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Confusing Relativism, Absolutism, Multiculturalism and Pluralism
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2012-01-18 08:08:51
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There are no facts only interpretations and this itself is an interpretation.


One of the most frequent, most brazen attacks on modern thought is the one carried on by assorted Straussian classicists and absolutists of many stripes and persuasions. The stratagem seems to be this: show that modern and post-modern thought leads to relativism, then that relativism in turn leads to pluralism and multi-culturalism. Thereupon attack multiculturalism and pluralism as a cancer on the body politic and the very unity of Western Civilization, never mind that quite often these attacks are redolent of the xenophobia and rabid nationalism, even fascism of old.

In philosophy we have the famous case of Strauss and Momigliano branding Isaiah Berlin a shameless relativist and stubbornly persisting in the charge even when Berlin defended himself and denied it in the New York Review of Books. In Politics we have nowadays none other than Sarkozi and Merkel encouraging the demise of the multiculturalist experiment in the European Union. They don’t exactly advocate a return to good old nationalism or fascism, but the message come through loud and clear nonetheless: you need to conform and assimilate or your life will become uncomfortable in the EU. In effect those two myopic visionless political leaders have transformed the issue of multiculturalism in one of clash of civilizations; a dangerous explosive issue if there ever was one.

Without going into the more political and social aspects of this issue I’d like, more modestly, to show here that it is a logical and philosophical fallacy to equate pluralism with relativism; that in fact the arguments in that regard are a gross equivocation,  a red herring meant to distract from the real agenda of those anti-multicultural right wing politicians (I am thinking of the Wilder and Bossi type now) bend on bringing back good old nationalism, totalitarian regimes, even advocating secession from the countries in which they operate, as is the case with Umberto Bossi and the Lega Party which he founded in Italy.

The exploration will delve mostly with the philosophy of hermeneutics of a current modern philosopher: Gianni Vattimo whom I had the good fortune of having as a teacher at Yale University in the late seventies in a course he gave there on Giambattista Vico. I distinctly remember some face to face conversations I had with Vattimo where I tried to establish his philosophical pedigree, so to speak. It soon became apparent that he follows a philosophical line which goes directly from Vico to Nietzsche through Heidegger to Hans Georg Gadamar (as student of Heidegger like Strauss and an influential Vico scholar in his own right). In that genealogy Vattimo would be the philosophical great-grandson of Vico, the grandson of Nietzsche/Heidegger and the son of Gadamer. As was the case for his predecessors in the field of hermeneutic beginning with Vico, for Vattimo hermeneutics is much more than one branch of philosophy; it is the constitutive element of philosophy itself. It is well known in philosophical circles that hermeneutics acquired great importance in the 20th century, especially in “turn to language” as advocated by Heidegger and pioneered by Vico in the 18th century via The New Science.

After this rather lengthy but necessary preamble, we will begin with this crucial question: Is pluralism possible without relativism?  Some clear definitions may be needed at the outset. What do we mean by pluralism? Essentially this: the idea that there are multiple avenues to truth, multiple forms of truth, and multiple diverse (and potentially radically different) cultural lifeworld expressions operative at the same time and this forms are historical as well as geographical situated in time and space. The Strussians debunk this as historicism unconcerned with universals, but then some of them become self-declared experts in Far Eastern cultures to better stand apart from the unwashed ignorant oi polloi. They even go around speaking mandarin knowing full well that few can judge their knowledge of the language. Oh my, are we confused.

What do we mean by relativism? Basically, the belief that all of these various expressions are in some sense "equally true" and/or the notion that even if there were one right final truth to the universe we humans would never be able to ascertain it. As Vico put it, man can only know with great certitude what he himself has made (languages, institutions, history) and to whose origins he can return, not what God and not him has made: Nature and the natural world. Even Plato who is considered the grandfather of absolutists of all persuasions, after recounting the myth of the cave exclaims: “only the gods know if this is true.”

Nevertheless those two views are conjoined so that relativism is portrayed as a sub-set of pluralism. But is that really the case? Pluralism may indeed be hallmark of postmodernism but not so relativism. Pluralism does not necessarily need to hold that all views are equal, as relativism does. Relativism takes the existence of plurality and then makes a decision that we cannot know how to judge between these various expressions of life and says that they are all equal and not to be compared and not to be judged.

