Saturday, August 20, 2005

Is diversity self-refuting?

“We could argue, therefore, that Mr. Reichert’s valorization of individuality is a product of his own culture.”

This line from the diversity writing curriculum is the rhetorical equivalent of a tell in poker. They’ve tipped their hand. This one sentence sent my on a flurry of reading the last month and a half of summer. It's been revealed: diversity is about cultural relativism.

Of course this was to be expected, but the above sentence represents a near blatant admission. The grounds of the debate have shifted, or at least momentarily solidified (attacking diversity is usually like punching a bowl of pudding—there’s just no substance there). Much flows from this, and a recourse to relativism is usually a sign that one has lost the debate (“okay, maybe facts and logic are on your side, but, really, who is to say what’s right or wrong anyways?”)

This relativism underlies the faddish academic doggerel of postmodernism, of which diversity is just one manifestation. But I find postmodernism, and therefore diversity, to be largely self-refuting, when they accept relativism yet at the same time advance some framework. Here is the way I see it:

1) Postmodernism posits that there is no absolute truth.

2) The statement that there is no absolute truth is itself an absolute truth.

3) Therefore statement one is contradictory; there must be absolute truth by admission of postmodernists.

This bothers me a little. It just seems so incredibly bizarre that the statement “there is no absolute truth” can lead, seemingly logically, to the conclusion that there MUST be absolute truth. Maybe I’m mistaken in saying that statement one (“there is no absolute truth”) is itself an absolute truth.

But how can it be otherwise? Surely when postmodernists say “there is no absolute truth” they mean this absolutely, and they mean it to be the truth? If not, if the statement "there is no absolute truth" is untrue or not absolute, then lo! there must be truth out there!

Is postmodernism, and therefore diversity, self-refuting at such a basic and simple level?

Maybe pomos are saying that this isn’t so much a truth, as it is a metatruth, a truth about truths. But this just seems to make the truth all the more absolute, and, besides, pomos are resolute in their disbelief in metaphysics in general.

This argument reminds me of the ontological argument for the existence of God, which is about the most brain-twistingly simple argument in existence. This argument runs as follows:

1) If there were a God, he would be that thing of which no greater thing can be thought.
2) It is possible for us to think of that which no greater thing can be thought.
3) But, the greatest thing which can be thought must also exist, because it wouldn’t be the greatest thing if it didn’t exist.
4) God exists.

The argument is elegantly simple, but my quick rehash of it here doesn’t do it justice. I know it probably doesn’t seem too plausible sitting before you now, but trust me: my philosophy professor a couple of years back presented this to our class, and the best efforts of the resident atheists were futile in touching it. [If interested further, check out St. Anselm’s “Proslogion.”]

The similarity in these two arguments is the seeming absurdity that we can infer the existence of something (God or truth) merely because we can think about them, or make statements about them. As I said, it’s brain-twistingly simple, yet how can it not bother you a little? Is it all really that easy? And, if so, then why the infatuation with postmodernism?

1 Comments:

Anonymous Tim Robbins said...

P1. I conceive of a being than which no greater can be conceived.
P2. If a being than which no greater can be conceived does not exist, then I can conceive of a being greater than a being than which no greater can be conceived, namely, a being than which no greater can be conceived *that exists*.
P3. I cannot conceive of a being greater than a being than which no greater can be conceived.
C1. Thus, a being than which no greater can be conceived exists.
P4. If that being does not have a Noodly Appendage, then I can conceive of a being greater that being, i.e. a being *that has a Noodly Appendeage*.
C2. Thus, a being than which no greater can be conceived has a Noodly Appendage.
C3. Therefore, a being than which no greater can be conceived has a Noodly Appendage and exists, that is, the Flying Spaghetti Monster exsits. RAmen!"

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10:26 PM  

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