Reclaiming Truth: Contribution to a Critique of Cultural Relativism
by Christopher Norris
Duke University Press, 1996
Paper: 978-0-8223-1872-9 | Cloth: 978-0-8223-1882-8
Library of Congress Classification BD221.N67 1996
Dewey Decimal Classification 149

Truth, Christopher Norris reminds us, is very much out of fashion at the moment whether at the hands of politicians, media pundits, or purveyors of postmodern wisdom in cultural and literary studies. Across a range of disciplines the idea has taken hold that truth-talk is either redundant or the product of epistemic might. Questions of truth and falsehood are always internal to some specific language-game; history is just another kind of fiction; philosophy is only a kind of writing; law is a wholly rhetorical practice. In Reclaiming Truth, Norris critiques these fashionable trends of thought and mounts a specific challenge to cultural relativist doctrines in epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics, and political theory.
Norris presents his case in a series of closely argued chapters that take issue with the relativist position. He attempts to rehabilitate the value of truth in philosophy of science by restoring a lost distinction between concept and metaphor and argues that theoretical discourse, so far from being an inconsequential activity, has very real consequences, particularly in ethics and politics. This debate has become skewed, he suggests, through the widespread and typically postmodern idea that truth-claims must always go along with a presumptive or authoritarian bid to silence opposing views. On the contrary, there is nothing as dogmatic—or as silencing—as a relativism that acknowledges no shared truth conditions for valid or responsible discourse. Norris also offers a timely reassessment of several thinkers—Althusser and Derrida among them—whose reception history has been distorted by the vagaries of short-term intellectual fashion.
Reclaiming Truth will be welcomed by readers concerned with the uses and abuses of theory at a time when such questions are in urgent need of sustained and serious debate.

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