Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Nicholas Rescher’s Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal Reason is his critique of the subversion of objectivity and rationality by three intellectual trends that gathered steam in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The first of these trends was cultural relativism, a dogma of the social sciences that maintained that because codes of value emerge from and depend on particular cultures, there is no way to judge their relative superiority and, therefore, they are all equally valid. The second trend was a liberal egalitarianism that denied that any set of values (particularly Western values) is superior to another and urged tolerance of them all. The third trend was postmodernism, which contended that there are no objective, transcendent, and absolute values in the world such as truth, goodness, and beauty, and that the normative distinctions between truth and fiction, or sense and nonsense, are wholly subjective.

Rescher’s aim in this volume is to defend the claim of objectivity against its various cultured despisers. He argues that a relativistic indifference to truth and rightness is inherently self-destructive and self-contradictory. To abandon objective standards of truth in fields such as physics, history, and ethics is in effect to abandon those fields altogether. The source of objectivity, Rescher claims, is found in human rationality itself. Thus, to relinquish objectivity is nothing less than to relinquish reason. He...

(The entire section is 424 words.)