Saturday, December 24, 2005

Relativism (Part 8)

I would just like to return to Simon Blackburn's contention that relativism is to blame for dogmatism and intolerance. He asserts this, but does not demonstrate it. Here he is again, on page 34, on 'modern relativism, seemingly enabling people to believe anything they want' leading to 'the cacophonies of astrology, homeopathy, Mayan rebirthing ceremonies and the rest.'

Some examples would be useful. Ophelia Benson suggested I read another book (in comments, at 2005-10-03 - 17:03:07).

Chris at says, 'Well, I have [met the shameless knave that Blackburn describes]. [...] besides arguments at parties, the people I have in mind are the continental-influenced thinkers, found especially in English, Comp Lit, German, cultural studies, and other departments. You don't just get strictly relativism, though you do get that. I'm thinking of people who are still influenced by Derrida, and all that crap. [...] Take it for what it's worth - which, since you don't know me from Adam, can't be much for you'. (Comment at October 7, 2005 01:11 PM)

We can learn a lot about 'relativism' from a masterpiece by a master - Troilus and Cressida. (This was recently performed on BBC Radio 3. I wrote an essay about the play in 1977, but I can't think where I've put it.)
Troilus: Helen must needs be fair,
When with your blood you daily paint her thus.
Hector:   Brother, she is not worth what she doth cost
        The holding.
Troilus:    What is aught, but as 'tis valued?
H:    But value dwells not in particular will;
        It holds his estimate and dignity
        As well wherein 'tis precious of itself
It traces how a character proceeds from ...
Ulysses:                 Why stay we, then?
Troilus:  To make a recordation to my soul
        Of every syllable that here was spoke.
        But if I tell how these two did co-act,
        Shall I not lie in publishing a truth?
        Sith yet there is a credence in my heart,
        An esperance so obstinately strong,
        That doth invert the attest of eyes and ears,
        As if those organs had deceptious functions,
        Created only to calumniate.
        Was Cressid here?
Ulysses:                I cannot conjure, Trojan.
Troilus:  She was not, sure.
Ulysses:                Most sure she was.
Troilus:    Why, my negation hath no taste of madness.
Ulysses:   Nor mine, my lord: Cressid was here but now.
Troilus:    Let it not be believed for womanhood!
        Think, we had mothers; do not give advantage
        To stubborn critics, apt, without a theme,
        For depravation, to square the general sex
        By Cressid's rule: rather think this not Cressid.
Ulysses:  What hath she done, prince, that can soil our mothers?
Troilus:    Nothing at all, unless that this were she.
Thersites: Will he swagger himself out on's own eyes?
Troilus:     This she? no, this is Diomed's Cressida:
... to
Ulysses: May worthy Troilus be half attach'd
        With that which here his passion doth express?
Troilus: Ay, Greek; and that shall be divulged well
        In characters as red as Mars his heart
        Inflamed with Venus: never did young man fancy
        With so eternal and so fix'd a soul.
Troilus:    Brother, you have a vice of mercy in you,
        Which better fits a lion than a man.
Hector:   What vice is that, good Troilus? chide me for it.
T:    When many times the captive Grecian falls,
        Even in the fan and wind of your fair sword,
        You bid them rise, and live.
H:                            O,'tis fair play.
T:    Fool's play, by heaven, Hector.
       For the love of all the gods,
       Let's leave the hermit pity with our mothers,
Hector is in the end the victim of a disregard of the laws of warfare, from an enemy who 'disdains his courtesy':
Hector: I am unarm'd; forego this vantage, Greek.
Achilles: Strike, fellows, strike; this is the man I seek.


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