We will seek to constructively encounter the three areas facing the Judaeo/Christian reflections and perspectives in 2003. We have existed in a foundationalist culture for over a century since Kant, a’ la’ Goedel’s Theorem and demise of positivism. The cultural indicators from Rationalism to Irrationalism are exposed in our postmodern lexicon by the phoneme “Ism” added to root word. Postmodernism has been a buzzword since the 1980’s. The developments in mathematics and the history and philosophy of science have called in question metaphysics and the autonomy of mathematics and the scientific enterprise, i.e., neither area is autonomous or self-grounding. Since God has been dead along with True Truth (objective universal) for over a century, and since Kant, Hegel, Hume, Marx and Freud control the academy, there is nothing remaining beyond Wittgenstein’s “Language Game,” i.e., Cultural and Epistemological Relativism. We now dwell in the house of multicultural/tolerant diversity! In this preliminary study, we will unfold four areas of concern: (1) Understanding social science, (2) Narrative displacement concerning relativism and problems of knowledge claims, (3) The dilemma of impasse and irrelevance (the question of truth in Western Philosophy in the context of truth in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and the Christian tradition and (4) the postmodern demise of True Truth in mathematics and science. (Goedel’s Theorem denies autonomous number theory, therefore enters probability calculus, insurance statistics, Barna’s Demographics from finite induction to universal declaration)
It is crucial to understand that the physical sciences developed long before the dimensions of social phenomenon were scientifically investigated. Knowledge of the received scientific philosophy before the developments in the social sciences is imperative. A dualist view of the mind and matter naturally gives rise to the so-called problem of other minds. The holistic view started with some idea of society as prior to an analogous problem. How can we understand the members of societies which are different from our own? Both positions stress the distinctiveness of the human, and in so doing, are paradoxically quick to dismiss appeals to human nature (e.g., Biblical creation and the Imago Dei). Those who stress the importance of consciousness do not wish it to be constrained by anything extraneous, while those who emphasize the priority of the social feel that appeals to human nature explains little. The phenomena of consciousness is not explained, whether it produces society or is produced by it. Both suggestions seek to avoid any reductionist programme.
Both are opposed to naturalistic explanations. They do not want the social sciences to become a branch of physics or of biology; they agree that social sciences are radically different from the physical science. Social reality is utterly distinct from physical reality. Humans are more than animals.
Marxian humanism is weighted against workers becoming mere commodities. It is a view of alienation protests against the way in which the products of labor can be seen to confront the worker as a power independent of the producer (Karl Marx, Early Writings, 1971, p. 135). Marxian consciousness was not that of an individual, it was confirmation of social life.
If we are to understand the beliefs and practices of other societies, does not often come down to the realization that there is a “common base” which they share with us. The key question is whether we are in fact dealing with people like ourselves or whether society shapes a people in such radically different ways that we cannot assume a “common human nature.” (See Roger Trigg, The Shaping of Man, and his Understanding Social Science (Blackwell, 2nd edition, 2001) Without any chance of using human nature as a basis for interpreting an alien society, the possibility of understanding and comparing the activities of the members of different societies seems remote. They would be as difficult to understand as those of alien life forms found in science fiction (e.g., even when the alien forms speak English--what?). Without any “common ground” there could be no inclusion in intelligible narrative. Imagine “Pop” culture understanding alien cultures, if there is no “common ground”(see esp. P. Winch, The Idea of A Social Science, 1958, p. 180; and “Understanding A Primitive Society,” reprinted in his work, Ethics and Action. 1972, p. 47).
Winch recognizes this and takes up with approval Vico’s idea of natural law on the basis for understanding human history. He quotes Vico as saying that all nations “keep these three human customs: all have some religion, all contract solemn marriages, and all bury their dead” (Winch “Understanding Primitive Society,” p. 47).
One distinction between society and individuals randomly mating with each other is that there will be settled procedures governing contracts between the sexes (e.g., status of children). Postmodern birth control has somewhat broken the correlation between sexual relations and the birth of children (Roe vs. Wade, January 22, 1973 and the present conflict with President Bush and “pro-choice/pro-abortion” is really over abortions--not choice. There have been 43 million abortions since 1973).
Many of these occurrences have taken place in Western societies, but not, it is alleged, in the very different environment of the South Pacific. They appear to be induced by culture rather than biology. The central question becomes--does biology or the fact that human beings are stripped of culture and civilization determine how people behave? In 1925-26, Margaret Mead spent some nine months in Samoa, and as a result of her research there into the life of adolescent girls, she published the book, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928, reprint 1943). Her work was soon employed to disprove the arguments of those who were at that time emphasizing the importance of biological inheritance in molding human character. Much study was associated with the study of “eugenics,” a discipline finally discredited by its association with the racist theories of Nazi Germany. Franz Boas was bitterly opposed to eugenics and set about showing with the resources of cultural anthropology how misguided such views were. He was the major person in American cultural anthropology when Margaret Mead began her career. Boas wrote a foreword to her book concluding with the resounding sentence:
The results of Miss Mead’s painstaking investigation confirm the suspicion long held by anthropologists, that much of what we ascribe to human nature is no more than a reaction of the restraints put upon us by our civilization (ibid., Mead, p. 6).
Mead was preoccupied with showing the “scientific” incongruity between Samoa and Western culture. Her philosophical presuppositions/preconceptions refused to understand native girls sufficiently to show how different they were could only depend on actual underlying similarity. Otherwise, understanding and interpretation would have been ruled out from the beginning. In fact, Mead appears to have been thoroughly misled about the nature of Samoan life in general and adolescent life in particular. Her account of its certainty points a picture of an exotic society, as she intended, but at crucial points it seems highly implausible.
Derek Freeman, whose experience in Samoa as an anthropologist, far exceeds the few months spent there by Margaret Mead, has presented a devastating attack revealing the deep misconceptions which she acquired about Samoan society (see Derek Freeman, Margaret Mead and Samoa , 1983). Mead wrote of the carefree South Sea Islanders who indulged in promiscuous sexual activity without incurring any harm. Her account seems to owe more to Western fantasies about tropical islands than to actual conditions in Samoa. She implies that Samoans avoid stress by not becoming too committed to any individual. The life she portrays is one of careless ease, where the anxieties and tensions of civilized society do not arise. Her reckless abandon perhaps derives from her Freudian views and her lesbian relationship with her cohort Ruth Benedict (first women teachers at Columbia University). Freeman’s brilliant critique of her cultural relativism declares: “The primary bond between mother and child is very much a part of the biology of Samoans, as it is of all humans.” (Freeman, op.cit., p. 201) Freeman further states: “I have yet to meat a Samoan who agrees with Mead’s assertion that adolescence in Samoan society is smooth, untroubled and unstressed.” (P. 259). He also claims that her main conclusions “are in reality the figments of an anthropological myth, which is deeply at variance with the facts of Samoan ethnography and history.” (Op.cit., p. 107)
Here dubious employment of the myth of empirical science was used to show the radical differences that are alleged to exist in humans placed in different cultures. Cultural anthropology developed as a supposedly autonomous use of the scientific method, freed of dependence on biology and the logic of scientific methodology. Freeman explicitly links the final establishment of anthropology as an independent (autonomous) discipline with the results of Mead’s research. Here we engage the “myth of scientific neutrality” in this newly established academic discipline (see my essay, “The Myth of Neutrality”). Her findings were a major influence in the exclusion of biology and the acceptance of the absolute priority of culture (i.e., cultural relativism), as a force in the molding of society.
