Monday, October 03, 2005

Relative truth

Further comments here about Simon Blackburn's Truth: a Guide for the Perplexed, which I've started to read. On another point, Blackburn writes:
The relativist would not be surprised by a Lord Hutton, whereas the absolutist would be outraged [continuing in Note 10, that the Hutton's inquiry 'accumulated vast and to most people incontrovertible evidence of government manipulation and deceit, all of which he gave the impression of ignoring, and seemingly following a theory of evidence and law of his own invention was able to declare the government innocent of everything.'] The relativist would be happy to think that final legal authority rests with some sovereign, human, lawmaking assembly, such as Parliament. The absolutist will hold that when Parliament tramples on rights and trangresses against the moral truth, for instance by denying people the right to due process as contemporary parliaments in Britain and America are happy to do, its edicts are no laws at all, but only the commands of a gang that happens to have gained power.
By getting elected and putting themselves up for re-election.

Many people, though, did not find the view opposite to Hutton 'incontrovertible'. Note the slight legerdemain: at first Hutton is opposed by 'most people', so he is in a minority (perhaps of 49%); Then, he is on his own. Hutton, even if he is in a minority (in reality much smaller than 49%), at least heard all the evidence and weighed it up, whereas many of those who took the opposite view started with their minds already made up and managed to shout loud enough to convince others. (One is tempted to take Homer's and Socrates'  'thick thousands' ('Truth', P25) and use it in a more vulgar sense.)

Much of the fury about Hutton's verdict came from the sort of people who are keen on conspiracy theories.  Here I have to say I find it bizarre to associate today's relativists with conspiracy theories (see passage quoted by Ophelia Benson in 'Simon Blackburn'). Amongst  all the people who advance the nutcase theories, I have never come across any who say 'this is just what we think'; they always argue with complete belief, convinced they have found the truth that was out there, about the evil of the American empire (Zionist controlled).

And if modern relativism is in essence the same as the scepticism of the 2nd or 3rd centuries, how can it have led to such different, opposite even, outcomes, with ancient scepticism leading to a lofty detachment or withdrawal and relativism leading to a passionate belief in absurdities?

Update: I got Ophelia Benson's name wrong.


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