Paradoxically, the statement that all views are equal is an absolute position, undermining relativism. The statement that all views are relative and in relation to one another is in fact  correct. The idea that all views are related to other views and that no view springs out of the ether of Mount Olympus or outside of time and space completely on its own does not mean all those views are equally valid. That is to say, post-postmodernism accepts the pluralism that is already there in the postmodern world and then seeks ways to integrate it. This approach is different than any attempt to reinforce a single narrative (i.e. the modern world) upon the various diverse forms of expression in existence. 

Enter Vattimo. His work is built around what he calls "weak thought". Weak thought refers to the station of thought and philosophy in the context of life after modernity--that is after the death of European colonialism, the 20th century's horrors, the rise of globalization, and the end of the Cold War. The opinions, views, and commitments we hold must necessarily be "weakened" in this age which Vico would place in the third era of extreme rationality. Vattimo, as I remember is quite fond of quoting this famous saying of Nietzsche: There are no facts only interpretations and this itself is an interpretation.

Nietzsche called the coming dissolution of modernity (and he was a prophet in that respect), the "fabling of the world." The postmodern world is a fable; or in Vattimo's terms, weak thought, which is to say the kind of logic one sees in fables, myths and fairy tales, is now the “weak” reality of life. According to modern thought which begins with the Descartes and Enlightenment rationalism, life followes an objective system of progress and rationality. But for Nietzsche the modern world's self-view was not fact but interpretation. Vattimo insists in keeping both halves of that Nietzschean aphorism in mind: 1. There are no facts only interpretations and 2. Number 1 is itself an interpretation. The first point undercuts the modern view of pure objectivity. The second point prevents the postmodern insight concerning interpretation to become its own "fact."

Hermeneutics is nothing else but the study of meaning and interpretation. This was brought home to me in the Vico course I took under Vattimo at Yale University. Later, after writing a Ph.D. dissertation on Vico I ended up writing a book titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of Giambattista Vico (Mellen Press, 1993).  For Vattimo, what hermeneutics has revealed is a thoroughly pluralized world. He writes that we can no longer believe in a final objective metaphysical view of the universe—that is to say, a universe that perfectly describes the way things actually are.

Lately I have been reviewing Heidegger’s thought via a book with which a friend and colleague who is an expert on Heidegger has gifted me (The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger edited by Charles Guignon). What come through in that book is that Heidegger persuasively argued that the attempt by metaphysics to describe rationally all of life under a single heading (God, Being, Truth, etc.) has destroyed our ability to actually live in the world and that the manifestation of this trend in our day is science. For Heidegger this tendency to describe, control, and frame existence under the term of metaphysics led to the "oblivion of Being" or the human inability to live graciously in the world. Instead of first living in the mystery of existence, we seek to control, describe, and explain life and end up dehumanizing ourselves.  For Heidegger as indeed for the anti-Cartesian Vico earlier, the best way to relate is through a kind of poetic-like relationship to the world. We let it arise and speak to us in its mysterious language instead of trying to impose upon life our categories of thought, for Nature is a shy maiden and will not be violated and dominated and observed naked. The truth too may be a shy maiden not to be used as a weapon of sort. This is what Heidegger describes as the post-metaphysical world.

Vattimo too argues that this trajectory arises from the early foundations of Christianity, that Christianity eventually destroys metaphysics. Atheism is another form of metaphysics for him. The post-metaphysical world, the post-modern world, the world that is an interpreted fable, is one in which there are a plurality of cultures, languages, and life-worlds enacted by various beings on the planet. No one of them can ever be final.  So how do we deal with plurality without falling into the trap of relativism? Vattimo nowhere says that all views are equal and, like Berlin, he never declares himself a relativist. For Vattimo the ethical implications of weak thought is charity. Love is better than the rejection of love and therefore not all views are equal and we must love each other in our differences.

It is not hard to see that for this version of a postmodern worldview which recommends the “weak power” of love as a guiding ethical construct of a plural world would find unacceptable any theory that denies or represses plurality denying charity and forgiveness. Some of these world views that Vattimo would find flawed include religious fundamentalism, scientific materialism, and last but not least cultural relativism. Vattimo is concerned with bringing views, languages, and peoples at the periphery into the middle of the discourse. Vattimo in effect has given an answer to the Straussian classical absolutists’ debunking modern thought. Pluralism can hold on to ethical values that have meaning, practice love and forgiveness across cultural differences, reject violence, intolerance and relativism.

