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Hi, All -- I left the whole text of Mike's post below because it is a veritable archaeological site of classic truth weaponry. In particular, look for the especially well-preserved exemplars of that old artillery piece, "logical consistency." I have little more substantive to do than point this out (i.e. I merely propose a reframing), but since we're doing logic I'll try my hand at some (and build an excavatable ruin of postmodernism, while I'm at it). In general: To my mind this 'conversation', its predictable moves and its inevitable mutual misunderstandings is great evidence for the postmodernist position. I realize it's also great evidence for how muddled postmodernists are. Heh, heh. Oh, and I apologize for not having enough time to shorten and tighten this post. Mike sez I and Robert can't be postmodernists and historians at the same time. Now there's an imperial claim. I disagree: here's how I do it (later I'll counterimperially assert that only postmodernists are really historians). I do history just the way Mike says we ought. That is, I belong to a traditional discourse community called "trained professional historian," or somesuch. Within that community, I have no compunctions whatever about making assessments about what is or isn't true. Lincoln assassinated? Damn straight. I also train my students to be competent members of that community. Logic and evidence, I tell them, are what distinguish mere opinion from informed opinion. Noncontradiction matters to us. Some stuff counts as evidence for us, some doesn't (mystical experience, nope; oral history, dubious; written records by official persons, bingo). I feel no compunctions about grading my students by those criteria. GIVEN the conventions of the historical discourse community, it's very clear indeed (in the form true/false) who's a good historian and who isn't. In fact, what discourse communities DO is elaborate means of discrimination like that. Wittgenstein called these 'language games'. Therefore, I make, and my better students make, TRUE historical statements. They're really, honestly true (since we define what counts as historical truth). They will be intelligible as such by anyone properly trained in the conventions of our community. They may or may not be utter gobbledygook to anyone not so trained -- e.g., our first-year students. I think we might even agree so far, at least as to practice. (I'd say we can do exactly the same things for different reasons.) Now, what anthropologists and postmodernists notice is this. If you want historical truth, go ask a historian. If you want religious truth, go ask a priest. See? With priests, the next question is: which religion? And each one has different conventions about what counts as the truth of the unseen worlds of the spirit. Historians are just like that -- even or maybe especially when they're vulgar empiricists dealing with only the seeable world ('hard evidence'), that is, when they have a philosophically unwarranted at-least-since-Hume faith in the evidence of their senses (NB: Mike invokes Aristotle, who was a little before Hume). So at this point the question is, is there some way I can jump from the statement, "according to my properly-anointed expertise in these time- honored and pragmatically successful conventions what I say is true" to the statement "what I say is simply true, without qualification"? Well, no; or rather, not without becoming a priest. To say that would be to deny that my discipline has a history (more on this later). It would also be to deny a priori that any other set of conventions could possibly be successful (yield truth) according to either a different set of criteria (values) or a different constellation of the familiar ones. And given that we are finite beings, even assuming we command the experience of our entire history, such a statement about infinity is at best intemperate. In fact, only God could have access to such omniscient certainty. ...Which makes that sort of universal truth claim look a lot like a religious statement. OK. As to logic there's one more move Mike makes that needs addressing. He rightly contrasts universal judgments of truth with relative judgments of truth, then notices various ways that Robert seems to be sliding toward the latter while really seeking to lay claim to the former (e.g. 