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Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism [Hardcover]

by Paul A. Boghossian
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism 3.9 out of 5 stars (21)
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Book Description

April 27, 2006 019928718X 978-0199287185 First Edition
Relativist and constructivist conceptions of truth and knowledge have become orthodoxy in vast stretches of the academic world in recent times. In his long-awaited first book, Paul Boghossian critically examines such views and exposes their fundamental flaws.

Boghossian focuses on three different ways of reading the claim that knowledge is socially constructed--one as a thesis about truth and two about justification. And he rejects all three. The intuitive, common-sense view is that there is a way the world is that is independent of human opinion; and that we are capable of arriving at beliefs about how it is that are objectively reasonable, binding on anyone capable of appreciating the relevant evidence regardless of their social or cultural perspective. Difficult as these notions may be, it is a mistake to think that philosophy has uncovered powerful reasons for rejecting them.

This short, lucid, witty book shows that philosophy provides rock-solid support for common sense against the relativists. It will prove provocative reading throughout the discipline and beyond.

Editorial Reviews


"The book offers a sustained critique of a particular, postmodern-flavored, Rorty-inspired version of relativism/constructivism. That critique is powerful and on the whole highly effective."--Nortre Dame Philosophical Review

"Lucid and effective...For those prepared to follow its careful and sensible arguments, Fear of Knowledge should be a welcome addition to the literature."--Simon Blackburn, Times Literary Supplement

"This is a book that can be read in an afternoon and thought about for a lifetime."--Wall Street Journal

"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

About the Author

Paul Boghossian is Silver Professor of Philosophy at New York University.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; First Edition edition (April 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019928718X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199287185
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,214,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
94 of 104 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Upholds a love of knowlege November 19, 2006
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 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Effective Epistemic Polemic April 22, 2007
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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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars rounded up from 2.5 stars October 23, 2010
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars good read
It's a good book personally if your not into philosophy it's a littler but dreading! I had to read this for a class if I didn't I wouldn't have picked it up. Read more
Published 22 days ago by snookiibear
5.0 out of 5 stars good book
This is a good book. It is clear and well written. If you are a "philosophy person" you will understand this without any problem. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Steveabe
5.0 out of 5 stars Not to fear to be ourselves by cientific thinking
Because there id a ver y extended tendency in premodern actual world (inclusive the global south) to minimize cience and to recure to religion or revolutionary ideals to escape... Read more
Published 3 months ago by rarango
3.0 out of 5 stars Important
I never thought much of philosophy. Philosophy always seemed no more than verbal masturbation, even if the questions raised are important, as they are here. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Lawrence J. Winkler
2.0 out of 5 stars Only trying to debunk people who thinks that ALL knowledge is socially...
The book sets out to debunk the view that ALL knowledge is socially constructed. The author lists a few French writers who in the 1980s argued that ALL knowledge is social. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Jackal
5.0 out of 5 stars Efficiently countering absurdity
I really liked this book for its efficiency. The author defines his terms clearly, and explains the issues concisely. Read more
Published on April 28, 2010 by S. Plowright
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Essay In Defense of Objectivity
"Fear of Knowledge" is a taught, clearly-written, and closely-argued defense of the idea that standards of epistemic justification are not socially constructed. Read more
Published on April 13, 2010 by not me
5.0 out of 5 stars Fear of Argument
Professor Boghossian painstakingly establishes the arguments for relativism and constructivism and then systematically demolishes each of them. Read more
Published on March 11, 2010 by D. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Short, sophisticated and well-explained
This book is a reply to a widely-accepted relativism about knowledge, which is almost the default view at universities and colleges. Read more
Published on October 12, 2009 by Samuel W. Mitchell
2.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but ultimately incomprehensible, failing in its stated...
I was prompted to read Paul Boghossian's Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism by a friend of mine who kept raving about how brilliant it was. Read more
Published on July 19, 2009 by Whitt Patrick Pond
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