What did Shakespeare say: Maturity is all. I suppose part of maturity at every level is the ability to live with ambiguity. The greater one's ability to live with ambiguity, the more mature one is. Most absolutists seem to be unable to accomplish such a feat; they need absolute certainty and are too clever and elitists by half for their own good. Vattimo's weak thought on the other hand, as a form of pluralism is quite mature, the way cultural relativism can never be. Cultural relativism recoils from the ambiguity of pluralism, of post-metaphysics and historicism taking refuge in the easy position of everything being equally right and so no view can ever be judged. Indeed one can do worse than becoming a pluralist and a multiculturalist; one can become a relativist or an absolutist.


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Emanuel Paparella2012-01-18 10:01:32
Footnote: it should be pointed out that Gianni Vattimo is currently a Europarlamentarian thus furnishing us with a sterling example of the synthesis of theory and praxis. Indeed, one can count on one's finger tips good philosophers who are also good politicians and legislators nowadays.

Marco Andreacchio2012-01-18 16:18:54
Mr. Paparella,
Where did either Strauss or Momigliano *ever* call Berlin "shameless"?

Mr. Emanuel,

You seem to agree with Dick Keyes' characterization of pluralism. "Pluralism," says Keyes, "states that there is a plurality of religious and philosophical options."

However, pace Keyes, pluralism does not offer merely the trivial teaching that "there is a plurality of religious and philosophical options." Everybody--from Hitler to the drunk in the street--agrees with that, at least in some sense.

What pluralists such as Berlin and Vattimo claim is that the *principles* of philosophy and/or religion are chosen! The pluralist reduces philosophical principles to the plane of opinion, approaching, say, the Platonic "Ideas," as *some* among *others*--as if Plato were speaking of a particular set of opinions among others, instead of speaking of the *essences* of things (to speak with the Latin Aristotle). Again, for the pluralist, there are as many *philosophies* as there are *philosophers*: just as there is Plato's philosophy (an option *for us*) so is there Hitler's philosophy (may God forgive me for this perverted manner of speech!): there is a plurality of *philosophies* but not Philosophy singulare tantum. Likewise, there is no *Idea of the Good* singulare tantum, but only a plurality of "ideas" of the Good: Plato's Idea and Hitler's Idea: we cannot KNOW which one is better than another, since there is no philosophical standard for all "philosophies" (now reduced to particular practices of conceptualization). We can only BELIEVE that one is better than another. Reason cannot tells us which end is better than another; it can merely tells us which means are conducive to which ends: the only reason we have at our disposal is instrumental. In sum, there are no RATIONAL grounds for choosing (A) what Plato ultimately stands for, over (B) what Hitler ultimately stands for. As far as we can KNOW, (A) and (B) are of equal value. The adjudication of ultimate value depends upon belief. Ultimate value is given from WITHOUT, and it is thus not INHERENT (i.e., based on knowledge or science). But this is merely to restate the proposition that you have already branded as sophistry of the most reprehensible kind.

I should further my earlier argument, lest today's intervention contribute nothing new to the investigation of truth. It seems that for pluralists the only *knowable* (self-evident) universal standard of right and wrong must be pluralism itself, which, in turn, presupposes a value-free (properly speaking, unknowable) form of all values--neither one personal God, nor the Idea of the Good. For, pluralism needs a singular "horizon" in order to standardize all values, or to view the plurality of values as open-ended. Such an horizon or "form" cannot be merely Kantian, for it must include Kantian principles (what Kant ultimately stood for, including his "unity of apperception") no less than Platonic principles (the Ideas) and Nazi principles (sc. the Geist of the Reich).

