Chapter

Pre-Post-Modern Relativism

Barbara Herrnstein Smith

in Scandalous Knowledge

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780748620234
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671670 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/edinburgh/9780748620234.003.0002
Pre-Post-Modern Relativism

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The second chapter offers historical perspectives on the charge of relativism recurrently lodged against challenges to traditional claims of absolute, objective and/or universal truth. It begins by examining a set of current denunciations of “postmodern relativism" that involve, respectively, historians' treatments of the Holocaust and journalistic responses to the 9/11 attacks. It goes on to discuss the work of several important intellectual historians, who, along with various avant-garde artists, critics and writers, were identified with relativism in the Modernist period. It concludes with the suggestion that the “relativism” denounced in these and comparable cases (e. g., constructivist science studies, multiculturalist literary theory or cosmopolitan political theory) is a phantom heresy, with claims and implications (quietism, pessimism, solipsism, the equality of everything, etc.) that are maintained by nobody and not logically implied but invoked by anti-relativists to protect dubious orthodoxy under siege.

Keywords: truth; postmodernism; relativism; anti-relativism; Holocaust; 9/11 attacks; Modernism; constructivism; multiculturalism; science studies

Chapter.  11578 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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