In the very cultural context of Margaret Mead’s “cultural relativism,” there were other categories which fell under the blade of Historicism. One major example is Dilthey’s Hermeneutical Revolution expressing his relativistic structuralism.
There are at least five basic implications of Dilthey’s Structuralism which are exemplified by both the history of Science and Christianity:
(1) There is no such thing as a determinate, exclusive starting point of any kind of inquiry or action; (2) There is no such thing as a singular, primary and privileged or absolute source for human knowledge or action; (3) There is no such thing as a primary and privileged or absolute foundation or ground or guarantee of validity of knowledge or reliability of ways of acting; (4) There is no such thing as a primary, ultimate or absolute criterion for the truth or falsity of knowledge and/or the reliability of a rule of action. *Krausser, “Dilthey’s Revolution” Review of Metaphysics (1968,69): 262-280); (5) The implications of these ‘relativistic axioms’ for the biblical view of incarnation, the canon, i.e., any final authoritative word within the space-time matrix, should be crystal clear. Their significance lies in the fact that they dominate much or most biblical hermeneutics under the auspices of being scientific, of course.
(Compare these five theses with Ruth Benedict’s thesis for the cultural relativism of anthropology) (See my paper, “From Historicism, The Idea of Progress to Postmodern Revisionist History,” pp. 5, 6)
Freeman refers to “cultural determinism” as a myth; he asserts--
On the basis of Mead’s writings, Samoa came to be recognized in intellectual circles and in the social sciences as providing conclusive proof of the cultural determinism central to the Boasian paradigm. . . . So enthusiastically was Mead’s vision of Samoa accepted, that her conclusions as they were elaborated on by herself and others, gave rise to what has become the most widely promulgated myth of twentieth century anthropology. (Freeman, op.cit., p. 94; see also Roger Trigg, Understanding Social Science (2nd edition Blackwell, 2001, esp. Chps. 4 and 5, pp. 64-111; N.L. Gifford, An Introduction to Relativism and Knowledge (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1983, pp. 76-120)
Margaret Mead’s book, Coming of Age in Samoa launched her fifty-year long career as an anthropologist. The book has sold millions of copies in sixteen languages. Her work on far away cultures was in order to have an impact on how we did things close to home. Her work influenced the way people were brought up in this country (e.g., Jane Howard, “An Angry Storm Over the South Seas of Margaret Mead,” Smithsonian, 14, April 1983, p. 67).
The controversy which Mead has precipitated reached far beyond anthropology. At stake were the significant currents in the culture that a book within the late twenties by a graduate student at Columbia University had helped to form. Mead arrived in Pago Pago in American Samoa on August 31, 1925, finding the site of her research into what she constructed as a primitive culture was surrounded by American battleships. In her memoir Blackberry Winter, published 47 years later, Mead wrote, “I myself had never learned a foreign language; I had only studied Latin, French and German in high school.” (M. Mead, Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years (NY: Wm. Morrow and Co., 1972, p. 139).
Mead arrived on Ta’u, an island in the Samoa group to conduct investigation into the lives of adolescent girls there. Mead’s mentor, Franz Boas, was troubled by the claim in a recent book by G.S. Hall, where an adolescent wanted to know if adolescence was universally a grounding of turmoil characterized by what the Germans termed sturm und dranz and Weltschmenz or whether these difficulties were simply a phenomenon in certain cultures. Was adolescent rebelliousness something associated with hormones and as a result, inevitably linked with the outset of puberty as Hall claimed, or was it simply the result of factors that do not exist in certain cultures and merely therefore amenable to modification? An ensuing tropical storm virtually leveled the island on January 1, 1926. Mead left Samoa nine months after she arrived, claiming that she had enough material to allow her to generalize not only about life of Samoan adolescents but also about Samoan culture in general and beyond that about “our humanity” as well. “One by one,” she wrote in Coming Age in Samoa, “aspects of behavior which we had been accustomed to consider invariably compares to our humanity were found to be merely a result of civilization, present in the inhabitants in one country, absent in another” (i.e. biblical Imago Dei, Human nature grounded in creation) (M. Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization (NY: Blue Ribbon Books, 1928, p. 4).
Her mentor, Franz Boas, was just as willing to generalize based on a very slim anthropological research of his student. “Much of what we ascribe to human nature,” he wrote in the preface of her book, “is no more than a reaction to the restraints put upon us by our civilization.” (Mead, ibid., p. xv, i.e., origins of a postmodern attack on Western civilization and opt for multiculturalism)
Jane Howard expresses the same thesis: . . .”Mead later wrote there were two things: the influence of the progressive education movement and a quick and partial interpretation of the first flush of success in Russian education experiment,” which caused educators and philosophers to say “yes,” the child is malleable, he takes the form you wish him to take; therefore, if you train him sufficiently differently from the way his unfortunate parents were trained, in no time at all you will produce a new generation which will build a new world.” (Howard, Mead, p. 119)
The intensification of interest in discovering the malleability of human nature, became evident from the tenor of the early review of Coming of Age. Fredi Kirckwey claimed that “somewhere in each of us, hidden among our more obscure desires that our impulses of escape, is a palm fringed South Sea island. . . . a languorous atmosphere promising freedom and irresponsibility. . . thither we run. . . to find love which is free, easy and satisfying.” (Freeman, ibid., p. 97) Samuel D. Schmalhausen effused over “The innocent strangely impersonal naively mechanistic behavioristic sexing of the light-hearted youths and maidens of far off Samoa” and felt that there were but two roads of the heart’s fulfillment: Samoa on Calvary: happy-go-lucky felicity or tragic intensity” (Freeman, ibid., p. 97)
In his book, Our Changing Human Nature, published one year after Mead’s Coming of Age, Schmalhausen concluded--”Back to the South Sea Isles” back to naturalness and simplicity and sexual joy” (ibid, p. 99) It was a cry echoed by both Bertrand Russell and Havelock Ellis, the sexologists, paramour and associate of Margaret Sanger. Mead’s novelistic account of life in Samoa lent itself quite easily to such effusions. It is an account composed of equal parts of poetic description and anthropological moralizing. So a day in Samoa begins as a slip home from trysts beneath the palm trees or in the shadow of beached canoes.” (Mead, Samoa, p. 14) Although Christianity, with the premium it places on chastity, has been a feature of Samoan life since the 19th century, “the Samoans regard this attitude with reverent but complete skepticism and the concept of celibacy is meaningless to them.” (Ibid., p. 98) Mead continues--”laugh at stories of romantic love, scoff at fidelity to a long absent wife or mistress is never out of harmony with the declaration of affection for each. . . . Romantic love as it occurs in our civilization, inextricably bound up with the ideas of monogamy, exclusiveless jealousy and underrating fidelity, does no occur in Samoa. . . . Adultery does not necessarily mean a broken marriage. . . . Divorce is a simple informal matter. . . . It is a very brittle monogamy often trespassed and more often broken entirely, but many adulteries occur. . .which hardly threaten the continuity of established relationships. . . and so there are no marriages of any duration in which either person is actively unhappy.” (Ibid., pp. 104-108)
In addition to this, Mead finds that “casual homosexual practices. . .are usually a manifestation of most associations between young people of the same sex.” (Ibid., p. 165) Mead also abrogates the sixth commandment and responsibilities of parents. “The close relationship between parents and child,” Mead tells in a chapter entitled “Our Educational Problem”--
which has such a decisive influence upon so many in our civilization, that submission to the parents or defiance of the parent may become the dominating pattern of a lifetime, is not found in Samoa. Children reared in households where there are half a dozen adult women to care for them and dry their tears and a half a dozen adult males, all of whom represent constituted authority, do not distinguish their parents as sharply as their children do” (ibid., p. 209).
