Alternative Truths

in The Power of the Between

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2008 | ISBN: 9780226775340
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226775364 | DOI:
Alternative Truths

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This chapter argues that the great problem that underscores the unending debate about rationality is that it ultimately boils down to whether you can accept some version of relativism or universalism. This either/or impasse, a patch of quicksand that you find often in the indeterminate spaces of the between, often resulted in published hand-wringing. Relativists complained that universal rationalists were insensitive, Eurocentric, or even racist. Universal rationalists chided the relativists for their scientific naïveté and epistemological imprecision. The hand-wringing has continued to this day as many anthropologists continue to debate the “scientific” status of anthropology. In this ongoing debate, unapologetic universal rationalists still criticize the fuzziness of the radical relativists whom they continue to label as postmodernists. For their part, relativists have often considered the intellectualist “scientific” principles of the universal rationalists as mere illusion. Even the more thoughtful considerations of Geertz, Tambiah, and Evens have not advanced our comprehension beyond the narrowly defined boundaries of the original debate. What's an anthropologist to do?

Keywords: rationality; relativism; universalism; anthropologists; anthropology

Chapter.  2266 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural Anthropology

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