Relativism (that's all, folks!)

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sun Jan 15 20:49:01 MST 1995

I think Wolff, Hannah, and I have run into an impasse. None of us seems to
be able to respond to the other's arguments in a way that the others find
satisfactory (at least I have not been able to satisfy them nor they me).
And I haven't any more to add just now that doesn't seem likely to me to
lead to more of the same. I would like, though, to remove the impression
of contempt or disrespect towards Wolff that I managed, quite
unintentionally, to convey to Hannah. Despite my disagreements with him I
have learned a lot from his work over the years and often recommend
it--especially the book on on Marxian and Neoclassical Economics--to
others. If I seem impatient it was because I thought in this round Wolff
was uncharacteristically nonresponsive to particular objections of mine.
Probably he thinks the same about me. I think I'm right, of course, but
you all will have to decide whether my points stand or whether Wolff has
answered them.

For people interested in pursuing this further, I have a piece on whether
the perspective and interested character of knowledge claims in Marxism
and elsewhere renders them self-defeating, ideological, or merely
relative. It's called "The Paradox of Ideology," Canadian Journal of
Philosophy, Dec 1993. The paper is cast in the form of a reading of Marx
on ideology, so it has some scholarly as well as substantive interest.

By the way, my own antifoundationalist views owe relatively little to
modern relativists, except perhaps Kuhn, Goodman, and Rorty, and a great
deal more to old absolutists, like Kant, Hegel, and Marx, and to
post-positivist scientific realists like Quine, (the old) Putnam, Sellars,
Richard Boyd, and the like. For anyone interested in a scientific realist
survey of modern relativism, I recommend the latter chapters of Michael
Devitt's Realism and Truth, 2nd ed. (the first will do in a pinch), which
is written in a plain, clear, accessible style without a lot of the
needless sophistication of too much analytical philosophy.

I'm leaving this thread now.

Absolutely yours,

Justin Schwartz


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