'postmodernism is not a position, it's a situation'). He's found Robert's hidden god! This would be devastating IF Robert didn't understand all the stuff about conventions of truth- telling that I wrote about earlier. If, however, Robert gets it that according to postmodern truth-telling conventions, claims about truth are conventional (i.e. indisputably true within the convention, who-knows-what outside it), he's done nothing wrong by his own standards and his community's. This is why Rorty keeps talking about irony. Speaking logically: Robert is consistent with his own major premise, which doesn't happen to be Mike's. In fact, Mike's major premise seems to be that any position on truth which is not a claim to universal truth is relativist and hence, logically inconsistent (you can't hold that what you say is true and also hold that someone else might disagree truly -- violates elementary noncontradiction). [Actually, Mike's argument is even stronger, and more sneakily fallacious, than that. Read closely, it takes the form: real truth is inherently universal; any question about this leads to relativism; relativism is inherently repugnant; therefore, questioning the universality of truth is inherently repugnant. There is an unwarranted assertion and a logical fallacy here. The unwarranted assertion is that relativism ('navel-gazing') is inherently repugnant -- in fact, it's only repugnant on the premise that truth must be universal, but since this is the question it can't be the premise. The logical fallacy is that an unwelcome conclusion invalidates the reasoning leading to it. If this were true, all conclusions could be foregone. Not liking something is insufficient reason to declare it untrue or impossible.] Returning to the sins of Robert, the contradiction only exists if we accept Mike's premises. In a convention for which truth is a matter of convention, and for which conventions demonstrably differ both between and within cultures (remember we have to teach our students how to tell the truth about history), then contradictory truth claims will not only be logically possible, but ordinary -- and resolving them will be impossible without either demolishing all but one of the competing conventions (as Mike seeks to do with Robert in a friendly kind of way and as we seek to do to our students) or negotiating a compromise set of conventions. Here's where Foucault and Habermas disagree. Well, I'd say that such dynamics of demolition and negotiation are part of the ordinary epistemological history of a culturally diverse humanity. Nor am I exempt from them. In fact, if I did think myself exempt from them, I would be declaring myself to be outside of history. Truth has history like everything else -- even if it's a history of 'discovery'. This is why I think that only postmodernists, anthropologists, and other ironists about the pseudo- universal certainties cultures generate as part of their self-definitions are 'really' historians. Does that make me an elitist or a counterelitist? Oof. I don't know why I get into these things. Maybe because my computer has been down and I'm overdue. I hope this has at least been entertaining. Perhaps I can reward patient readers by recommending Anne Fadiman's *The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures* (Noonday, 1997). A riveting book that illustrates these issues so much more richly than these abstract scripted little insider debates can. Carl Dyke Methodist College -------------------------------------------------------------------------- On 5 Sep 2001, at 8:39, Michael L. Fitzhugh wrote: This reply is mainly to Naomi--I broke my word that I wouldn't re-respond for a few weeks, but I made a true prediction when I said the temptation would be too great if I kept subscribing; I couldn't resist the temptation to open today's batch of messages, which contained both Naomi's very good questions and Robert's promised position statement, and it was impossible to keep from digging in. But I'm *definitely* out of this loop from now on. Anyhow, I'm going to address Robert's points, but in the context of Naomi's pleasantly dialectical questions. "This does not necessarily make him *inaccurate*, and perhaps we should distinguish between this and truth. Perhaps one is about getting names and dates right, and the other about providing an honest (if always idiosyncratic) view of what it all *means*." Naomi has identified a core issue. However, you can't separate "truth" and "accuracy" so easily. Accuracy has been truth--i.e. whatever has been accurate has been taken to be true--in both the West and in East Asia since Socrates and Confucius: A truth is a correct statement about X, whatever X happens to be. Thus, when a historian discusses Su Shi's incarceration and probable torture, Su's name and the dates, if correct (by the Chinese calendar, by our Gregorian calendar, by the Mayan calendar, by an atomic clock, it doesn't matter what measuring system you use or what language you articulate it in) are *true.