Truth Under Cultural and Conceptual Assault

Chris Yeh pointed me to a very good article in the New Yorker about bullshit, but more importantly, the state of philosophy’s argument over the nature and authority on truth. First, on bullshit, the author Jim Holt reviews several of the academic arguments over the nature of bullshit and concludes that a liar knows what the truth is and leads the other person away from it while the bullshiter is more nonsensical with a perverse indifference to truth.

I have posted before about how "we’re all postmodernists now" and it is increasingly clear to me that it is quite difficult to argue for an objective truth. As much as I love Pope Benedict’s name, I must disagree that the church should impose moral absolutes on its faithful. I myself am more of a relativist – as Holt quotes Nietzsche: "There are no facts, only interpretations." Whether in journalism or otherwise, Holt correctly comments that perspectivism means "we are all condemned to see the world from a partial and distorted perspective, one defined by our interests and values."

With all this "whose truth" talk, promoted by prominent Stanford scholar Richard Rorty, Holt notices that this trend is offering aid to bullshiters. Rorty’s response, which is good enough for me but maybe not for everyone, is that "even though the distinction between truth and consensus is untenable, we can distinguish between frivolous and serious…serious, decent, and trustworthy versus unconversable, incurious, and self-absorbed. Serious people care not only about producing agreement but also about justifying their methods for producing agreement."

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