Mead never returned to reevaluate her data. She claimed that her picture was valid for all time, “forever true,” she wrote in prefaces from 1949 on, “because no truer picture could be made of what was gone.” So, Mead was later to claim that in Samoa, “the child is given no sense of belonging to a small intimate biological family. . . . The relationship between child and parent is early diffused over many adults. . .children do not think of their own mother who always protects them. . .the child owes no emotional allegiance to “its father and mother. Therefore, the setting for parent fixation vanishes.” (Freeman, p. 86, 113; note Freud’s influence in this critique of the family unit. Also note Hillary Clinton’s reference that “it takes a village to raise a child.” This is Orwell’s Brave New World. Here are the roots of postmodernism’s redefinition of the family and total rejection of the biblical model of family structure and responsibility)
Once the idiosyncrasy of our own attitudes toward sex and child rearing is established in light of the experiences of the carefree Samoans, it is only a short step to recommending their mores as a corrective to our own. “What are the rewards of the tiny, ingrown, biological family,” Mead wonders in Coming of Age, “relationships from birth until death? Perhaps these are too heavy a price to pay for specialization of emotion which might be brought about in another way, notably through coeducation, and with such a question in our minds, it is interesting to note that a larger family community, in which there are several adult men and women, seems to ensure the child against the development of crippling attitudes which have been labeled Oedipus complexes, Electra complexes, and so on.” (Mead, Samoa, p. 212).
Mead tells us that Samoans “have no preference for reserving sexual activity for important relationships.” As a result---
The Samoan girl who shrugs her shoulder over the excellent technique of some young Lothario is nearer to the recognition of sex as an impersonal force without any intrinsic validity than is the sheltered American girl who falls in love with the first man who kisses her. From their familiarity with the reverberations which accompany sex excitement comes this recognition of essential impersonality of sexual attraction (Mead, p. 222).
Imitating the attitudes and techniques of Samoan Lotharios will, according to Mead, reduce “the possibility of neurosis.” (Samoans have no concept of sin, guilt, or responsibility) Mead and Freud influence most of our postmodern culture and Generation X (“make love not war”).
Mead continues--By discomfiting our category of perversion, as applied to practice, and reserving it for the occasional psychic pervert [Samoans] legislate a whole field of neurotic possibility out of existence. Onanism, homosexuality, statistically unusually forms of heterosexual activity, are neither banned nor institutionalized. The wide range which these practices give presents the developments of obsessions of guilt which are so frequent a cause of maladjustment among us. . . . This acceptance of a wider range as “normal” provides a cultural atmosphere in which frigidity and psychic impotence do not occur and in which a satisfactory sex adjustment in marriage can always be established.” (Ibid., p. 223)
Samoans were without a concept of “sin” (Freeman, p. 91 - the entire biblical doctrine of sin/sins have been placed in the hands of doctors and judges). Now enters polymorphously perverse to the sexually liberated to those who felt unduly burdened by the Judaeo/Christian prohibition against adultery, to these who felt that raising their children was an intolerable restriction on their freedom, all that Mead was saying must have seemed too good to be true. In slightly less than sixty years later, it turns out that it was. In the course of Freeman’s book, each of Mead’s assertions about Samoa as the paradise of adolescent free love falls under the blade of his methodological research. To Mead’s claim that the suicides of humiliation so common in parts of Polynesia do not exist in Samoa.
Freeman counters with studies of twenty-two cases of suicide committed from 1925 onward. One of the things overlooked by the proponents of sexual liberation who were so enthusiastic about Coming of Age when it first appeared was the fact that even by Mead’s own reckoning the majority of her informants about Samoa as the paradise of adolescent sex were still virgins. Freeman’s research supports the high view of virginity espoused by the Samoans and also that “adultery was not regarded as very serious” to be “seriously in error.” (Freeman, p. 242)
Though Freeman’s work is quite devastating, its arguments and documentation were so persuasive that virtually everyone who read the book was convinced, except fellow anthropologists, who claimed that though Mead’s book was flawed work, it was classical modern anthropology, given Mead’s claim that adolescence would be less stressful if the West relaxed sexual mores (see contra Freeman in C.M. Turnbull, “Trouble In Paradise” New Republic, 188, March 28, 1983, p. 34; and Cheryl M. Fields’ controversial book spurns the Scholars Defense of The Legacy of Margaret Mead, Chronicle of Higher Education, 26 (May 11, 1983), p. 27)
The article in The Chronicle of Higher Education was a good sign that the profession was running out of ammunition. Lowell Holmes, an anthropologist at Wichita State University, who was to become Mead’s prime defender in the national debate, reacted in a way that bespoke emotional loyalty in place of scientific objectivity: “I find an element of resentment at a foreigner attacking our Margaret,” he told the COHE. “America loved this woman.” (Fields, op.cit., p. 28 - see also in this article the response by Joy Pratt, director of publicity at Harvard University Press)
As the Mead-Freeman controversy was to make clear, scholarship and looking for the truth had become early victims of ideology. In fact, ideological considerations had so dominated the profession that Freeman found it impossible to get a forum for his ideas, while Mead was alive. In fact, ideology has become such an all-pervasive element in modern anthropology that the anthropologists themselves were for the most part blind to it. Lowell Holmes is a good example. In the book he wrote defending Mead after the Freeman book was published, Holmes makes it clear that for him the doctrine of cultural relativism means little more than having an open mind. According to Holmes, cultural relativism requires that no single culture be held up as offering the “right” or natural way of doing things on valuing things. It reminds people of all nations that each society should be free to solve cultural problems according to their own time-tested methods without condemnation from those who should choose different solutions. “Having been trained in such a philosophical tradition, Mead, myself and the bulk of American anthropologists would believe that behavior associated with adolescence or other aspects of the life cycle must be evaluated only in terms of the cultural context in which they occur.” (Lowell Holmes, Quest For The Real Samoa: The Mead/Freeman Controversy and Beyond (South Hadley, MS: Bergman and Garvey, 1987), p. 17. Freeman is not free from critique either. He espouses mechanistic philosophy that confuses “human nature” with biology and is full of all sorts of incantations and evolutionary mumbo-jumbo. (See my essay, “The Impossibility of Neutrality” Modern/Postmodern anthropologists still operate on positivistic, scientific models of uninterpreted facts--only the facts; interpretation is cultural relativism. How can a scientist bound in the womb of cultural relativism be free to attain “facts?” Neutrality is IMPOSSIBLE!!