* Truth includes things like names and dates, for they, too, are claims about correctness. This was also implicit in your post: historians don't just toss off names and dates negligently, they try to--as you put it--get them *right*. And saying that any claim is "right" is to make a truth claim. This is certainly still the case in modern philosophy departments, and I'm not about to start claiming that not only were the ancients wrong regarding the notion that accurate statements are a species of truth, but currently practicing logicians are too! Robert is including facts & dates when he talks about "truth," and so am I. Aristotle was the first to formally articulate the law of noncontradiction and the excluded middle, but Confucius assumed it, the logicians ("white horse isn't white" and all that) seem to have disputed it, and if we need a formal articulation over in China, Zhu Xi--who almost certainly never even heard of Aristotle, nor probably the Romans or Islamic logicians who took it up either--gave it to us in the _Zhu Zi Yu-lei_. Ok, so what? Who cares about this vis-a-vis truth? Well, when you put the law of noncontradiction together with the traditional, cross-cultural, cross-temporal definition of truth and then stir in the empirically observable fact that humans can hold both the same or different ideas about what kinds of things are true, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that any given truth claim can be either 1) relative and perspectival, or 2) universal and objective, but not both. You can make arguments about partial truths, but the examples usually given can almost always be atomized into sub-truths that are either relative or universal themselves, so you might as well save yourself the trouble and consider "partial truth" mainly an heuristic for describing groups of statements. This is where your first question becomes relevant: "I'm not sure I understand the concern to demonstrate that Thucydides (or whoever) adhered to the same kind of 'truth' to which present-day historians aspire." I laid some of this out in my previous "Ancient History, Truth and Lies (Reprise)" replies; if you're an historian--and by definition historians should tell the truth about the past, whatever the heck else they do--postmodernism makes our job undoable. As Robert says in his new post, "'historical knowledge' is always a reflection of the present not the past"; I logically extended the point by saying that if that's true, we can only gaze at our own navels when we're inside an archive, telling ourselves about ourselves. That means that we have an *ethical responsibility* not to make any truth claims about the past at all, nor to claim to make truth claims about it--period. No qualifications, unless we make it clear to everyone (any possible audience) that we're totally guessing, that we have absolutely no basis whatsoever for thinking that we might be right or wrong. Again, as Robert said, "historians can never know what happened." And that leaves us, as Robert admitted, with history as merely a private hobby. That's what's at stake here: are postmodernists going to behave ethically as scholars, i.e. be logically consistent, and forego history? Logical consistency, I'd argue, is *the* fundamental goal for which any modern scholar, whether biomolecular engineer or literary critic, should strive. Robert apparently thinks so to, or at least thinks that basic logic is necessary, having attempted to defend postmodernism from a charge of "total relativism" in terms that assume the law of noncontradiction (when he employed the structure "A is not B"). But his "narrative" is still logically invalid. Let's look at this episode more closely. Here's Robert: "[Postmodernism does not hold that] everyone's opinion is equal.... 'There are many equally valid narratives' is not the same as 'all narratives have the same value'. One narrative can be better than another in a given context." Implicitly invoking the law of noncontradiction, Robert has insisted that any given narrative will be "better" in some contexts than others. Fine, but what does "better" mean? "More true", presumably, since Robert's trying to defend postmodernism from the charge of total relativism, and if "better" merely means "more useful," then with regard to truth, postmodernism is totally relativistic before Robert has fairly got started. So we'll assume that "better" means "more true." But since "equally valid" and "same value" sure *sound* like they mean the same thing, readers will require some actual support. Robert knows that and provides an example to help us see how postmodernist truth isn't totally relative after all: "If I wish to convince you that Lincoln was shot by an assasin I am more likely to succeed with 'I know Lincoln was shot because there is extensive documentary evidence' than 'I know Lincoln was shot because the archangel Gabriel told me so'. But that depends on my objective and your assumptions. If my objective is to win a convert and you are a religious individual I might be better off with the second." First, let's recall that this is supposed to show us why postmodernists are not total relativists. Ok: let us be charitable and assume that the anonymous "I" (let's call him/her "Sue") here holds both views to be true: she has both seen the angel and then, just to check up on 'ol Gabe, visited a few archives. When dealing with her worldly, hedonistic, atheistic friends, she uses the first version; when proselytizing on the street for her church, she uses the second. Both versions are true. Fine--but while Sue believes both versions, the other two people/groups do not. The truth is *wholly* relative with respect to