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Truth: A Guide 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0195315806
ISBN-10: 0195315804
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Admirably sketching the battle lines currently staked out over the idea of objective truth, a Cambridge professor of philosophy makes his subject lively and accessible even as he parts some of its deepest waters, with absolutists-traditionalists-realists on the one side and relativists-postmodernists-idealists on the other. The absolutists believe in "plain, unvarnished objective fact"; the relativists say with Nietzsche, "There are no facts, only interpretations." Blackburn scrutinizes the claims of both sides with a collegial but critical eye, carefully distinguishing positions and identifying places where the two sides are speaking past each other, covering, among others, Protagoras, Plato, Hume, James, Nagel, Wittgenstein, Locke, Rorty and Davidson. He constructs a simple diagram that makes sense of four contrasting attitudes toward truth: eliminativism, realism, constructivism and quietism. Out of this inquiry emerges a middle position: truth is real if accepted in a minimalist way; relativism is not necessarily incoherent; and we can respond to science with "well-mannered animation" that is indistinguishable from belief. As Blackburn recognizes, this solution will not please everyone: absolutists may find it treasonous, relativists too conservative. But the overall result is to salvage a plausible version of truth. Blackburn considers truth "the most exciting and engaging issue in the whole of philosophy," and, with wit and erudition, he succeeds in proving that point. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review


"Blackburn's lively new book 'Truth: A Guide' will challenge and surprise you.... The great achievement of 'Truth' is to encapsulate the major lines of argument on this intractable question within the covers of a book you can read in a day or two. His chapter on Nietzsche, the fountainhead of modern philosophy and the patron saint of relativism, is worth the price of admission by itself."--Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com


"Admirably sketching the battle lines currently staked out over the idea of objective truth, [Blackburn] makes his subject lively and accessible even as he parts some of its deepest waters.... Blackburn considers truth 'the most exciting and engaging issue in the whole of philosophy,' and, with wit and erudition, he succeeds in proving that point."--Publishers Weekly


"Fluid, highly literate, and deeply informed.... Highly recommended for academic philosophy and literature collections. --Library Journal


"Gently leads the reader on a guided tour of one simple question--whether there is a universally applicable set of data that can be called capital-T 'Truth'--and its infinite complications."--Seattle Times


"If you're annoyed, even incensed, at the relativism and ironic nihilism of the youth (or their free-thinking professors), and you're looking for a vicarious voice to denounce the abject postmodern menace and stand up for Western rationalism, this could be the book for you."--Barry Allen, The Globe and Mail


"The pleasure of reading this beautifully written and crafted book is almost sensual, so complete does each sentence seem in its witty unfolding. Blackburn takes up the knottiest philosophical issues--truth, justice, belief, evidence, interpretation--and without dissolving the knots he carefully undoes them, and then, in some cases, reties them. A wonderful embracing tour through the minefield of philosophical controversy that will inform the novice and delight the afficionado."--Stanley Fish


"Between the Scylla of relativism and the Charybdis of absolutism, Simon Blackburn does not merely navigate, but pleasure-sails, visiting and appreciating each. Whether you are appalled by postmodernism, incensed by smug scientism, or simply 'perplexed,' you'll find Blackburn's 'guide' edifying. Learn here what truth is, why it is so elusive, and what hope there is for human knowledge."--Louise Antony, Professor of Philosophy, The Ohio State University