Annette B. Weiner, chairperson of the anthropology department at New York University, defended the value of Mead’s version of anthropology, claiming that the attack on her thesis “undermines this value falsely as to make us all members of an old myth perpetrating the claim that human behavior is grounded in only one kind of truth and one set of values.” (See her “Ethnographic Determinism: Samoa and Margaret Mead Controversy” American Anthropologists (85 - 1985, p. 918)
The real attraction of Cultural Relativism was that it condoned sexual license, something of interest to Americans during the entire span of Mead’s career. According to the TIME Magazine, the natural ally of those who promoted free education, relaxed sexual norms and green light parenting intended to give American youngsters the trouble-free adolescence enjoyed in Samoa (John Leo, “Busting the South Sea Bubble” (TIME, 14, 1983, p. 68).
Coming of Age in Samoa attracted a wide audience for its implied critique of Western civilization. The book said in effect that the West featured fidelity, competition, over-heated sexual arrangements, a tight nuclear family, guilt, stress, and adolescent turmoil; yet here are alleged primitives leading graceful lives of cooperation, adolescent bless, casual family ties, and easy sex, all without any signs of guilt or neurosis.” (John Leo, op.cit., p. 70)
At issue, then, was not so much one anthropologist’s reputation on the academic stock exchange, but a project dear to large segments of the American population, namely, sexual liberation. The issue was sex, sex disconnected from the norms of Western Christian civilization. One of the 20th Century’s seminal disconnectors, it now seemed was seriously in error, a state of affairs that threatened the whole enterprise. It was the story of the 70’s and 80’s, something from intellectual history to compliment the epidemics of venereal disease now transmitted in the blood of the sexually liberated.
The counter culture of the 1960’s expressed the culmination of Mead’s cultural relativism in a violent attack on Western civilization and specifically the Judaeo/Christian morals regarding “sex.” Mead’s Samoan idyll of casual sex beneath the palm trees was proving to be about as scientific as the screenplay of “Blue Lagoon.” Coming of age in Samoa was in effect “Blue Lagoon’s” anthropology. Their purported scientific study turned out to be a best seller and was considered a classic in the profession only showed that the same need for Freudian rationalization permeated large segments of the culture it addressed. Surely, the intellectual project of cultural relativism was rooted in sexual guilt (e.g., her lesbian cohort, Ruth Benedict, at Columbia University). Her anthropology justified her life style, not by publicly rejecting the biblical data, but by purporting that there was scientific legitimization against Christian moral restraints, which supposedly cause Freudian neurosis and arbitrary guilt. After Freud’s analysis there was no longer objective sin or guilt, rather guilt feelings caused by the Christian value system. Remove the Christian value system and you remove sin and guilt. After this radical cultural relativism revolution, sin is reduced to sociological economic, political factors and guilt was reduced to ”guilt feelings,” which was healable only by the therapeutic invasion of psychotherapy we enter now into the counseling revolution of the 1960’s through 2003.
This claim goes a long way toward explaining the question that Freeman, not withstanding the brilliant criticism, fails to answer satisfactorily, namely, how Mead “. . .could. . .get things so astronomically wrong.” (John Leo, ibid., TIME 2-14 1983, p. 68) Where in fact could such a statement of Mead’s “adultery was not regarded as very serious” come from? It in fact came from Margaret Mead. According to Jane Howard’s sympathetic biography of Mead, “Preoccupation with sex was common among Barnard undergraduates” - in the 20’s.(Howard, Mead, p. 48) Howard cites on alumna who claimed “if you went to Barnard in those days, you were assumed to be a “nymphomaniac.” (Ibid) This evaluation makes perfectly good sense of Mead’s (and Benedict’s) hostility to Christian morality--euphemistically caricatured as Puritan prudery. Its sexually amorality had only a short journey from Paris of today, in the universities particularly.
Mead’s interest in anthropology is perhaps because of the malleability to the sexual stimulating environment at Columbia University. Soon the amoral Zeitgeist swept into Barnard, then our culture at large (e.g. the Roaring 20’s, prostitution, alcoholism, and crime in the cities, etc.). Mead gave attention to what she called “stupid underbrush of the 19th century arguments based on ethnocentric superiority of isolationism, Victorianism, and Xenophobia--and the new currents suggested by Freud, Marx, Hovelock Ellis and mechanization.” (Howard, Mead, p. 52)
By the time she was a graduate student in anthropology, Mead had gone for theory to praxis of sexual liberation herself. In the summer of 1925, Mead traveled to New York to do work with the linguist, Edward Sapir, a linguist relativist. At the time of her adulterous affair, she had been married for less than two years to Luther Crossman. On the way to Samoa, where she was to board ship, she stopped off to see the anthropologist, Ruth Benedict, who had gotten Mead into graduate studies under Franz Boas. In the process of discussions as to now to break off her affair with Sapir, she and Benedict decided that neither of them would choose further intimacy with Sapir, but “preferred each other.” (Mary Catherine Bateson, With A Daughter Eve: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson (NY: Williams Marrow and Co., 1984, p. 125).