them. Thus, the truth here is 2/3 relative, and that only with regard to Sue's time and place. We have here a very weak defense of "total relativism"; this tells us nothing about how people from different times and cultures might believe the same things and thus avoid having totally relative truths. But what if Sue only believes one of the versions? Let's say she's a mystic and is wholly convinced that true knowledge only comes by mystical means, so she's in Gabriel's camp. Oooops--that means she's lying to her atheistic friends, so what we've got is not a difference of truth between her and them, but merely a case of a good rhetorician trying to persuade someone to a particular point of view. Truth is not present in Sue's speech to the atheists, so this scenario doesn't demonstrate anything about truth, relativistic or not (except that people can choose not to tell it). Now, what if I've been interpreting this all wrong. What if Robert instead means to give us two wholly different scenarios, taking place halfway across the world from each other and in different cultures, maybe even in different centuries? We then have Sue and, say, Sam. Sue and her cronies are the atheistic historians, while Sam and his friends are the credulous churchgoers. Never the twain shall meet. Ooops, this obviously doesn't do much to help Robert show that postmodernism isn't total relativism, rather the opposite. Well, what if Sue and Sam don't hold the beliefs of their interlocutors? Uh-oh, that means they're lying and they know it. Back to square one. So: what if Sue (singular again) doesn't believe either version? We've exhausted all the other interpretive options. The beliefs of the two interlocutors are given, so there are no variables there. And the protagonist can only hold 1) both at the same time, 2) either one but not both; or 3) there isn't just one protagonist, but two, in which case the two protagonists either believe the same thing as their friends or do not; and having found that none of these gave us an adequate account of how we can have a postmodernism that doesn't require (at least) cultural solipsism, now we return to the single-protagonist interpretation, 4) in which Sue believes neither version. Well, that means that we're back to the scenario in which the protagonist is lying, and we've already worked out the applicable result. In the end, when Robert tells us, "In postmodernism not all narratives are equal but which are better or worse changes; 'truth' is dependent on context," we have no choice but to conclude that if he's going to be logically consistent, he'd better stop trying to tell us that truth isn't all relative (with the exception of individuals from the same era & culture). Rather, he needs to join those of his postmodernist colleagues who admit that truth is utterly relative. (The "Blacksmith" story would succumb to the same kinds of problems if logically picked apart, but I'm running on too long already.) I have never come across any postmodernist argument that didn't finally admit to cultural solipsism, OR that didn't ultimately dissolve into incoherence like Robert's does here. As another example, his sentence, "This is not a position that postmodernists think we ought to adopt, it is a situation they think has always existed" is correct. But what he has done, and doesn't seem to realize, is to quite accurately describe an absolute, totalizing, *objective* truth claim, meant to be true for all of human history ("always been true") in precisely the way that, elsewhere, he (also quite accurately) notes that postmodernists say is impossible. In other words, they've got the big-T Truth, and no one else does; this is what Mr. Leckie meant when he said, "the elitism is a bit much to take." Of course, it's also logically contradictory. (The caveats Robert throws up, such as "this isn't a proof", are red herrings; the issue here isn't whether postmodernism has proved its points, because they are ultimately impossible to prove; the issue is whether they're even logically coherent.) The problems with logic are ultimately why postmodernism will never be anything other than a critique, and why the many attempts to make something positive out of it have failed. It is not merely (as Robert argues) because it's a wholly negative critique--after all, my logical critique of postmodernist relativism and the ramifications it has for historians is wholly negative as well; I went on to offer something positive for other historians, but I don't have much consolation to give postmodernists. Robert, to his credit, has written quite clearly; the theorists he admires generally do not, using a great deal of impressive-sounding jargon and concealing their logical problems rather more effectively. If you're willing to make the effort to understand what they're saying, though, and go through their texts line by line, the arguments always fall apart. But how many historians are going to make the effort? I can testify that it's a dreary task. Instead, most historians get