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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic (August 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826495281
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826495280
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,150,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In response to what Benson and Stangroom consider the modern reality of gray areas and denial, they present a philosophical case for the importance of truth that draws on writings by philosophers, anthropologists, poets and scientists. Their approach, accessible for readers who are less familiar with philosophical thought, addresses a wide range of topics: feminism, "the social construction of truth" and evolutionary biology. However, Benson's and Stangroom's arguments tend to get lost in the breadth of material they cover. Though generalizations leave the text vulnerable to counterarguments, it's hard to find fault with their premise that the truth, no matter how elusive or uncomfortable it may be, is worth pursuing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

'A sassy and profound response to [a] cascade of superstition and silliness ... Benson and Stangroom answer the clotted, barely readable sentences of the postmodernists with sentences so clear you could swim in them. There should be a law demanding every purchase of a Jacques Derrida "book" be accompanied with a free copy of this shimmering, glimmering answer.'

(Johann Hari Independent, The)

Postmodernism is often billed as attacking truth and science. This is how it is presented in the valuable little book Why Truth Matters, by the editors of the sceptical website butterfliesandwheels.com, Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom. They mount a spirited counterattack, reminding us - in the way that Cambridge philosopher GE Moore was famous for doing - that if it comes to a battle for hearts and minds, basic convictions of common sense and science beat philosophical subtleties hands down. Where Brian King horrifies us with his liars, Benson and Stangroom reveal a parallel rogues' gallery of social constructivists, who look at how individuals and groups participate in the creation of their own perceived reality. These "rogues" include the feminist Sandra Harding and the neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty, but the doyen must surely be the French philosopher of science Bruno Latour. Latour's confusion of words and things led him to the precipice of denying that there could have been dinosaurs before the term was invented. Presumably a similar argument would show that nobody before Crick and Watson had DNA. Why Truth Matters is an excellent example of philosophy done well but also, and not coincidentally, made accessible and exciting. Truth matters, it tells us "not in a dull perfunctory dutiful sense, but in a real lived felt sense - 'on the pulses' as Keats put it".

(Simon Blackburn Financial Times)

"In this book, Benson and Stangroom are wide-ranging in their knowledge and in the thinking about what they know, and so the books appears laid out almost like a collection of essays that are connected by the theme described above. Anthropology, evolutionary psychology and sociobiology, feminism, philosophies of various sorts, and the politics of Nazism are all touched on or addressed. Each chapter is interesting in its own right...The book is beautifully written, and sprinkled with passages of both insight and literary value." (Entelechy: Mind and Culture)

"British philosophers Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom array their immense talent ... in Why Truth Matters. What they're on about is a prevailing intellectual indifference to coherence, logic, rationality, and evidence. It's a world-view that holds that there is no historical truth and almost everything is a mere social construction. Discovery is conflated with invention, myth is elevated alongside empirical evidence, and no lines are drawn between fact and fiction....Most of us will get the main point Stangroom and Benson are making: truth matters because human beings are the only species capable of finding it out." —Straight.com, July 13, 2006



"As polemics go, it is short and adequately pugnacious. Yet the authors do not paint their target with too broad a brush. At heart, they are old-fashioned logical empiricists —- or, perhaps, followers of Samuel Johnson, who, upon hearing of Bishop Berkeley's contention that the objective world does not exist, refuted the argument by kicking a rock. Still, Benson and Stangroom do recognize that there are numerous varieties of contemporary suspicion regarding the concept of truth....They bend over backwards in search of every plausible good intention behind postmodern epistemic skepticism. And then they kick the rock." —Inside Higher Ed, June 2006



Selected as Prospect's 'Underrated Book of the Year 2006'
'In every generation, intelligent people insist on embracing the irrational. Postmodernism, identity politics and pseudoscience are easy to criticise, but hard to scorn to anything like the extent they merit. Benson and Stangroom do a heroic job of trying, and their defence of the Enlightenment ought to be better known.'
(Oliver Kamm)

Reviewed on Classic FM's Classic Newsnight - 26 Sept 2007
'A clear, accessible and hugely important account of what it is to be rational.
Popular philosophy at its best.'


