The Road to Objectivity Is Not as Clear as Some Think

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 5, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Road to Objectivity Is Not as Clear as Some Think


While Llewellyn Rockwell Jr. was correct in chastising the journal Social Text for publishing Alan Sokal's academic parody ("A blathering of the postmodern vanities," Commentary, May 27), he was incorrect in several of his assertions about the current state of philosophy. The situation is not as clear-cut as Mr. Rockwell maintains.

Though hermeneutics did arise out of 19th-century biblical criticism, not all practitioners of hermeneutics are cultural relativists. Paul Ricoeur, for example, is one of this century's most prominent hermetical philosophers, yet one would be hard-pressed to classify him as a cultural relativist.

Ever since Rene Descartes melted his famous ball of wax, philosophy has been concerned with the question of whether we can trust our impressions of reality. The debate is not - as Mr. Rockwell states - over whether "there is no verifiable reality that exists outside our subjective impressions." Instead, the debate centers on whether we can know what external reality is like. Mr. Rockwell would do well to reread Immanuel Kant in this regard.

Mr. Rockwell's column also seems to indicate that all who question the objectivity of science deny the existence of the external world. This is not so. There is an important difference between arguing that the law of gravity is expressed through social conventions and arguing that the phenomena that the law of gravity expresses do not exist. …

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