In order to answer the Derek Freeman dilemma, the statement on adultery in Coming of Age came from the mind of Margaret Mead: Mead’s guilty imagination projected adultery onto the puritanical Samoans just as unerringly as Dimmisdale’s mind projected it onto the clouds about him, and for the same reason; both were guilty of the same sin. Cicero writes, “Many wrongdoers have turned evidence against themselves. Coming of Age in Samoa manifests this phenomenon. Mead’s fatal position was precipitated by her choosing a culture that so completely contradicted her theories
The fact that her reputation went for so long undisturbed is a sad commentary on the intellectual standards in the 20th century. Mead’s amoral life has come home to rest in our postmodern world. Lesbianism was, in a sense, both the logical outcome of cultural relativism and its driving force (read and weep Romans 1.22-26; see especially Jane Howard’s book, Margaret Mead: A Life (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1984)
In introspection, we ponder not so much the life of an ambitious woman, but the collapse of intellectual standards that her career bespoke and the fact that what so many people thought was an intellectual breakthrough was really only sex on the brain.
After a brief trek into cultural relativism, of course in the name of scientific anthropology, let us return to a further search of the nature of rationality in postmodern dress. Our culture has moved from Rationalism to Irrationalism. When we pursue the elite rejection of the Judaeo/Christian moral foundations of Western civilization, it leaves us with the enormous impact of Margaret Mead’s cultural relativism thesis on the politically correct animosity to Western culture with this Judaeo/Christian anchor and the scientific technological advancements. Our Western culture has been on a long day’s journey into night through the radical world changing results of the contributions of Freud and the birth of psychoanalysis and his attack on Christian morality as cause of neurosis and Mead’s cultural relativism, Picasso’s cubism as sexual loathing, Kinsey and national notoriety left sex as a central controversy (see Wardell B. Pomeroy, Dr. Kinsey and The Institute for Sex Research (NY: Harper and Row, 1972; Cornelia Christenson, Kinsey: A Biography (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1974; Lewis Terman, “Sexual Behavior in The Human Male: Comments and Criticism” Psychology Bulletin 45, no. 5, 1948); Abraham Maslow and James M. Sakoda, “Volunteer Error in the Kinsey Study:” The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 47, no. 2 (Apr. 1952).
If the essence of science is verifiability, then Kinsey is not immune to the verdict of all who are not sixty years, of history which threatens as of now to rank its credibility just below that of phrenology. But his influence was expressed in the counter culture of the 60’s nonetheless. Another high priest in the citadel of postmodern cultural/epistemological relativism was Stanley Fish. Fish declared that in order to teach literature you must present a Weltanschauung (i.e., World View). His critical theory was his futile attempt to claim that “everything was impossible to know or how we are all imprisoned in language or patriarchal or homophobic or logocentric categories. Fish’s primary purpose was teleological, i.e., to demolish all critics. For Stanley Fish, truth was the writings of himself. His life was in the academic fast lane (E.M. Jones, “Fish’s Copernican Revolution,” College English 30, no. 2 (1977), “Learning to Love the PC Canon”, Newsweek Dec. 24, 1990)
Fish was described as the creator of “an important critical theory that seeks a text’s meaning in the reader’s response to it.” Reader Response criticism is correct --partly. In reading great literature it projects their own needs into it. Stanley’s politically correct English department at Duke “is a literature that reflects their experience, a literature of their own. (See James Atlas, “On Campus: The Battle of The Books,” New York Times Magazine, June 5, 1988, p. 24). Since this interpretative relativism has entered multicultural diversity and Outcome Based Education, do you want your children taught by people determined to act out “The Valley of The Dolls?”
The social sciences in general and Social Anthropology in particular face limits to what they can explain. This challenge runs rampant in the academic citadel; i.e., the technical confusion between description and explanation. Explaining the social context of a belief is not the same as assessing the rationality of the belief itself. The later is outside the professional competence of the social sciences. Ultimately no one can sidestep questions about individual rationality. Rationality has to be presupposed before translation can begin. Irrational beliefs are much more difficult to find intelligible and translatable. Communication requires “the principle of humanity” (human nature) and rests on the belief in the unity of human nature, i.e., a belief that people in different cultures using different languages, as essentially the same. But of course, postmodern Relativism denies that any such thing exists, we are locked in Wittgenstein’s “Language Game” with no way out; therefore only Multicultural Tolerance in Diversity is our only option.
If the assumption of a universal human nature is necessary, it could be argued that, even when the social sciences are demonstrating the supposed radical difference between cultures, they are, through the understanding of those cultures, bearing witness to the fact of human nature (see particularly R. Rorty, Philosophy and The Mirror of Nature, 1980; Roger Trigg, “The Limits of Science” in L.H.P. Duerr, ed., Science and The Irrational, 1984; M. Hollis and S. Lukes, eds., Rationality and Relativism, 1982; Richard Grandy, “Reference, Relativism, and Belief” Journal of Philosophy 80 (1983); Pike and Nida, Tagmemics--it claims that cross cultural language is possible; see my essay, “Whatever Happened to True Truth?” (LCC/S Library Archives).
At the heart of this discussion is The Problem of Knowledge. What are the foundations of knowledge claims? We often hear such remarks as (1) “whether or not God exists for me, He can exist for you.” (2) “whether or not taking bribes (already a truth claim in the quest) is dishonest just depends on how you define honesty.” (Sounds like Bill Clinton’s nominalistic remark--It all depends on what you mean by “is.”); (3) “a college degree is important only because our society says it is.” These statements represent relativism in saying that whatever we know will primarily depend on being relative to either something about a person (e.g., whether you believe that God exists), or something distinctive in the context (e.g., how we define “honesty” is this particular situation, on the beliefs of our culture (e.g., a college degree might be thought worthless in another culture). (See esp. When In Rome: Introduction to Relativism and Knowledge (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1983).
Even when we are not relativists, the clichés of our language: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” meaning that what one should do in a particular place is relative to the customs of that place. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” meaning that standards of excellence are relative to personal likes and dislikes, or “The end justifies the means” meaning that the integrity of what we do is relative to what you ultimately achieve. Popular pragmatic relativism dominates the postmodern culture, including the Church. We often hear, “There is no right or wrong, only how you feel about something.” Does it always come down to what “you” like, when debating about a picture or a concert. Even answers entail a particular view of knowledge and how they can effect how we see and act in the world. We must place any response to Relativism beyond the context of ethical and/or aesthetic dimensions. We must place any response to Relativism in the context of how problems of knowledge offer a sound framework within which to understand the claims made by ethical or aesthetic relativism. We always “know” something about what “I” think I should do and what I like. What do we know about knowledge?
The problems of knowledge arise from our own experiences that we cannot explain. The search for knowledge, i.e., True Truth (we can and do have knowledge of error! How do we go about deciding that X is wrong and Y is correct in mathematics, physics, astronomy, economics, politics or chemistry from the pharmacist, flying on an airplane, walking across the street, etc., or a clinic laboratory report. If there is no True Truth we are forever condemned to tribal justification, i.e., Power.
