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Anti-Foundationalism & Postmodernism

 

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Empiricism and Equality: Prospects for Enlightenment 2.0

This article presents an analysis of questions raised at the 2007 Beyond Belief 2 conference about the nature and role of religion in modern culture, and about the basis for our normative commitments. Allegiance to scientific empiricism tends to support the progressive value of universal human rights, but it increases skepticism about foundations for morality outside human biology and culture. Defending and extending liberal values is a political project which finds a powerful ally in naturalism.

 

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Relativism and the Limits of Rationality

Abstract.  Since our values derive from our situatedness as physical human being within a particular culture, how can we defend them as absolutes?   Since our cognitive apparatus likewise grows out of a particular biological and cultural context, how can we be sure it reflects the world as it is in itself?  This essay addresses the threat of relativism to the common conviction that our values and knowledge are ultimately justifiable or grounded in something external to our conditioned ways of valuing and knowing.  Relativism is accommodated, but with the important proviso that we indeed cannot abandon those values and facts which constitute us as ethical and cognitive creatures.  Published in the Humanist.

 

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Humanism and Postmodernism: A Reconciliation

Abstract.  Humanism, especially the atheistic variety, often congratulates itself on having secure foundations in science and rationality.  Using the work of contemporary philosophers in the anti-foundationalist tradition, this essay attempts to show that this is an unwarranted complacency.   Although humanists, like the rest of humanity, must perforce take some view of how the world is and how it should be as at least provisionally correct, there is no theory-neutral, perspective-free world-in-itself which can validate this view.  Therefore humanists must proceed to promote their vision of truth and justice on grounds no deeper than the culturally and biologically based preferences they discover within themselves.  There are no deeper justifications, nor are they needed.   Published in the Humanist.

 

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Reply to Haughness

Abstract.   This is a brief rejoinder to Richard Haughness, who wrote a lengthy and passionate reply to "Humanism and Postmodernism" (see above), claiming it threatened all that humanism holds dear.  It is included here since it expands on the original essay, and makes some new points about postmodernism and the relationship between science and humanism.  I suggest that we need not worry that antifoundationalism will deprive humanists of either their means or motives.   Published in the Humanist.

 

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Readings

For a fascinating foray into the issues of the relationship between science and the humanities, and the possibility of their rapprochement, see the Wilson Quarterly  symposium with E.O. Wilson, Richard Rorty, and Paul R. Gross: "Is Everything Relative? A Debate on the Unity of Knowledge."  Wilson, and to a lesser extent Gross, envision a unification of knowledge, with science as more or less foundational, while Rorty suggests that this is neither feasible nor desirable.

 

 

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