Thursday, November 23, 2006

We must not use the suffix "relative"

Let me start by saying that I do not, by necessity, have a problem with redefining what poverty means in today's world (although I should stress that I do not believe being without a television means you are in poverty). However, what I do have a problem with is the suffix that we are using to define this shift in what we consider norms of ordinary subsistence.

When we use the term relative as a prefix to the term poverty we encourage games of equivalence bordering on classical sophistry. By acknowledging that which is relative what we actually do is debase that which we consider absolute, such as liberty, freedom and truth.

This may seem a glib argument, but by engaging with the very notion of relativism we legitimise secondary arguments about culture and morality which are inspired from that same - and dare I say, intellectually barren - philosophical foundation.

The irony of course is that the father of relativism, Paul Feyerabend, always argued that it would be wrong to apply his theories about science to anything else because of the dangers for intellectual thought it posed.

1 comment:

David McCullough said...

It's a real disservice to intellectual history to describe Paul Feyerabend as the father of relativism. If there was ever a philosopher who parked at the meta level and stayed there it was him. Postmodern blather, truth and goodness, science, religion, witchcraft--they were all just voices in the marketplace, as good as their arguments. Reason was the only arbiter. One set of ideas was not just as good as another; one set was always better than another, but you never know which one until you try them out. How do you try them out? The usual--logical analysis, empirical testing, etc. (Cf. Karl Popper.)

David McCullough