Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Truth: A Guide, by Simon Blackburn, entry 1

"If truth is thought of as a goal that can never be attained, those who rather conspicuously do not care much about it will seem that much less villainous than they are." (pg. xvi)

In his Introduction, sets up the opposition between absolutists on the one side, and relativists on the other.  He masterfully lays out what he means by each.  Along the way there are some real gems, for example:

"[William] James describes the absolutist as having a religious temperament, whether the object of his religion is some traditional text or diety, or a new one, such as the Market, or Democracy, or Science.  This may also seem surprising, since religious lives can be full of doubt and worry and dark nights of the soul, and... in the modern world it is the relativists as much as the absolutists who belong to the cults."(xvii)

Lest you think that absolutism only reigns in the domain of religion, recall we may make many other commitments with the same fervor; in fact, we might not even have the same experiences of doubt that traditionally afflict the religious devotee.  In the last part of the above, Blackburn suggests that relativists can be as dogmatic as absolutists, making it a kind of absolutism.

He lets slip one of his own values, that we should control words and ideas rather than be controlled by them:

"I try to write with the creed that we need to think and to reflect, if we are to be in control of our words and ideas rather than be controlled by them.  In this case that means that we should not be slaves of simplistic relativisims, or equally simplistic absolutisms.  And whichever way our temperament pulls us, we should at least know where we are, and what there is to be said on the other side."(xxi)

There are some philosophers who would say that we are controlled by received words and ideas whether we know it or not and there is no way around that.  Ultimately, Blackburn is no relativist, so he at least hold out hope that we can uncover the words and ideas that control us and then take charge.

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