their theory from people like Robert, and even then they often don't take the time to read things through carefully. That wouldn't be much of a problem if Robert weren't flat wrong when he says "postmodernism has had no effect at all on history." More and more historians, though still not becoming "paid-up postmodernists," pick and choose between postmodernist tenets without taking responsibility for postmodernist logic--"we can't go all the way with this stuff, but gosh, deconstruction [power-knowledge, discourse, the hyperreal, you name your favorite postmodernist methodological concept] sure is a productive tool", "the postmodernists are wrong in the end, but they've taught us a few things," etc. The problem with this increasingly common approach is that Derrida, Foucault, Baudrillard, Delueze & Guattari, etc. all developed their methods and concepts via long, involved chains of reasoning (faulty, as far as I'm concerned, but reasoning nonetheless). If one appropriates their results, the logic that led to those results--unwelcome or not--attends them. Unless scholarly "discourse" is to slide into solipsism and interdisciplinary work is to be made a mockery, that logic is precisely what gives validity to their philosophical results; reject the logic, and the results must also be rejected unless one constructs an alternate chain of logic and arrives at the same destination by a different route. You might like the deconstructive method, but if you employ it while disagreeing with the philosophical logic that led to it, you must either chart a *different* course to deconstructive practice than Derrida's, one with which you *do* agree and are willing to take responsbility for, or your work is (in logical terms) structurally incoherent. Just because a lot of other people in the discipline are doing it doesn't mean it's logically sound (to make the argument that it is justified for that reason is to fall into the good 'ol ad populum fallacy). There's also a practical problem, though I suppose postmodernists would refuse to acknowledge it: if you play fast-and-loose with a concept from another discipline (e.g. philosophy or science), not taking the time to fully absorb its logical ramifications, you're likely to end up doing sloppy scholarship. For example, a couple of scientists have recently demonstrated how Schapin and Schaffer's ignorance of the science involved screwed up their entire argument in _Leviathin and the Air Pump_ (The essay is in an anthology called _A House Built Upon Sand: Postmodern Myths About Science_ or something like that). In sum: as an ethical matter, dictated by logical factors, we must either accept postmodernism in all its relativistic glory and quit doing history, or reject postmodernism itself. Robert's assertions to the contrary seem ineffective to me--they basically boil down to, "postmodernism hasn't really affected history, so don't worry about the fact that you can't have historical knowledge; we'll just keep on doing 'history', even though we're now all enlightened and realize that we're play-acting." (I'm not sure how else to interpret his statement that, even though it's bankrupt, there's no need to change the 'modern synthesis' except w/regard to undergradute courses.) In spite of his claim that he's going to do so, Robert never does offer anything substantive to put in the place of "historical knowledge"; "historical skills" can't fill such a gap because they wouldn't be historical anymore--anthropological, maybe, or political-scientific. Remember, we're contemplating our own navels here, not Ouyang's or anyone else's who lived in the past. And in this context, I can only view the strategy Robert proffers to postmodernists for retaining "history" as reprehensible. Their universities pay them to study the past rather than write fiction about it, and while no one thinks you can get the whole god's-perspective truth, students/parents do pay good money for what they think is at least an attempt to get at some real truth about the past. To keep taking that money when at the same time believing that historical knowledge is simply impossible to obtain, I hold, is unethical (cf. Sue, above). Yes, If I were convinced that I couldn't ever say anything that was both true for me and had also been true for, say, Ouyang Xiu, then I would take another job. There'd be no point in being an historian. It would be utterly dishonest to keep taking the university's paycheck. One final note: Robert writes, "worse, every generation overturns the work of the last in a merry-go-round of reinterpretation" I'm not sure why this is "worse." Interpretations come and go, but more often than not they aren't "overturned" but simply expanded or modified somewhat; but anyhow, big deal. No historian has seriously argued that Lincoln didn't die--and that, to echo Mr. Leckie, is remarkable continuity (though perhaps not so remarkable as Thucydides', Sima Qian's, Sima Guang's, or Ouyang Xiu's). For me, it is enough. For the last time, (this time for sure!) Mike