Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The irony of relativism

In his book Contingency, Irony, and Solidarit,  the influential philosopher Richard Rorty suggests that "an attitude of irony" ought to replace "the rule of judgement". In particular, a person should not claim to know right and wrong but rather "admit the contingency of his or her most central beliefs and desires" and face the fact they do not "refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance".
Our freedoms are not based on any universal truth but rather:
"based on nothing more profound than the historical facts which suggest that without the protection of something like the institutions of bourgeois liberal society, people will be less able to work out their private salvations, create their private self-images, reweave their webs of belief and desire in the light of whatever new people or books they happen to encounter."
I found the following response by Miroslav Volf rather apt (and amusing):
I reject exclusion because the prophets, evangelists, and apostles tell me that this is a wrong way to treat human beings, any human being, anywhere, and I am persuaded to have good reason to believe them. An ironic stance may be all that people desire who are spoiled by affluence, because it legitimises their narcissistic obssession with "creation their private self-images" and "reweaving their webs of belief and desire". But an ironic stance is clearly not what people suffering hunger, persecution and oppression can afford... ."exclusion" does not express a preference; it names an objective evil.
Exclusion and Embrace, page 68.

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