Monday, June 4, 2007

Some Fish tonight?

Stanley Fish - Think Again - New York Times Blog:
I should not be faulted, however, for maintaining that “there are no facts” or for declaring that “reality is subjective” or for “giving up the search for truth” or for saying that “there is no shared truth let alone an absolute truth.” I did not say and would never say those things. In most if not all cases there is certainly a fact of the matter, but just what it is will be worked out within the vocabularies or “dimensions of assessment” (J. L. Austin’s term in “How To Do Things With Words”) that at once limit and enable what we can see and say. And if two accounts of the fact of the matter are in competition, there is no algorithm or decision procedure independent of any dimension of assessment whatsoever that will tell us which is the correct one.

And as for reality, it is not subjective (a word I never use); it is out there prior to any of our efforts to describe it. But what we know of it (a knowledge constantly changing as our descriptive vocabularies change) will only be known through the medium of our descriptions; and disputes about it will be disputes about the adequacy of different ways of describing, again without the possibility of something that is not a challengeable mode of description settling the dispute once and for all. And the search for truth? It is the business we all should be in, but it is a line of work that can only be pursued within the linguistic and technical resource history affords us. There is an absolute truth, but short of achieving a point of view that is not a point of view–achieving, that is, godhead – it cannot be absolutely known.

The bottom line is that it is no contradiction at all to assert the firm existence of fact, truth and reality and yet maintain that they can only be known within the human, limited vocabularies we have built in the endless effort to get things right. Truth claims are universal, but their justification and elaboration take place in time and within revisable, contingent discursive structures.

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