Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed
Blackburn (Simon)
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Back Cover Blurb

  1. We all like to think we value and abide by it - but what is 'the truth? Can one opinion be regarded as more 'correct' than another - and, if so, why? In a world overwhelmed with different beliefs, habits and values, can such a thing as truth even be said to really exist - or is everything relative?
  2. Here, Simon Blackburn explores the notion of truth, the philosophical wars that have been fought over it and whether such battles can ever be resolved. Both a compelling personal argument and a fascinating exploration of the way in which the concept has changed through the ages, Truth offers inspiring guidance to anyone who believes that the truth is out there, but doesn't know where to look.

Amazon Book Description
  1. This important book is about truth, and the enemies of truth, and the wars that are fought between them. As Simon Blackburn says in his introduction, "the ground is complicated, strewn with abandoned fortresses and trenches, fought over by shifting alliances".
  2. Truth is an essential sure-footed guide through the territory, from classical to modern times. It looks at relativism and absolutism, toleration and belief, objectivity and knowledge, science and pseudo-science, and the moral and political implications, as well as the nuances, of all these.

Amazon Customer Review
  1. Alone it stands, assailed on all sides by priests and postmodernists and prophets and pseudoscientists and practitioners of public relations, how are we ever going to approach a word like "truth" in its solitary majesty? With a philosopher like Simon Blackburn at your side, and with this brilliant book in your hand. The difference between him and them is the degree of commitment to reason, the degree to which obfuscation is avoided and the temptation to hide behind jargon is resisted. Blackburn could easily dazzle most of us with technical arguments, but he wants to clarify, not mystify, and he succeeds. This book is about a "war of ideas and attitudes... not only between different people, but grumbling within the breast of each individual": today, are we a believer, a sceptic, a cynic, a rationalist, an absolutist, a relativist? And tomorrow? Many of us will sensibly shrug off such labels, but we should not and we do not shrug off questions about truth: it matters if "politicians claim that some country has weapons of mass destruction when they know that it does not, or if NASA says that a shuttle is “safe" when it is not.
  2. Chapter 1 - "Faith, Belief and Reason" - draws in three more similarly abused and important terms. While this might seem to be multiplying our difficulties before we have begun, these are all connected and their meanings interdependent. People either give reasons for or have faith in the truth of any particular belief. That sounds simple, inclusive and nicely symmetrical, and surely covers all bases. The harmony is an illusion. The absolutist, often of a religious temperament, cannot resist the allure of dogma, while relativism "chips away at our right to disapprove of what anybody says." Both sides bicker over questions of authority. Blackburn's opening sentences hold out the promise of finding a way through this maze: "There are real standards... We must not believe that anything goes."
  3. Indeed, we "have a duty to believe carefully, in the light of reason alone" as the following story illustrates. A ship-owner who acquires "a sincere and comfortable conviction" that his vessel is thoroughly safe and seaworthy, and who ignores any doubts to the contrary, is putting his trust in a higher power and putting his passengers at risk when he allows the vessel to sail. His belief in the safety of his ship has not been earned "in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts."
  4. This is from the essay "The Ethics of Belief1" by William Clifford, who argues that it is always morally wrong to take an intellectual shortcut and believe on faith alone. Blackburn agrees. Someone "sitting on a completely unreasonable belief is sitting on a time bomb. The apparently harmless, idiosyncratic belief of the Catholic Church that one thing may have the substance of another" (transubstantiation, a process still believed to fuel the Eucharist) "although it displays absolutely none of its empirical qualities, prepares people for the view that some people are agents of Satan in disguise, which in turn makes it reasonable to destroy them." Lack of faith is not a deficiency, and a refusal "to believe something is not a kind of faith." I would argue in addition that a lifetime of exposure to such false beliefs corrodes our powers of critical thought. How else to explain Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's recent assertion that secularists are not "fully human"?
  5. "Making ourselves gullible or credulous, we lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them" and risk "sinking back into savagery". Children, who are naturally open to all sorts of beliefs and have their lives before them, must therefore be protected from their own credulity just as we protect them from running into the road. An important first step is to recognize that children "are born human beings, but nothing else."
  6. Blackburn has a wonderful way of bringing a discussion about truth down to earth and can write the kind of sentence you're unlikely to find elsewhere: "we do not have to resort to dark forces to explain my status as an announcer of butter". He believes there is butter in the fridge because he has opened the door and seen it. What's more, since the age of around four, when we ceased to be self-centred realists, we have all known that it is possible for others to hold a false belief about there being butter in the fridge - if we have eaten it and not owned up! This appreciation of truth is not metaphysical speculation but an ordinary part of being a functioning human being. No one is "born a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Jew" but we are all born with the potential to work out what is true and what is not true without recourse to supposed higher powers. A just and humane society must nurture and not extinguish such potential.