We should constantly be on guard of the proposals of popular-pragmatic relativism--why they present the apparent impasses in our daily experience of ethical/aesthetic life. The fatal flaw of the use of these examples are cut loose from epistemology, i.e., the question of knowledge claims and their justification--answers to the dilemma of ethics and aesthetics derive from the larger coherent world view or Legitimization structures. Those who espouse cultural relativism are forever condemned to Wittgensteinian language games.
The problems of knowledge arise from our own experiences that we cannot explain. Philosophers and the developers of scientific methodology have sought to answer the questions of justification of knowledge claims. But as the demise of Positivism in the philosophy of science and Goedel’s attack on the mathematical system are without foundation and justification without reference to metanarrative. This is completely rejected by postmoderns, but here is our rational impasse. Without justification of scientific claims, only some form of relativistic structuralism, instrumentalism, The Sociology of Knowledge Thesis remains. Both Positivistic Philosophy of Science and autonomous mathematics have fallen to the blade of human reason and its demand for evidential justification for knowledge claims.
If cultural relativism provides answer to “who we are,” then there is no metanarrative; only tribal tastes! Popular relativism (pragmatism, whatever works) points to what we know about ourselves, and how we see the world or personally feel about the world. This is subjective rationalism. In the results is naive relativism, i.e., if I think something is true, then it is true for me, not necessarily for you. Another dimension would be contextual relativism. Contextual Relativism is the position which says that knowledge and action depend on special features of a particular situation; you may rationalize not going to class today on the grounds that you are too tired right now and have other things to do now. Our limited concern in our trek into postmodern irrationalism takes us into the corridors of cultural relativism, i.e. to say that whatever we know and do depends on our cultural beliefs, values, and practices. Examples would be driving a car or opening a checking account would be totally irrelevant to a person living in the 12th century.
In context relativism we turn from the immediacy of the present to the recognition that the variable of the environment can point to the underlying continuity and uniformities of our world. Naive relativists emphasize the importance of subjective statements that can be used to acquaint us with the larger, more public world of objects, events and issues. Here relativists are drawn toward something beyond the particular situation or that particular feeling. In seeing more than uniqueness in the present, the relativist has begun to explore the realm of objectivity and universality of knowledge.
The crucial issue in showing objectivity and universality is to figure out how much we can expect to know “accepting” or “resigning” ourselves to ignorance. If we stop “thinking” about it, we expect that the world does exactly resemble our perception of it. We seek to distinguish which of our beliefs is more “hypothesis” than fact, which of our beliefs are reliable enough to act upon.
Perhaps the contract issue to cultural relativist is their appeal directly to our dependence on language to be able to classify and make any sense out of our experience in the world. N.L. Gifford gives five reasons why the dependence on language for knowledge claims: (1) Knowledge claims are expressed in, and can only be expressed in some language. (2) Our descriptions of the world are limited to the conceptual framework implicit in the language, i.e., the concepts we use to identify the things around us. (3) The conceptual framework itself reflects the unique cultural biases, mores, etc., of that group using the language. (4) In other words, the use and meaning of the concepts in this framework are governed by culture bound conventions. If these conventions are totally binding there could be no growth of knowledge or cross language communication! (5) Hence, these cultural meanings must necessarily be included in any statement of truth conditions for a claim; therefore, the evaluation of a knowledge claim is relative to the culture in which it is made (Gifford, When in Rome: An Introduction to Relativism and Knowledge (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1983, p. 78).
The non-relativist does want knowledge to truly describe the world. The relativist concludes that its best knowledge claims describe only the beliefs of a culture (e.g., a given language group). This claim has enormous significance for both Science and Christianity (see my essay, “Narrative Displacements in The History of Science” “Whatever Happened to True Truth?”; “The Social Construction of Reality” “Relativism and The Problem of Truth Claims;” “The Rage Against Reason: Gurus of Postmodern Irrationalism” and “The Great Inversion: The Postmodern Rage Against Reason”
Popular support of the Cultural Relativism thesis is largely gathered from seemingly inexplicable (to us) belief and practices of other cultures (e.g., the Navaho language coded messages during the World War II in the Pacific). There is apparently little in common between Navaho and Anglo-Saxon cultures. Seemingly the Navaho language has few universally translatable elements into English. Time is not a concern for the Navaho. It is not that the Navaho cannot understand these issues, but they are largely irrelevant to their daily life.
On the other hand, the Navahos are concerned with the ancestral past and treatment of dead relatives as vital and present spirits seem to us equally inexplicable. There is no Navaho word which can convey the meaning of Navaho feeling toward the ancient past. Each culture has a set of terms which reflect areas of cultural expertise and interest, e.g., the Eskimo vocabulary has different words for kinds of snow, but our scientific vocabulary is meaningless to them (some issues regard games and social functions of behavior, but there is a universally translated factor in each).
Very often the cultural relativist will appeal to the work of social scientists as conclusive evidence that the argument from language succeeds in showing the futility of requiring that knowledge claims be universal. The relativist claims that thought is wholly a product of our culture (ala’ postmodern multiculturalism. Tolerance and Diversity are the only options except to fight, kill, and control the less powerful, e.g., Darwinian survival of the fittest). The work of the classical relativists has been valuable enabling us to critique some elements of Eurocentricism and Ratiocination but they in no way necessitate cultural or epistemological relativism.
Ethnocentricism refers to the belief that one’s cultural values are the right ones and one’s perception of the world is the accurate one, hence both cultures are acceptable standards by which to assess the belief of another culture. Since neutrality is epistemologically impossible, we must assert that behavior is justified by the legitimization structure of a given culture, but not the truth claims of what is believed. Here lies the root of denial of the reality, not merely the possibility, of attaining and justifying true truth. Too often we have attempted to Americanize the world’s population and thereby deserve the negative pejorative--the “Ugly American” (e.g., why America is hated in Islamic cultures, not because of relation but because absolute allegiance to the Koran Jihad is an example of what upsets the postmodern relativist. See Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture pp. 263-254; and esp. Frank Muir, An Irreverent and Thoroughly Incomplete Social History of Almost Everything (NY: Stein and Day, 1976, p. 77); from A Biography and History of the Indians of North America, ed., Samuel G. Drake, 2nd edition, Boston, 1834).
In order to understand other cultures, we must better understand what these cultures value, what they teach and duties their members are expected to perform, what roles they fulfill and what contributions they are expected to make. Ruth Benedict points out, “This is only possible when we overcome our own Western biases and deepen our understanding of human behavior and the extent to which our actions are socially determined.”
