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Philosophical Relativity Paperback – October 3, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0195155532 ISBN-10: 019515553X

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Editorial Reviews


"Current debates about contextualism in epistemology begin with Philosophical Relativity, where Unger gives the term 'contextualism' the meaning that, in many philosophical circles, it enjoys today, and gives the position designated by the term its first serious and systematic treatment. Few are likely to accept Unger's 'relativistic' conclusion that the advantages and disadvantages of contextualism and its rival, invariantism, balance out in such a way that there simply is no fact of the matter which is the correct theory, but all who want to think seriously about the issue should confront the challenging arguments in this seminal book."--Keith DeRose, Yale University

"If you didn't read this book first time, read it now. It packs a punch fit to stop a whole school of philosophy dead in its tracks, with no guarantee that it will ever move again. Those who think that a philosophical inquiry has to start with a decision about the exact meanings of the key terms need to work out their answer to this one from Peter Unger."--Edward Craig, Cambridge University

"Philosophical Relativity is a seminal text in the debate on contextualism, which blames philosophical problems on the hidden dependence of meaning on context. Unger's questions are even more urgent today than when he wrote."--Timothy Williamson, Oxford University

"First-rate philosophy, philosophy as it ought to be done."--Gilbert Harman, Princeton University

"OUP has done well to reissue Peter Unger's books in epistemology, both Ignorance and Philosophical Relativity Unger follows the argument to great depth, wherever it may lead, and the reader who follows along will be amply rewarded, which shows how impressively fresh and relevant this work remains after all these years."--Ernest Sosa, Brown University

"In his last book, Peter Unger set out to persuade us of a thorough-going skepticism; in the present one, he sets out to persuade us that it is fundamentally indeterminate whether (for example) the thorough-going skeptic of the person of common sense is right. But even if this is his newest doctrinal anarchism, there is nothing anarchic about the style of Philosophical Relativity. The argument is well-organized, and the exposition is lucid. Nor is there anything bombastic in Unger's medium to match his would-be devastating message; the reader is coaxed along gently but persistently."--Jennifer Hornsby, University of London

"This is an intelligent and highly original critique, clearly and even gracefully written, with a refreshing absence of pedantry."--Sir Peter Strawson, Oxford University

About the Author

Peter Unger is Professor of Philosophy at New York University. He is the author of Ignorance (OUP 1975, 2002), Identity, Consciousness, and Value (OUP 1990), and Living High and Letting Die (1996)

More About the Author

I am was born and raised in the Bronx, NY, moving about twenty miles north months after becoming a teenager when, like most in the neighborhood whose father's did well financially, my dad hit pay dirt in the mid-50s. After graduating from Harrison High School in June of 1858, I went off the Swarthmore College, where I took tons of courses in both philosophy and in experimental psychology, graduating with a philosophy major in June 1962. From there I went to the University of Oxford, where I matriculated in October of 1962 and from which I received my D.Phil., in philosophy, 1n 1966.

From 1965 onward I have been a professional philosopher, whatever that may mean in 20th and 21st century America, with my first full faculty position starting at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in September, 1965 and teaching my last class there in June of 1971. During the academic year 1971-72, I visited at NYU, with the idea, on both sides, of my becoming a member of its regular faculty starting with the next academic year. During the visit, I received tenure at Madison, so from September 1972 through today I have been a tenured faculty member at NYU; since 1975 a tenured Full Professor of Philosophy.

I am, at heart, an extremely radical thinker and writer, often with a severely negative cast of mind usually advocating the most extreme views ever taken in each large subject area on which, all in philosophy, I write my books and shorter pieces.

My first book, Ignorance: A Case for Scepticism, OUP, 1975, exemplifies this clearly. Almost all of it in epistemology - or the so-called theory of knowledge - I advocate for the positions that 1) nobody ever knows anything and 2) nobody is even the least bit reasonable in believing anything (or, for that matter, caring about anything or doing anything and, read by hardly anyone, 3) that nothing is ever true (or, for that matter false, or untrue, either.

My most recent book is Empty Ideas: A Critique of Analytic Philosophy, OUP, 2014. In this work, I advocate the view that, at least in the core of mainstream philosophy - metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind and philosophy of language - during the last 80 years or so nothing novel has been offered that is worth paying attention to for more than a day or two - and, all put together, maybe less than a month, all told, to repeat the point emphatically. Nor do I hold that things have been much better with previous or alternative work in philosophy: Anything regarded by many as philosophy nowadays, just as much with Descartes and Hume as with Lewis and Kripke, is anything that a) has any import as to how things are with concrete reality - that is, with anything in space, or in time, or in space-time, and so on - and is both clearly NOT trivial and clearly more credible than its negation, or opposite, or denial. But, if there may come to be some excellent scientists who are also excellent at philosophy, whatever, exactly, the latter may mean, then there may be some realistic hope for some significant improvement on this matter.

For an academic, I am, I believe, quite an engaging writer, even if not one of the most engaging of them. But, of course, that means very little, as almost all academics don't write in a way that even comes close to gripping all but a very few outside of their particular discipline.

Finally, while I am far from being the sharpest knife in the draw, I am, at any given time, as honest a workman as I can be.

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