"The authors discuss philosophical notions of truth amidst broader societal and political concerns, and the most exciting passages cover the rise of social Darwinism and eugenics in a discussion about the interplay between ideology, science and politics"


mention in an article of Peter Benson, Philosophy now, 1 March 2009


"the book is well-written and comprehensive either for people without a deep knowledge in philosophy"
Nicola Vassallo, Epistemologia (An Italian Journal for the Philosophy of Science), vol.31 2008


'A sassy and profound response to [a] cascade of superstition and silliness ... Benson and Stangroom answer the clotted, barely readable sentences of the postmodernists with sentences so clear you could swim in them. There should be a law demanding every purchase of a Jacques Derrida "book" be accompanied with a free copy of this shimmering, glimmering answer.'

(Sanford Lakoff Independent, The)

Postmodernism is often billed as attacking truth and science. This is how it is presented in the valuable little book Why Truth Matters, by the editors of the sceptical website butterfliesandwheels.com, Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom. They mount a spirited counterattack, reminding us - in the way that Cambridge philosopher GE Moore was famous for doing - that if it comes to a battle for hearts and minds, basic convictions of common sense and science beat philosophical subtleties hands down. Where Brian King horrifies us with his liars, Benson and Stangroom reveal a parallel rogues’ gallery of social constructivists, who look at how individuals and groups participate in the creation of their own perceived reality. These "rogues" include the feminist Sandra Harding and the neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty, but the doyen must surely be the French philosopher of science Bruno Latour. Latour’s confusion of words and things led him to the precipice of denying that there could have been dinosaurs before the term was invented. Presumably a similar argument would show that nobody before Crick and Watson had DNA. Why Truth Matters is an excellent example of philosophy done well but also, and not coincidentally, made accessible and exciting. Truth matters, it tells us "not in a dull perfunctory dutiful sense, but in a real lived felt sense - 'on the pulses’ as Keats put it".

(Sanford Lakoff Financial Times)

"In this book, Benson and Stangroom are wide-ranging in their knowledge and in the thinking about what they know, and so the books appears laid out almost like a collection of essays that are connected by the theme described above. Anthropology, evolutionary psychology and sociobiology, feminism, philosophies of various sorts, and the politics of Nazism are all touched on or addressed. Each chapter is interesting in its own right...The book is beautifully written, and sprinkled with passages of both insight and literary value." (Sanford Lakoff)

"British philosophers Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom array their immense talent … in Why Truth Matters. What they’re on about is a prevailing intellectual indifference to coherence, logic, rationality, and evidence. It’s a world-view that holds that there is no historical truth and almost everything is a mere social construction. Discovery is conflated with invention, myth is elevated alongside empirical evidence, and no lines are drawn between fact and fiction….Most of us will get the main point Stangroom and Benson are making: truth matters because human beings are the only species capable of finding it out." –Straight.com, July 13, 2006



"As polemics go, it is short and adequately pugnacious. Yet the authors do not paint their target with too broad a brush. At heart, they are old-fashioned logical empiricists -– or, perhaps, followers of Samuel Johnson, who, upon hearing of Bishop Berkeley’s contention that the objective world does not exist, refuted the argument by kicking a rock. Still, Benson and Stangroom do recognize that there are numerous varieties of contemporary suspicion regarding the concept of truth….They bend over backwards in search of every plausible good intention behind postmodern epistemic skepticism. And then they kick the rock." –Inside Higher Ed, June 2006



Selected as Prospect's 'Underrated Book of the Year 2006'
'In every generation, intelligent people insist on embracing the irrational. Postmodernism, identity politics and pseudoscience are easy to criticise, but hard to scorn to anything like the extent they merit. Benson and Stangroom do a heroic job of trying, and their defence of the Enlightenment ought to be better known.'
(Sanford Lakoff)