Contents
    Preface – ix
    Introduction – xiii
  1. Faith, Belief and Reason
    → 1. Clifford's Duties – 3
    → 2. Will and Passion in James – 7
    → 3. Fiction and Myth – 13
    → 4. Kinds of Animation – 19
  2. Man the Measure
    → 1. Turning the Tables: the Recoil Argument – 25
    → 2. Modern Judo – 29
    → 3. The Variation of Subjectivities – 32
    → 4. The Moving Bull's-eye – 36
    → 5. Doing it Ourselves – 39
  3. Ishmael's Problem and the Delights of Keeping Quiet
    → 1. Who Tells the Tale? – 47
    → 2. A Gestalt Switch – 55
    → 3. You Tell Me, or Down with Pilate – 58
    → 4. Moral Relativism – 63
    → 5. Man the Measurer – 67
    → 6. Summary – 70
  4. Nietzsche: the Arch Debunker
    → 1. Facts or Interpretations? – 75
    → 2. Twilight of the Idols – 79
    → 3. Perspectivism – 85
    → 4. Adequate Words – 92
    → 5. Heraclitus and the Flux – 98
    → 6. The Darwinian Element – 104
  5. The Possibility of Philosophy
    → 1. Getting Puzzled – 109
    → 2. Four Responses – 112
    → 3. Eliminativism – 114
    → 4. Realism – 117
    → 5. Deconstructing the Issue – 121
    → 6. The Constructivist Corner – 124
    → 7. The Example of Wittgenstein – 129
  6. Observation and Truth: from Locke to Rorty
    → 1. Paradise Lost – 139
    → 2. First Impressions – 140
    → 3. Holism – 144
    → 4. Davidson's Mantle – 148
    → 5. Rorty's Talking World – 151
    → 6. Keeping our Feet on the Ground – 156
    → 7. Interlude: Law, Tennis and the Coffee-house – 162
    → 8. A Political Message – 166
  7. Realism as Science; Realism about Science
    → 1. No Miracles – 175
    → 2. Science Red in Tooth and Claw – 178
    → 3. Explaining from Within – 180
    → 4. Animation and Belief Again – 185
    → 5. Underdetermination – 190
  8. Historians and Others
    → 1. Conceptual Schemes – 199
    → 2. Mind Reading – 205
    → 3. Mirroring – 210
    → 4. Infirmities – 213
    → 5. Collectives and their Histories – 219
    → 6. Peace Breaks Out – 220
    Notes – 223
    Index – 235



In-Page Footnotes ("Blackburn (Simon) - Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed")

Footnote 1:
BOOK COMMENT:

Penguin (25 May 2006)



"Blackburn (Simon) - Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed"

Source: Blackburn (Simon) - Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed


Preface (Full text, excerpted)
  1. It is easy to feel frightened at the beginning of the twenty-first century. And among the most frightening things are the minds of other people. The beliefs and faiths that move people to behave as they do are opaque to others; as we read or watch the news, lunacy together with mutual suspicion and contempt seem to be the order of the day.
  2. If only people would be sensible. If only they would submit to the order of reason. This has been the lament of philosophers for millennia, and in times like these it becomes the lament of more than mere philosophers. But it is to the philosophical tradition that we have to look if we want to know what is required to be sensible, or what the order of reason might be.
  3. Unfortunately, when we do look to the tradition, the picture is confused and convoluted, and it may not give us much help. This is particularly true if we look to the recent picture. Many of the philosophers I talk about in this book have been suspicious of the whole project of epistemology — of saying which intellectual habits deserve respect, and which ones do not. Words like ‘relativism' and 'postmodernism' signal a resulting culture in which ‘anything goes', and although this itself is an object of suspicion to innocent outsiders, they are unlikely to understand them well enough to oppose them effectively. This book tries to help us to do better. It is therefore something of a guide for the perplexed.
  4. In writing it I have many sources to acknowledge. The material was presented as a set of eight Gifford lectures at the University of Glasgow in the spring of 2004, and my first debt is to the Trustees of that excellent fund, and to the questioning audience. Lord Gifford’s will is a shining example of a kind of liberalism that is often sneered at, and seldom equalled. A theist himself, he made it very clear that the lectures he founded were not for theists only, but for any serious thinkers to explore serious questions about the place of humanity in the world. I do not believe that the gods of human beings do much credit to their inventors and interpreters, but I hope my lectures qualified as serious. A second class of debts arise because the material here draws upon or overlaps a number of published papers of mine. [… snip …]

    Simon Blackburn, Cambridge, 2004



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