Emile Durkheim, with the best will in the world, celebrated society as a force which liberates us ‘from blind unthinking physical forces”; in other words, specifically from nature, generally from context and psychologically from mortality. In this approach, nature and context are things which subject us. We must free ourselves from our subjection to the forces of nature. They fill us with fear.
Here you see our weakness for ideology. If we live in a context, we believe we are subjected. If we can free ourselves from this context, well then, we are free. For some reason, the idea that we might have a bit of both seems extraordinarily complicated. Why not have the ability to act in a manner which other animals or rocks cannot, while still seeing ourselves as part of the unthinking physical forces? Quite simply because it would imply living with complexity and uncertainty. We must have one or the other - freedom or subjection.
But if we cannot accept that we are both rushing forward and yet part of a synchronistic whole, what are we doing if not condemning ourselves to an isolated stance of denial?”
On Equilibrium, John Ralston Saul (2002, pg.173-74)
[from the old blog, 3/08/2005, philosophy or Lewis Carroll insanity, you be the judge]
I wish to draw attention to the fallacy of absolutist readings of relativism. The fallacy arises out of the assumption that the select reading of the term within an absolutist framework signifies the essence of the term’s meaning, and that its logical refutation signifies the final word on relativism’s plausibility. This fallacy is perpetrated by enclosing both absolutism and relativism within a single logical framework, determining both as commensurable to an either/or valuation in absolute terms. In such an analysis the relativistic viewpoint is only nominally addressed as a counterpoint to all that is absolute; the implicit bias of the argument corrupts the conclusions in the same way contrasting irrationalism with rationalism does, namely, by denoting one to be merely a deviation of the standard.
Were both concepts to be defined independent of a unifying theory of logic, it would become readily apparent that relativism imposes a parallel logic that causes it to be incommensurable in an either/or valuation in absolute terms. Relativism is not merely the flipside of absolutism, but in its fullest comprehension includes potentiality for admixtures of both, and even simultaneous integrations of the nominal concepts of relativism and absolutism (what I have been classifying as doublethink). This is an extremely important detail that is often overlooked, that relativism can maintain some superficial reliance on absolute concepts without contradiction, because even logic must be relativistic when referring to the concept of relativism. a relativist does not have to deny entirely the absoluteness of ‘scientific realism’ he/she just does not have to be consistent in that belief, but use it to his/her own self-configuring benefit.
A similar fallacy would occur in a relativistic reading of absolutism, in that it would only nominally be able to address what absolute signifies. Even this is a simplification of the problem, because one cannot intelligibly speak of parallel logic because it relies on an inference that encloses the two concepts. One can only speak of what is not true in either reading, and in that incompleteness respect the lack of a unifying theory of logic.
The incommensurability of absolutism and relativism is analogous to that of reason and faith, in fact they are subcategories of these larger concepts.
I believe Wittgenstein was alluding to this incommensurability in his famous last line of the Tractatus: “what can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent”.