Monday, October 15, 2007

All Absolutists at Heart

Philosophy professor Stephen Asma has an interesting way of questioning the relativistic assumptions of his students:

My relativist undergraduates feel empowered by a leveling theory that puts their favorite rock band on equal footing with Bach and Mozart; but watch how quickly a qualitative hierarchy races back when, in the interests of consistency, you suggest that their favorite band must be no better than the Backstreet Boys (or that their favorite bohemian film is no better than, only different from, Police Academy 5). The old dichotomies between elite and popular, and high and low, may indeed be vexed by unjustifiable privileges, but without a new language of merit for the arts, the postmodernists are forced to live in a flattened landscape where Barry Manilow and Beetho-ven are equals. In principle, the postmodernists are happy to do so, because anything else would be hegemonic propaganda. In practice, however, their hearts are as autocratic as yours and mine (and they frequently elevate their own favorites with praise of "keepin' it real").

That passage reminds me of a debate I once had with an individual that assured me that all interpretations of meaning were equally valid. I responded that I interpretted his words as an expression of his sympathy for the Nazis. He was at a complete loss as to how to respond. I am not suggesting that my way of arguing was necessarily air tight, but it was striking to note the extent to which a reasonably intelligent individual was operating on the basis of assumptions that he had never bothered to think through.

Hat Tip: Evangelical Outpost


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