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195315804
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195315806
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.5 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,001,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Blackburn is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He was Edna J. Doury Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, and from 1969 to 1990 was a Fellow and Tutor at Pembroke College, Oxford. He is the author of The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy and the best-selling Think and Being Good, among other books.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By John Smeltzer on August 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I had been really thinking about how some people think that the world is a certain way, and how others think that we can only talk about our perspective on it. I had more of the latter perspective, but with a feeling that the former was somehow right too. I couldn't really find a way to reconcile the two except by saying that it's absolutely relative (which seemed more like goofing around than a serious response). I ran across this book serendipitously at the library, and a quick look revealed that the book would be addressing the very issue I had been thinking about. I was a philosophy major so I've been exposed to philosophical writing before. Some reviews before mine allege that he's over analyzing or difficult to read. I think, as far as philosophical writing goes, his writing is fairly accessible. There are good endnotes for follow-up, and he doesn't get too entrenced in specialized language. Someone not familliar with philosophy might have to reference some things (Wikipedia may be a fine place to do so). I think the book is aimed at the non-specialist, and I think it hits the spot. He really does a fine job at explaining where both sides of the issue go wrong, but he's never willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The most common criticism of relativism is self-refutation (i.e. if nothing is true then relativism can't be true either), but even though he's not a relativist he shows how this criticism is too simple. He really does have sympathy for both sides of the issue. I think anyone who takes the time to read this book will come out with a much better understanding of the issues, and will have more interesting things to contribute to their conversations than they did before.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is an interesting effort to make a general statement of Blackburn's views on epistemology. Aimed at a general audience, Blackburn covers some different aspects of the realist/anti-realist debate including a taxonomy of realist and anti-realist positions and a brief precis of classical skepticism. Blackburn is appropriately skeptical of anti-realism but very cautious about historic realist positions that require strong metaphysical claims. He adopts a position of 'minimalism' which denies strong metaphysical claims but argues that statements carry with them their own criteria of truth. Minimalism turns out to be a surprisingly strong position as the statements that carry their own truth criteria include all of the natural sciences and indeed almost all of routine life. Though this position originates with work of the great logician Frege, it seems almost too good to be true and in Blackburn's relatively simple presentation, a bit of a linguistic trick. Blackburn is better, I think, in his criticism of anti-realist positions. He does a good job of showing the internal contradictions of many attacks on realism. Richard Rorty, in particular, comes in for some pretty stringent (though polite) criticism for attempting to escape some of the logical extensions of his anti-realism by opening a backdoor to what are, de facto, forms of realism. This book has a decent though hardly outstanding bibliography.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Rev. Thomas Scarborough on July 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
At the very heart of this book lies the question of fact and value -- of "is" and "ought". David Hume famously said that it is impossible to derive an "ought" from an "is" (this is called Hume's law).

For instance, one may say that you ARE reading this review -- yet on what rational basis should anyone say that you SHOULD read this review? In fact, on what basis should you do anything at all? To push this yet further, on what basis should courts of law make their decisions - or indeed governments? How does one make the giant leap across the divide, from fact to value? It is a crucial problem, and Blackburn considers it from various angles -- many of them historical.

A secondary question (at least insofar as it does not have the same prominence in the book) is how one may know what in fact "is"? How should one be able to establish the "facts" in the first place?

Generally speaking, Blackburn's writing has explanatory power -- although I did lose the thread at times, particularly where it was assumed that the reader would remember details of the previous chapters. Further than this, what would seem to make the book most worthwhile is Blackburn's ability to think his way into the heart of the problems, and to take one with him. Nor does he veil the real difficulties with premature answers. This has one thinking again and again: "How do we ever get around THIS one?"

In the final analysis, Blackburn is still something of a traditionalist. "We can take the postmodernist inverted commas off things," he concludes. "Truth, reason, objectivity and confidence" are stil very much alive, in spite of some "bewildering" problems. On what basis may we believe this? Blackburn considers: "Once we have an issue to decide, it comes with its own norms." We produce "well mannered animation by whatever is shown to work". This seemed to me not unlike the Polanyian "universal intent" -- the scientific method applied to human action.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By n2suntzu on September 15, 2008
Format: Paperback
The more I read of Simon Blackburn the more I enjoy his work. This book was my initial introduction to the topic of Truth. While I cannot speak to the specifics in the depth of the other reviewers, I can state Blackburn's book is an excellent guide, as stated.

I found his commentary of the various positions regarding truth to be fair and easy to comprehend. Overall, I have come to revisit this book multiple times while writing my dissertation.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in better understanding a widely argued topic.

Cheers,
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