Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed

Robyn Arianrhod, Author . Oxford Univ. $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-19-518370-2

Admirably sketching the battle lines currently staked out over the idea of objective truth, a Cambridge professor of philosophy makes his subject lively and accessible even as he parts some of its deepest waters, with absolutists-traditionalists-realists on the one side and relativists-postmodernists-idealists on the other. The absolutists believe in "plain, unvarnished objective fact"; the relativists say with Nietzsche, "There are no facts, only interpretations." Blackburn scrutinizes the claims of both sides with a collegial but critical eye, carefully distinguishing positions and identifying places where the two sides are speaking past each other, covering, among others, Protagoras, Plato, Hume, James, Nagel, Wittgenstein, Locke, Rorty and Davidson. He constructs a simple diagram that makes sense of four contrasting attitudes toward truth: eliminativism, realism, constructivism and quietism. Out of this inquiry emerges a middle position: truth is real if accepted in a minimalist way; relativism is not necessarily incoherent; and we can respond to science with "well-mannered animation" that is indistinguishable from belief. As Blackburn recognizes, this solution will not please everyone: absolutists may find it treasonous, relativists too conservative. But the overall result is to salvage a plausible version of truth. Blackburn considers truth "the most exciting and engaging issue in the whole of philosophy," and, with wit and erudition, he succeeds in proving that point. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 05/16/2005
Release date: 06/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 342 pages - 978-1-84046-610-2
Paperback - 323 pages - 978-0-19-530890-7
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