Reclaiming Truth

Contribution to a Critique of Cultural Relativism

Reclaiming Truth

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: Published: September 1996

Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy

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.


“[A] hard-hitting work. . . . The congruence he establishes between scholarly abdication and public cynicism is probably Norris’s greatest contribution in the book, one that might well help restore what Karl Marx called the thinking suffering human being to the center of our concern.” — Susan Tetlow Harrington , Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

“This collection of essays concerns ‘the difference between a Kantian ethos of principled skepticism . . . and a postmodern outlook of wholesale skepticism.’ As in his other works, Norris comes down squarely on the side of those—especially the unlikely trio of Habermas, Chomsky, and Derrida—who cleave to the Kantian ethos, against those wholesale skeptics—for example, Foucault, Lyotard, Rorty, Quine, and Baudrillard—who reduce truth and rationality to whatever a particular ‘interpretive community’ happens to deem ‘good in the way of belief.’ He convincingly argues that the ‘Enlightenment project’ is alive and well and nowhere near completion, and that the postmoderns’ positions can, should, and must be criticized in the most basic philosophical terms, regardless of their rejection of those terms. However, as is shown by his debunking of the straw man set up by opponents of deconstruction, Norris is not a mere conformist who is afraid of new ideas. His attacks are fierce, but always fair and well informed. What makes them notable above and beyond that is that they come from the yet unreconciled left and expose a truly sinister political quietism that gives the lie to the postmoderns alleged radicalism.” — , Ethics

“These are brilliant and stimulating essays. One does not have to agree with Norris’ positions to appreciate the way in which he produces problems for us and stages philosophical conflicts vividly and productively.” — Fredric Jameson


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Christopher Norris is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wales, Cardiff. He is the author of many books, including Truth and the Ethics of Criticism, Uncritical Theory, Derrida, and The Truth About Postmodernism.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1872-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1882-8
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