"The authors discuss philosophical notions of truth amidst broader societal and political concerns, and the most exciting passages cover the rise of social Darwinism and eugenics in a discussion about the interplay between ideology, science and politics"
(Sanford Lakoff)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on January 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The shocks of The Great War of 1914-1918 spawned a social movement known as "nihilism". Values once held meaningful were rejected by those who felt the conflict demonstrated such beliefs to be invalid. The Second World War may be considered the foundation for a similar movement arising in post-War France - "postmodernism". A close cousin of nihilism, the "French philosophy" strives to place all cultures on an equal footing. That equalitiy, moreover, is absolute - any declared stance must be granted equivalent respect with any other. Accompanied by many synonyms such as "cultural relativism" and "post-structuralism", the pestilence quickly spread in Western Europe where its symptoms are clearly seen in media presentations. More significantly, it became firmly established in the US, particularly in universities where it generated such programmes as "Women's [in a variety of spellings] Studies", "African Studies", all with a strong anti-Enlightenment and anti-science orientation. Benson and Stangroom here apply some vigorous therapy to counter the assault on rational thought. Although brief, this book is direct and incisive, clearly exhibiting the malaise infesting our universities and political institutions.

The purpose of this book is to re-establish that "truth" is indeed a valid concept. Postmodernism's contention that there are as many "truths" as there are tellers of it cannot be sustained. Benson and Stangroom, who founded the Website "butterfliesandwheels", explain that truth is empirically based and not a highly variant cultural phenomenon.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Angus L. Jameson on July 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Why does truth matter? It matters because we are the only species we know that has the ability to find out."

Thus spake Benson and Stangroom in their latest effort to defend rational discourse and science. Not a rant;not a tirade, but a well reasoned and well written treatise evaluating enlightened thought (and not so enlightened) in this age of fashionable nonsense, postmodernist obfuscation, and misconbobulated interpretations of how science works. The editors of ButterfliesandWheels.com make a compelling series of arguments against social and cultural relativism and nonsense in general. A must read for "brights" and a plea in defense of rational evaluation of truth.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Phelps Gates VINE VOICE on July 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Being a fan of the authors' butterfliesandwheels website, I was expecting something more accessible to the general reader. But even with a graduate degree in linguistics, I found this book to be rather heavy going. Some philosophy courses might have helped! They assume that you're familiar with current controversies (for example, they assume that you know the details of the Sokal hoax, about which I was a little rusty). I was disappointed to find only a brief discussion of Afrocentrism, and surprised that Vine Deloria, perhaps the most widely read member of the truth-doesn't-matter school, never gets mentioned at all. But they do give a good summary of the major postmodern philosophical schools (as far as they can be understood)! Just take it slow and easy and you'll probably make it through.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Marshall E. Deutsch on November 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is a witty and interesting examination of just what the title says.You can't address societal problems effectively by pretending they don't exist.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Reinhard W. Lindner on November 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
Stangroom & Benson provide a solid introduction to some thorny issues. The serious student will want to follow this up by reading some of the classic works on both sides of the issues they discuss. There is some tendency to underscore the mistakes of the social constructivists while letting the more scientific minded off the hook. Dawkins, for example, while generally careful, has also made ideological claims not truly supported by the science he uses as a grounding for his conclusions. Generally speaking, however, I would recommend this book, particularly for the nonspecialist.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Carl of Mariemont on January 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The authors take aim at trendy relativism, intellectual fads, political correctness, wishful thinking, and similar follies. It's an interesting read for weekend philosphers. The authors assume that the reader is familiar with a variety of academic trends and events (e.g., deconstruction, the "Sokol affair"), which might force you to pause for a little research. In general the points are well-argued. Whether the characterization of the intellectual movements under attack is fair or not is unclear to me, since I know little about "Theory" or many of the other targets.

There is one irritating aspect to the book. The writing style is erratic -- at times clear and direct, at other times convoluted and needlessly opaque. It is apparent that the two authors have very different styles. At times, they catch themselves (or one catches the other). For example, from page 131: "There is also no evidence that being marginalized or downtrodden improves people's epistemic functioning; that is, their ability to find out the truth about the world." The reader isn't always treated to such helpful decoding of the jargon. But more to the point, is "epistemic functioning" really necessary?

Don't let my irritation with the writing style stop you from reading this book, but be aware that there will be passages that will take more effort that should be necessary.
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