Against Relativism: A Philosophical Defense of Method

Against Relativism: A Philosophical Defense of Method

Against Relativism: A Philosophical Defense of Method

Against Relativism: A Philosophical Defense of Method

Synopsis

"Recent decades have witnessed the extraordinary growth of radical relativism, a doctrine which now dominates the entire culture, from popular music to journalism and from religion to school curricula. According to the radical relativist creed, any proposition can be true or false in relation to a chosen framework, the evaluation of fundamental theories or 'paradigms' is beyond argument, there are no universal standards of rationality, and, methodologically, 'Anything goes!'" "As James Harris explains in Against Relativism, the new relativism undoes the work of the Enlightenment and inevitably leads to the conclusion that Galileo was wrong to insist that the Earth indeed moves. Succor for relativism has come from many philosophical schools, both Analytic and 'Continental'. Among the sources of the new relativism are the collapse of Logical Positivism and the shift within anthropology from a linear evolutionary model to numerous models for understanding human culture. In this detailed critique, Professor Harris has selected the strongest and most plausible arguments for relativism within contemporary academic philosophy. He turns the techniques of relativism against relativism itself, showing that it is ultimately self-refuting or otherwise ineffectual. He demonstrates that Quine's rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction appeals to the very analytic truths Quine tries to dispel; that Kuhn's celebrated account of paradigms must be either self-refuting or unintelligible; that Rorty cannot avoid presuppposing the epistemological principles he attacks; and that (although feminist criticisms of science exert a welcome corrective) attempts to develop a distinctively 'feminist science' are misconceived and unhelpful to feminism. In all these discussions, the author explains the arguments he is criticizing, for the benefit of the non-specialist reader, so that this work can serve as a partisan but fair introduction to some of the most important of present-day philosophical debates." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This book is a critical and philosophical response to the various forms of radical relativism which have developed over the last few decades. Radical relativism is to be contrasted with simple relativism or cultural relativism. According to the different forms of radical relativism, basic epistemological notions such as truth, evidence, reason, rationality, and perhaps most importantly, the method of inquiry are relative to a context, frame of reference, paradigm, or cognitive scheme. The sources for such radical relativism are many, and they are located within both Anglo-American, analytic philosophy and within continental philosophy—as well as within the social sciences.

The structure of this book is the result of identifying and then responding to the most prominent, influential, and compelling sources of the different forms of radical relativism. Thus, entire chapters or sections of chapters have been devoted to the works of W.V.O. Quine, Nelson Goodman, Thomas Kuhn, Peter Winch, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Larry Laudan, and several feminist figures. Much of the recent discussion concerning the epistemological issues generated by radical relativism seems to be non-critical and glib, and to occur on a level of abstraction far removed from the detailed and considered arguments and theories which have given rise to these issues. For this reason, I have attempted to provide, in each case, enough of an initial exposition to allow the reader who is primarily interested in the methodological and epistemological issues involved in the disputes to follow the arguments, even though some readers may not have a great deal of familiarity with the original positions and theories. Thus, one advantage that the reader should find is that this book is a fairly self-contained study of those various philosophical developments which have given rise to the different forms of radical relativism.

It is very much in vogue to be a relativist of some sort or other. To that extent, if 'relativism' is understood to mean 'radical relativism' . . .

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