Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ross' rants for today

Recently Julian Baggini wrote an article in the Guardian pointing out how stupid and dangerous a na├»ve relativism about truth is. Predictably, this was followed by a small flurry of silly objection letters. On noticing the amount of overlap between such letters – and ones that had appeared previously – I thought I’d be magnanimous and offer the following ‘defending relativism schema’, thus freeing up the authors’ valuable time to deconstruct themselves.

(1) Begin by pointing out that your favourite maligned ‘continental’ philosopher believed some true proposition p. p should be some proposition that it is morally blameworthy to deny and that was denied by a prominent analytic philosopher. (Example: so-and-so thought Jews were no worse than gentiles, but Frege was an anti-semite.)

(2) Conclude that said maligned philosopher was correct about the nature of truth after all, even though this is completely unrelated.

(3) Apropos of nothing, accuse ‘analytic’ philosophers of indoctrinating their students into positivism, even though no-one is a positivist these days.

(4) Why not end with a nice ad hominem for good measure?

Oh well. Reading the Guardian often makes me angry, but I don’t seem to be able to stop. It’s strange as well – I get far less angry reading the Times, even though what’s written is generally far more repulsive. I just feel the Guardian ought to know better . . .

On a happier note: I have a fondness for amusing signs. I was particularly happy one afternoon while on a woodland walk when I saw both a sign saying ‘please don’t leave the path’ (how am I meant to get home?) and a sign saying ‘please leave the gate closed’ (how am I meant to get to the other side? – especially since I’m stuck to the path and can’t go round the gate!). But a recent good one was at a coffee stall in the train station. It said “Try one of our great cappuccino’s”. There are three mistakes there. Obviously, it’s afflicted with what I like to call ‘the undergrad apostrophe’. Secondly, the plural of ‘cappuccino’ isn’t even the apostrophe-less ‘cappuccinos’, it’s ‘cappuccini’. And thirdly, the coffee wasn’t great, it was rubbish.

As you can see, today I am working hard. I should probably go into my departmental office soon because they have a sign on the door saying “Please knock and enter”. I don’t know why they want me to go in, but I’ll be happy to oblige.

3 comments:

the aesthetic avenger said...

I'm tempted by the thought that 'cappuccinos' is ok in English. When a foreign word becomes common it's not atypical for the plural form to shift. I think.

Consider, for example, soprano/ sopranos (who the heck says soprani?)

and concerto: concertos

Craig said...

I am wishing you had included a link to the Guardian article, for I sometimes enjoy reading articles condemning naive relativism about truth. Usually they don't acknowledge that it's only naive relativism they are attacking.

You invite a question: Are you also an opponent of sophisticated relativism about truth? Or beauty or goodness? I ask because I have lately been noting a particular argument in favor of moral objectivism.

The argument runs "Argument A for moral relativism works equally real for epistemic relativism (if 'epistemic' is the word I should use), and epistemic relativism is absurd. Therefore moral relativism is also absurd". What the proponent never notices is that epistemic relativism is what we observe around us. There are in fact people walking around who see a world completely unlike the one you and I (let us stipulate) see. We call them "Crazy". Even more damaging, there are people, Intelligent Design proponents for a notable example, who look at the evidence for evolution that the whole biology community sees, and don't see any evidence for evolution.

Ian said...

Hi Craig, given your examples I'm not really sure what you mean by 'relativism'. If by that you simply mean that people disagree or have different experiences, fine. But if you mean to go from there to say that all epistemic are culturally relative or subjective in a strong sense then I fail to see how the former differences support this latter position. Either way, few people are probably going to see your "evidence" here as damaging to their views. But maybe I've misunderstood what you meant to say here.