Sometimes pluralists speak of the value-free form of all values as "History"--a form that as far as we can KNOW, is beyond good and evil. For at best we can BELIEVE that it is ultimately good (we do not *know* that ultimately all shall be for the best). But to do so is to conjoin historicism, or historical relativism, with belief in one supreme *good* God. Yet, in either case, History rules supreme over all "values"--Plato's Idea of the Good and the Mosaic God included. History as ultimate point of reference of all values emerges as synthesis of Platonic impersonality and Mosaic personality. Again, its goodness can be believed in, but it cannot be known. Yet it cannot be believed in merely as the Hebrew people could have believed in the goodness of its own God. Rather, it *must* be believed in through a fundamental, immediate *intuition* grounding all possible considerations and arguments: it must be believed in *existentially* of *fatefully*--as a matter of "destiny." For here we are speaking of the existential ground of all beliefs/values--a ground that irrupts upon all values (and reasons) at a point where all values have been brought into question, or in a time of crisis of values, an age of disbelief. The belief in the goodness of History is indistinguishable from belief in the goodness of the belief in History: the belief in History is one with History itself; to believe in History is to carry on the workings of History in the age of disbelief--the final age/stage of History, when all past possibilities become present ("groundless") actualities, or when time converts into space. Then--i.e. *now*--we no longer work for the actualization of possibilities, but for the conversion of actualities into a single unknowable possibility. This singular possibility is History coinciding with its belief. History, we might say, converges into a belief that carries (on) with it all historical actualities (once, possible beliefs), *liberating* them into a realm of radical or ungrounded possibility--a realm of freedom cut off from all natural necessity. Here, what is right is what expresses itself freely, or rather what expresses itself as freedom. But freedom is disclosed in or through the universal and thus impersonal belief in History--a belief that posits itself as absolutely or self-evidently right. Universal liberation (freedom of expression as expression of freedom) is disclosed by and bound to a belief beyond question--a universal moral imperative.

For those who believe that the argument above is inadequate, Strauss's reasonings on Berlin's relativism can help:

In recent times V has taken up the rosary, again. But--he declares--for no reason at all.

Could boredom mark the dawn of a new religion?

Emanuel Paparella2012-01-18 17:18:22
The above comment is exemplary, if one was indeed needed, of the utter confusion of terms and concepts as stated in the title of my piece. In the first place let the reader take careful notice that in a former comment a few weeks ago the same commentator identified himself in two modes: first as “Roman Stranger” and then as Marco Andreacchio, redolent of Nietzsche at a certain point of his life signing himself “Dionysius.” Having recovered the unity of the self, this time around he has abandoned the “Roman Stranger” designation but has proceeded to address his interlocutor as Mr. Paparella and then as Mr. Emanuel, indicating, at the very least, some confusion in the relationship he should assume toward his interlocutor, or perhaps a confusion of intentions as the disparate salutations reveal. The question arises: is the intention a conversation and a dialogue (which is what philosophy is from its very inception) or a diatribe ad hominem, and winning an argument? That exemplified confusion, I submit, should already alert the reader at the outset as to the confusion apparent in the overall comments of Mr. Andreacchio, or the former “Roman Stranger” as the case may be, which again proves the overall point of the article, namely that assorted absolutists simply fail to grasp that being a multi-culturalist does not necessarily mean being a relativist, as Berlin well asserted and defended in answering the unfair charges of relativism leveled against him by Strauss and Momigliano. That simple point, was apparently lost on Mr. Andreacchio.

The reader should also take careful notice how the whole issue of multi-culturalism vis a vis natonalism, xenophobia and even fascism, very relevant to today’s EU and as brought about by absolutists of the Bossi and Wilder ilk, is very conveniently by-passed. Interesting that Vattimo as a Europarlamentarian (who says the rosary, as Mr. Andreacchio reminds us sardonically…) is now fighting that kind of fascist mind-set in the EU parliament; a mind-set which wants to evict from the EU all Moslems who do not conform to Western customs and mores... I would suggest, that before we are all fooled by the sophistic rhetoric evident in this comment we ponder carefully the phenomenon of pitting culture against culture and civilization against civilization alive and well in present day EU. I would strongly suspect in fact that Mr. Andreacchio has strong affinities toward a Wilder or a Bossi. In any case that omission is in itself evealing and red flag.

One is indeed left to wonder why statuettes of the bust of Mussolini are making a brisk business in Rome nowadays, as anyone who has traveled to Rome recently, as a stranger or as a tourist, can amply testify to.

Emanuel Paparella2012-01-18 17:39:01
P.S. A brief follow-up: consider the very first sentence addressed to Mr. Emanuel: “You seem to agree with Dick Keyes' characterization of pluralism. ‘Pluralism,’ says Keyes, ‘states that there is a plurality of religious and philosophical options.’”
The above is an ancient sophistic device parading as rigorous logic: you take a definition which may or may not be true, and put it in the mouth of somebody who may or may not be an authority on the subject and may or may not agree with it (Keyes in this case), then you declare that “you seem to agree” with so and so (the fellow in whose mouth you have put the definition) and create an equivocation making it look as if both Keys and Paparella agree and promote that definition, whether or not in fact they do. Meanwhile the confusion between pluralism and relativism remains standing. As Cicero put it: o tempora, o mores.