Perhaps Karl Marx was the first to articulate (not clearly) the thesis of social determinism. He believed that our very own personal identities (what we believe, hope for, dream about, as well as what we do, must be explained within the social framework: “Consciousness is. . .from the very beginning a social product and remains so as long as men exist at all. Elsewhere our desires and pleasures spring from society; we measure them, therefore, by society and not by the objects which we serve for their satisfaction. Because they are of a social nature, they are a relative nature.” (K. Marx, F. Engels, The German Ideology (1846) edited by C. J. Arthur (NY: International Publishing Co., 1970, p. 51; and Marx, “Wage, Labour and Capital” (1849) revised 1891 in The Marx/Engel Reader, ed. By R.C. Tucker, (NY: W.W. Norton and Co., 1972, p. 180).
In arguing that consciousness is a social product, Marx denies that human nature and human action is a given, a fixed and unchangeable essence whose growth and development solely follows natural Law and the God of creation. Marx denied that man was strong and women weak by appeal to biological necessity--proves anything (e.g., postmodern gender equation). Does Marx’s thesis prove cultural relativism, i.e., we are solely determined by our culture. How then can there be a choice? How/why should there be change? Both Benedict and Marx are cultural determinists, i.e., unchangeable, so how/why should we change? Why/how can we produce a means of correcting the human condition? Do the above suggestions “cause” cultural relativism? If so, how can they be changed? Why should they be changed?
“No Man Is An Island”
Perhaps John Donne’s famous words are not merely cliché. We do live in a social/ cultural environment. But non-relativists can move from a private “subjective” world to a public “objective” world. We cannot be human in total isolation from one another. We do in fact, become acquainted with the outside world of “others.” The non-relativist must maintain that there is a public world which is to the very core intersubjectively available to “others.” We depend upon our intersubjectivity for our daily interactions. We believe X where it is not necessarily bound to any public encounter. That we inherit cultural ideas and values is indisputable, but whether these ideas and values are true requires a metanarrative for positive evaluation. I can and often do inherit false beliefs and values, but whether they are True and False is not culturally determined; our beliefs and values may be
The cultural relativists and non-relativists agree that we are social beings and as knower, dependent upon shared norms and concepts. The radical point of conflict is whether these norms and concepts can in any way, tell us about a world independent on culture and tradition. The cultural relativist says we have reached the end of what we can know with cultural independent beliefs. The non-relativist says we can overcome the limitations of cultural beliefs and investigate genuine attributes of the cosmos only a pantheist would attempt to fuse knower and known into a cosmic one.
We do not experience a “real world” versus our everyday world (Aristotelian/Greek metaphysics--Essence and Existence; Death of Metaphysics after Kant’s Critique) we must respond to our dilemma by way of Wittgenstein’s capitulation to the problem: “We are taught judgments and their connections with other judgments.” (L. Wittgenstein, On Certainty (trans. G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright (NY: Harper and Row, 1972, p. 21e) If this is the only response, then certainly the cultural relativists are vindicated and further inquiry into knowledge will cease. But such a response misses the crucial question of the dilemma: do we agree because the world presents itself to us or do we agree because we are taught the same things? Even if common language training and socialization account for some agreement, can we show that this agreement depicts in any way features of and uniformities in the world?
One means of showing that there is more than just conventional agreement to knowledge is with the aid of confirmation and “explanation” (vs. Mere Social Sciences descriptions). These are ways of gathering evidence which should provide independent cultural grounds for showing that one’s knowledge claims are about the world and not just about this or that cultures. Language is a product of human need, imagination and invention can be instrumental in knowing the world independent of our cultural framework. If we can transcend these limits, we are in a better position to further intercultural exchange and dialogue.
Intersubjectivity is essential in any account of knowledge, objective or relative. We must say that both language and community exert a formative influence on our beliefs and actions. But we must claim that they are the components to belief and behavior. We presume that many diverse visitors may enter a room full of objects and they all share concepts of physical objects. The observation of setting in a chair by diverse persons will experience uniformity of observation of that part of the object world. How do the notions of confirmation and explanation provide “proof” agreement or disagreement of claims stemming from language and culture.
If we adopt relativism, we give up the use of confirmation as an “independent” means of gathering evidence for our knowledge claims. When truth and reality are made relative to a culture, the best that confirmation can show is that the predictors are consistent with other cultural belief and if successful, the predictions can only “confirm” this consistency. Relativism holds the belief that there are physical objects thought to be true if it is consistent with the existing body of beliefs in a given culture. It will not be accepted or rejected on the basis or ground that, in this case, there are or are not, objects in the world. Evidence is the second tool of non-relativists. Thus far, confirmation has given us a means of predicting events: “Where there is lightning, there is thunder” enables us to successfully predict hearing a clap of thunder after we have seen a flash of lightning. These events are not caused by either language or culture.
Confirmation cannot account for these successes: why does thunder always follow lightning? We look now for an explanation. A physicist tells us that lightning and thunder actually occur simultaneously, but sound waves do not travel as rapidly as light waves, so we will see the lightening before we hear the thunder. The lapse of time between the two can, additionally, tell us how far away the lightning is from us. Physicists can also compute the distance. Neither of these factors are linguistically or culturally contingent. They represent states of affairs in the real world.
Explanation gives us reason why thunder is heard as following lightning. The explanation offers us a clue to the relationship between the perceived phenomena and may formulate a general law which accounts (rationally) for the relationship. This explanation also shows the limitation of empiricism of a scientific method. We could proceed further concerning the atmospheric conditions under which the phenomenon invariably occurs. Another example deals with water, temperature and conditions for rain, snow, and ice; mere water without the “jointly sufficient conditions” will not precipitate--ice, snow, or rain.
Confirmation and explanation create an intricately complex network of ideas, concepts, hypotheses, predictions and built in for checking on the worth of these ideas, concepts and hypotheses. It is not enough to make a correct prediction, the human mind must ask why X works and Y does not! Functionalistic/Structuralistic relativism/pragmatism can provide no explanation of why this is true. Why Einstein’s equation advanced science and Newton’s physics did not, as a matter of fact? The tragedy of 02-01-03, the Columbia Space shuttle, can be understandable only if there is truth in explanation. There can be no postmodern relativistic response to this phenomena!
The ultimate issue is--are Rationality/Logic merely the Eurocentric and Logocentric Western equivalents to God? Is it true that all cultures expose an alternative logic via their pluralism of languages? (See the last section of this study--”Multicultural Political Correctness: The Context of Pluralism of World Religions and Their Views of Truth”) The question of--”What Is Truth? Is still a prevailing concern in our Global Village!
