Relativism

Richard Wolff rwolff at minerva.cis.yale.edu
Sun Jan 15 09:43:49 MST 1995


	Brief reply to Schwartz:

	Critiques are different, too, in the ways that people understand
what they are and do. Absolutists (that which lies beyond the boundary
enclosing the various positions which I see as different but which Schwartz
wants to lump together as "relativism") seek some "ground" (valid across
theoretical frameworks/positions/perspectives) for critiques to be "valid"
by which they mean "valid across frameworks, absolutely, not merely
relative to this or that framework.

	That is not, from my perspective, possible. Critiques - arguments
that differ from and oppose other arguments - may be launched within
conceptual frameworks (by one adherent thereto against another) or across
frameworks. Changes of mind - overdetermined by an infinity of influences
- are never "the result" of any argument and hence provide no "test." We
make and purvey arguments for many reasons - convincing others sometimes
being among them.

	Schwartz is quite right that antifoundationalism does not
determine tolerance; to have argued that way would directly contradict
overdetermination. Since I like overdetermination and see it as a marked
advance over absolutism (in epistmeology) and economic, political,
and cultural determinisms (in social theory), I cannot and would not
argue that antifoundationalism determines tolerance. Tolerance is
overdetermined....which means an infinite variety of configurations of
social forces might produce it.

	Lastly - in a discussion whose repetitions seems to denote the
approach of diminshing returns - let me try to be clear about one thing.
People have made critiques like they have made scientific discoveries,
moral arguments, and political speeches: their aim to influence others'
thinking being among their complex purposes, they have thought it necessary
(and often believed it themselves) to somehow link their
critique/argument/speech to an asbolutely grounded foundation, some Truth
(in the absolute singular, of course), some "fact" (valid for everyone), etc.
They did this in the thought that if they contextualized their
argument/speech/assertion/critique, if they made it relative to their own
dimply grasped conceptual framework, others would be less likely to
believe them, to be influenced by them, to be close to them. So they
deepened absolutism by presuming it.
	My point is that Marxism stands more to gain from moving to
question absolutisms - in epistemology and in social theory - than
continuing a failed tradition of wallowing in it. Hence the interest in
"overdeterminatiopn" as one flawed but indispensable means to move in
that direction. Hence the interest in postmodernism as a wide, broad,
popular movement in thought - to parts of which Marxism has much to say
and from parts of which anti-asbolutist Marxism has much to learn -
rather than dismissing it as some undifferentiated unity that is
uniformly hostile to Marxism and its future.

R. Wolff

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