Emanuel Paparella2012-01-19 11:46:16
P.S.S.Concerning the question addressed to Mr. Emanuel, nowhere do I say that either Mogmigliano or Strauss called Berlin “shameless.” What I do say is that they considered his relativism reprehensible and blatant and therefore shameless. The adjective “shameless” modifies relativism, not Berlin. Besides, what is truly shameless is to persist on leveling the charge against a man and continue calling him a relativist after he has denied the charge of relativism and defended himself against it. But alas, that too was lost on Mr. Andreacchio, for some reason or other. I wonder why!

Emanuel Paparella2012-01-19 11:53:42
Errata: the question on "shamelessness" was not addressed to Mr. Emanuel but to Mr. Paparella.

Marco Andreacchio: On Rel2012-01-19 20:40:18
Mr. Paparella,

Would you not agree with Strauss that "relativism has many meanings"? But is it not by its very nature that relativism has many meanings?

The many meanings of relativism would be possible only if at its root relativism pertained to first or ultimate things--to principles--which the relativist treats as relative to particular choices, as if principles were "options."

It would follow that for the relativist the value-difference between (A) what Plato ultimately stands for and (B) what Hitler ultimately stands for cannot be KNOWN, but only BELIEVED in. ERGO: (A) and (B) are of "equal inherent value." Otherwise, there would be "universally valid" (intelligible) principles of the constitution of (A) and (B)--principles in the light of which we could KNOW that (A) is superior or inferior to (B).

Does the pluralist (viz. Berlin or Vattimo) acknowledge that we can have *knowledge* or scientia of THE principles of morality? Does he acknowledge that there are universal principles inherent in the constitution of all moral ends--principles that make it, at least in principle, possible for us to KNOW that (A) is better than (B)? If the answer is "no," then the pluralist is a relativist.

I am open to the possibility of a refutation. Expressionism won't suffice.

Emanuel Paparella2012-01-19 21:21:05
Sorry, but I refuse to be drawn in sophistic argumentations. What I said and what Vattimo and Berlin have had to say of the charge of relativism leveled against them by the likes of Strauss and Momigliano stands or falls on its own. I’ll say this much however, and it echoes Vattimo and Berlin’s thought as described above: most bloody wars and destructive conflicts have been brought about by absolutists with absolute strong metaphysical principles to defend, mostly men and mostly on the right of the political spectrum, men who like to raise their voice and like to intimidate and could not bring themselves to accept the salutary Christian message that our salvation lies in “weak thought” to say it with Vattimo, i.e., in loving each other beyond our cultural differences and exercising tolerance and moderation in our social dealings. It is not right even philosophically to proceed to slander and ad hominem arguments, to use truth as a weapon of sort by and avoid convivial dialogues because one is absolutely sure that one has the “truth” on one’s side. In today’s multicultural, multi-ethnic, gender and age neutral world women seem to understand such a message much better than men, especially those men who are in a position of leadership and go around preaching the gospel of hatred and intolerance and have declared multiculturalism and tolerance dead. To the contrary consensus and conversation is at the very beginning of philosophical dialogues and of any kind of decent society. I’ll take the feminist approach any time, over the absolutist one.

Marco Andreacchio2012-01-19 21:49:47
Mr. Paparella,

Simply branding your critic a "sophist" shan't suffice, either.

I do not think it self-evident that democracy is incompatible with moral truth and knowledge (distinguished from mere belief), or that our epistemic ends are radically incommensurate with our moral ends.

In fact, it strikes me as commonsensical to suppose that the philosophical quest for *the* truth is our only available way out of a battle of beliefs irreducible to common principles of morality--principles that carry with themselves the possibility of moral KNOWLEDGE transcending mere opinions.

Mr. Vattimo has yet to prove that the battle of beliefs is overcome by trashing moral knowledge/science or *the* quest thereto.

Emanuel Paparella2012-01-19 22:02:32
And you have yet to prove to me and Vattimo that most of the most pernicious cultural conflicts have been started and carried out by absolutists defending their sacrosanct principles. I stand by my designation of sophistry parading as philosophical conversation.

Marco Andreacchio2012-01-20 01:30:35
Mr. Paparella,
Pluralists beg the question by speaking of *THEIR* principles--as if principles were "subjective" or *relative.*

Socrates does not speak of THE IDEAS as "his own"--as if the Ideas were *his own opinions; as if "The Ideas" would cease to be with Socraticism.

