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Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism 1st Edition

28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199230419
ISBN-10: 0199230412
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Editorial Reviews


"This is a book that can be read in an afternoon and thought about for a lifetime. His analysis is something of a tour de force: subtle and original enough to attract the attention of professional philosophers but accessible enough to be read by anyone with an interest in the subject. The result is one of the most readable works in philosophy in recent years."--Wall Street Journal

"The book does a fine job of assessing in brief compass the sort of relativism/constructivism advocated by Rorty and his fellow travelers, and Boghossian's sophisticated and careful arguments against that Rortian view are often ingenious and invariably telling. Aimed at non-specialists, Fear of Knowledge may well succeed in distancing those who are enamored of 'postmodern relativism'. . . from their postmodern enthusiasms."--Harvey Siegel, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Boghossian has written an excellent book.... it contains relentless exposures of confusion, falsehood, and incoherence."--John R. Searle, New York Review of Books

About the Author

Paul Boghossian is at New York University.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Clarendon Press; 1 edition (December 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199230412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199230419
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.3 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 108 people found the following review helpful By John Zxerce on November 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've been waiting for a book like this - one that would clearly expose the shortcomings of relativism. Boghossian does just that, demonstrating the person claiming 'everything is relative' faces a predicament. Either the statement itself is true, and thereby defeating the statement. Or it's relative to the individual, which means the person holding an objectivist view point is just as correct as the relativist. And therefore it's a meaningless statement. These are the kinds of points Boghossian makes through the book, both with generosity and clarity.

While this is essentially a philosophy book, he presents his ideas in a very accessible way. As a result, his case is compelling and persuasive. As William Ewald said, this is a book that can be read in an afternoon and thought about for a lifetime - a reference to the book's brevity (at 139 pages) and it's depth.

At the same time, I wish Boghossian had asked questions about why humanity fears knowledge. Namely, what is it about the human condition which causes people to avoid making clear distinctions reflected in strong assertions about the way things are? Why is there an assumption that conviction and belief are the equivalents of arrogance and intolerance? What is it about knowledge which threatens people?

With that said, this is a very thoughtful book and one which will hopefully have a real impact, not just in the academy, but also in the public square. If relativism reigns then dialog and discourse are severely hampered. May this book contribute to keeping those flames alive in the Western World.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This concise and well done book is devoted to rebutting relativistic anti-realist arguments that are apparently popular in some areas of the modern academy. I think Boghossian has a specific audience in mind. This book is not aimed primarily at his fellow philosophers nor the general reading public but rather at academics in humanities and social sciences where the relativist ideas have become popular. Boghossion points out that there is a widespread impression that modern analytic philosophy has undermined realist views and this impression provides legitimacy for the relativist points of view. As Boghossian also points out, these relativist views have actually been relatively unsuccessful in Philosophy Depts. and there are considerable doubts about their validity. Boghossian aims at presenting a fair characterization of relativist views and then providing an up to date critical attack. The philosopher Richard Rorty is a particular target, partly because of his prominence and partly because Boghossian regards him as expounding some of the most powerful relativist arguments. Boghossian examines relativist claims in three domains. These are relativism regarding the existence of 'facts," that is, a mind independent world, relativism concerning justification of knowledge (probably the strongest relativist argument and one articulated by Rorty), and relativism concerning rational explanation. The attack on relativism concerning rational explanation is the shortest and least satisfactory section, though still effective. I think he is generally fair to all these arguments and resists constructing straw man positions for his opponents. This criticisms of these positions are strong and he argues well for the general incoherence and incompleteness of relativist positions. If anything, I would say that he bends over backwards to be fair to relativist positions, omitting some strong arguments against Rorty and Thomas Kuhn.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By NC on October 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is a well-written attack on certain anti-realist, relativistic and post modernist strains in our culture and acdemic philosophy. It is well written in the sense that it is clear and concise but my main issue against it is that it is a little too concise (more than it should be) because it almost entirely deals with naive forms of anti-realism. It is a good introduction to the topic but stronger arguments have been made in contemporary times which Boghossian does not deal with in this work. Much of the positions Boghossian destroys are from Richard Rorty, the early Hilary Putnam and some of Wittgenstein's more obscure writings. But the objections he raises against them are not new and stronger versions of those arguments along with different arguments altogether have been proposed to argue for certain positions Boghossian is against (sometimes by these very philosophers later in life). Rorty's views on the subjects in question are actually considered laughably impotent among most working philosophers today and are not given much attention for that reason as with almost all of the other post-modern criticisms of realism and truth absolutism.

Even though I am very sympathetic to Boghossian's ultimate position of arguing against anti-realist and relativistic strains within our culture and philosophy, Boghossian, as far as I'm aware, does not advance new arguments; some of his arguments have been around since Plato used them against the sophist Protagoras (or at least Plato's version of Protagoras). Boghossian also does not advance arguments against the most sophisticated versions of these strains of thought (especially against fact constructivism).
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