The Crane's Walk: Plato, Pluralism, and the Inconstancy of Truth

The Crane's Walk: Plato, Pluralism, and the Inconstancy of Truth

The Crane's Walk: Plato, Pluralism, and the Inconstancy of Truth

The Crane's Walk: Plato, Pluralism, and the Inconstancy of Truth

Synopsis

In The Crane's Walk, Jeremy Barris seeks to show that we can conceive and live with a pluralism of standpoints with conflicting standards for truth--with the truth of each being entirely unaffected by the truth of the others. He argues that Plato's work expresses this kind of pluralism, and that this pluralism is important in its own right, whether or not we agree about what Plato's standpoint is.

The longest tradition of Plato scholarship identifies crucial faults in Plato's theory of Ideas. Barris argues that Plato deliberately displayed those faults, because he wanted to demonstrate that basic kinds of error or illogic have dimensions that are crucial to the establishing of truth. These dimensions legitimate a paradoxical coordination of logically incompatible conceptions of truth. Connecting this idea with emerging currents of Plato scholarship, he emphasizes, in addition to the dialogues' arguments, the importance of their nonargumentative features, including drama, myths, fictions, anecdotes, and humor. These unanalyzed nonargumentative features function rigorously, as a lever with which to examine the enterprise of rational argument itself, without presupposing its standards or illegitimately assimilating any position to the standards of another.

Today, communities are torn apart by conflicts within and between a host of different pluralist and absolutist commitments. The possibility developed in this book-a coordination of absolute and relative truth that allows an understanding of some relativist and some absolutist positions as being fully legitimate and as capable of existing in a relation to their opposites-may contribute to perspectives for resolving these conflicts.

Excerpt

This is a book about establishing truth by a type of risk-taking, and the relation of that process to the nature of truth, to being one’s self, and to living responsibly in a pluralistic society. I say “esta as a property of knowledge but also as the structure of reality.

As one central theme, I try to show that we can conceive and live with a pluralism of standpoints with conflicting standards for truth, while the truth of each is at the same time entirely unaffected by the truth of the others. That is, I shall try to show that one kind of contradiction is perfectly in order: that we can, and must, conceive the same truth as in some contexts simply absolute and in others relative. I discuss the relations and transitions between these contexts in detail.

I try to show that Plato’s dialogues express the views I present here. I first develop an account of the nature of truth through which to interpret his work, with only provisional reference to his dialogues. Once that is done, I investigate the dialogues in a continuous way. I believe that the framework I develop is necessary to understanding Plato, but I hope that it is also true and worthwhile in its own right, irrespective of whether it is accurate as an interpretation of his work.

Truth, as I understand it here and as I argue Plato also understood it, is often in conflict with itself. As a result, it often requires one to straddle incompatible sides of the fence and even wholly different types of terrain on each side of the fence: hence, I argue, the importance of Plato’s sense of humor, and of the crane’s walk in my title. When a crane walks, it moves simultaneously and apparently independently in two dimensions, vertical and horizontal. a crane can also stand equally well on one leg (or “ground”) or two.

This book, then, explores the nature and importance for truth and for our lives of what might be called a delicately poised ungainliness, or a perfect, ungainly poised elegance.

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