This is where I would argue that you and Vattimo are mistaken: you confuse principles (first things) with *options* (things we choose on the basis of principles). But PRINCIPLES ARE NOT OPTIONS--by definition.

The confusion in question leads you to an apparent incapacity to give a *reason* for your ultimate choices.

It is easy to base a choice on a BELIEF. But this is not what we teach kids in school, do we! We teach them to give a REASON for their claims--to ARGUE for their "theses." Am I wrong?

Now, is the rational argumentation that is good for youth, expendable for grownups? Do we teach youth to seek reasons merely in anticipation of later days when they shall no longer need to give a genuinely public account of their actions and beliefs? What shall replace rational accounts? Roses? Guns? Both?

Why should I prefer *your* reading of Christianity as "weak thought" to St. Thomas Aquinas' reading of Christianity containing a "strong" metaphysical doctrine?

In the attempt to give an account of the reason why you reject rationalism (although you did not call it a reason), you appealed to social harmony, or peace. Yet, it is not at all clear that harmony would be established by *exiling* Philosophy from the Polis.

You write as if prior to Philosophy there were no strife. And yet, elsewhere you profess that strife is fundamental--that Platonists are (absolutely?) *wrong* in claiming that peace is fundamental (incidentally, Dante indicates this much in the De Monarchia).

Now, it is utterly unconvincing that Philosophy (with a capital "P"), which is supposed to MODERATE strife by exposing its conditions of possibility (its Principles), should be SHUNNED in the name of harmony.

To be sure, Vattimo does not claim that we should "shun" Philosophy/Platonism/Rationalism. He merely sets out to *domesticate* it. He tells Philosophy what it should be and what it should not be. He wants to make a non-philosophical USE of Philosophy. But is *this* not Sophistry as understood and opposed by Plato?

What is the point in criticizing Platonism and Sophistry at the same time?

You see, Mr. Paparella, I remain open to reasons; expressionism shan't suffice. My argument is not valid only for you. In this sense it is not "personal." Rather it stands *for anyone* or *universally.* In this sense it is *impersonal.* This does not make it meaningless. It definitely does not make it unjust, unless by Justice you mean private utility uprooted from our common nature.

You have attempted to defend your claims, but so far have failed to convinced me because of your lack of care for exposing your reasons.

Our beliefs remain mute in the public sphere as long as they are not defensible. But how are we to defend a belief if not by exposing its ground or reason? If that ground is solid enough, our belief shall withstand criticism. Otherwise, in the absence of firm grounds, shall we still hold onto our belief? On what basis if not one constructed and imposed ex machina? Surely sweet words alone shan't suffice to support our non-rational belief. Some believe that sugarcoated arms are enough. These fellows do not participate in what Oakeshott would call "The Conversation of Mankind." That Conversation is Philosophy itself. Philosophy with a capital "P"--not vacuous Discourse covering up lack lack of reason.

Philosophy accessible to Mankind as a whole--to every human being, independently of time, place, gender, economic standing, ethnicity, or what have you: this is what Oakeshott meant by "The Conversation of Mankind." In this precise sense did Langiulli invoke the term in closing his critique of Rorty's "folly."

Emanuel Paparella2012-01-21 15:10:24
As mentioned in my essay above, the problem with absolutists is that they cannot live with ambiguity. I wonder if those absolutists confusing multiculturalism with relativism and persisting in their blunder, have ever heard of the latest findings of physical science which is beginning to speak of multiverse. A paradox for sure but I dare say that living with paradoxes and ambiguities is part of living a human life.

Marco Andreacchio2012-01-22 16:54:41
Mr. Paparella,

Do you draw any distinction between moral reasoning and sophistry? Is the reasoned quest for beliefs' grounds by its very nature sophistical?

Your appeal to ambiguity reminds me of a good 1981 Italian book on the difference between classical mystery and postmodern absurdity: "Il pensiero non è un labirinto. Dialettica e mistero" [Thought is not a labyrinth: Dialectic and Mystery] by Guido Sommavilla, S.J.

Emanuel Paparella2012-01-22 18:46:55
After recounting the myth of the cave, Plato exclaims “Whether it is true or not, only the god knows.” After reading that statement one cannot but wonder if it ever gives any pause to absolutists of various persuasion and what the connection might be between absolutism and totalitarianism.

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