Can there be constructive intercultural exchange? Is there any perspective to provide a glimpse of a world beyond the linguistic bondage of our cultures? What are we to do about, not only competing but contradictory explanations? Is tolerance our only non-aggressive/destructive response to our postmodern dilemma? The paradigm of the physical sciences proposes “generalization,” i.e., “laws of nature” as universal solutions, which apply equality to all things in nature. “Cultures” are diverse, but as long as the only “binding to each language, via relativistic linguistics of Whorf and Boas and the cultural relativism of Mead, Benedict and Marx, we are forever locked in the global village of universal relativism.
An anomaly of this controversy is the proposals of B.F. Skinner, who believed that he had formulated universal laws of human behavior. He argued that his principles of “Operant Conditioning” can predict human behavior in every case under universality varying conditions. (B.F. Skinner’s Walden II (NY: MacMillan, 1948); and Beyond Freedom and Dignity (NY: Alfred A. Knopfs, 1991). Skinner is the “high priest” of postmodern theory of “Outcome Based Education, Multicultural/Tolerant/Diversity Syndrome. This is the philosophy of education of The National Association of Education.)
This cultural relativist’s mindset enters the discussion of the work ethic in Western culture. The thesis is “work hard and you will be successful and earn a place in heaven” (This is not to be confused with Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic Thesis. Calvinists claim that if you are successful in your work you must be one of God’s elect.)
Our entire concern in discussing cultural relativism concerns the need for generalizations in order to escape to solipicism of nominalism, i.e., all that exists are individuals.
Cultural relativism, in collapsing the distinction between claims and cultural belief, paves the way for this sort of abuse, which does lead to uncritical acceptance of unproductive as well as false generalizations. Cultural relativism also leads to the acceptance of false definitions, an abuse of language. In language definitions characterize the essential features of a thing--the form and function of a chair rather than its color, style or size. Steam is activity moving water molecules, identifying all cases of steam, not just the steam from any particular radiator or shower. Definitions are a means of discriminating one kind of thing from another. Do definitions merely reflect cultural conventions or rational divisions of kinds of things in the world? This is the entire point of any argument from language. Cultural relativism cannot lead us to a reexamination of the critical rejection of our current definitions, for relation judges a definition solely by the extent that it captures cultural belief.
We need generalizations to guide our investigation of the work and people in the world surely must be able to select which of the generalizations are worthy of investigation: “Laws provide a framework for events which we use as a convenient grid for plotting phenomena that may need explanation. . . . Their importance lies not in the precision with which they trace the characteristics of events or substance but in fact they provide a readily identifiable pattern. . . . They often serve as the starting point from which we survey the events. . .not only as the rules under which we try to bring them.” (Michael Scriven, “Explanations, Predictions, and Laws,” in Readings in The Philosophy of Science, ed. B. Brody (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1970, p. 101)
The work of Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Karl Marx, and other social scientists reveal that the influence of language and culture must be considered. Can there be objective and universal knowledge if we are so deeply dependent for our knowledge on cultural beliefs and conventions? The narrative displacement in science and Pike and Nida’s linguistic theory of Tagmemics strongly suggest that we not only can but do transcend the limitations of culture. How can language enable us to achieve a certain conceptual independence? Intersubjectivity often can empower us to get to universality and what feature of language might permit such a move.
“(1) Language is acquired by instruction and imitation with a particular response; (2) No matter what the language is, every language at some point enables the user to be a “self teacher,” that at some point enables the user to correct him or her, acquire new concepts and analyze old concepts without instruction, and evaluate the concepts and conventions used; (3) Evaluating the use of the language leads one to a recognition of the formal structure of his/her language and the possibility of understanding the necessary structure of every language. Here we begin to address the problem of achieving universal knowledge of an objective world in the face of cultural limitation. All of our inherited languages describe a “public world,” i.e., intersubjective world shared by other speakers of the language. That the language is public and our instruction the same as others in our community guarantees intersubjective agreement, at least within a given community. Here is perhaps a road from intersubjectivity to universality. Even Ruth Benedict shows us that one foreign to our language is perfectly capable of acquiescing our language and culture, through his/her own native language and culture may be radically different. Note the marvelous example of the use of the Navaho language in coding military messages during WWII. The Japanese broke every code except the one in Navaho! (See B.F. Whorf’s, Language, Thought and Reality. Selected Writings of B.F. Whorf, edited by J.B. Carroll (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1956). Franz Boas, ed.. Handbook of American Indian Languages (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1911-22, and Edward Sapir, Language, An Introduction to The Study of Speech (NY: Harcourt/Brace and Co., 1921); Margaret Mead, ed., Anthropologist At Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1959, esp. P. 276); also my essay, “Narrative Displacement and The Corruption of Language (LCC/S Library).
This entire discussion centers around failure to distinguish cultures and persons as objects of knowledge from the conditions under which knowledge is possible--in any language and culture. Descriptive statements about a culture are not the same as prescriptive statements about which beliefs one should accept or what one should do. One cannot move rationally for “Is” to “Ought,” i.e., the naturalistic fallacy! Even Marx and Benedict avoid this difficulty by separating the descriptive work from prescriptive. Both offer universally applied prescriptions. Cultural diversity is a “Fact” but it is no wise a necessity relativistic epistemological/logical evaluation of the received “beliefs” or “practices.” Cultural relativism can at best promote “investigation” yielding a list of cultural beliefs, “but cannot by itself critique “so-called” harmful prejudices and practices,” such is every major work on cultural relativism. The cultural relativist critique “Western Civilization” “Judaeo/Christian beliefs and practices” and Science/Logic as being of Eurocentric origin. Perhaps this is historically true, but where is the transcendent ground for critiquing “any” belief or action from the bondage of cultural relativism. All that remains is Tribalism, i.e., conflict of power, i.e., where the strongest prevail. What “Is” is right! OK??
Scientific investigation proceeds with tools of confirmation, explanation and predictive power. Surely no one could be a cultural/epistemological relativist in light of the tragedy of February 1, 2003. There are no explanations if “every” event is merely culturally conditioned. Neither the capability of exiting the earth’s gravitational field nor the power to re-enter it is merely a cultural convention. The scientific, personal tragedy has a scientific-universal-transcultural explanation! If there is no demonstrable grounds for one evaluation or the other, then we can never be freed from the indiscriminate acceptance of belief encouraged by postmodern cultural/epistemological relativism.
Our journey precludes serious encounter of the development of Western thought from Rationalism, Positivism to Relativism, but we present an ever so inadequate review of the developments of Logical Empiricism in Western thought. The Positivistic model of science largely developed in the context of Linguistic and Logical Empiricism.
World War II caused considerable disturbance in the movement of Logical Empiricism. Most of the European philosophers survived, and many of them left the continent for Great Britain or the United States. Hoeasson and Lindenbaum died in Poland; Kurt Grelling and Karl Reach were deported by the Nazis and died or were killed. The Journal of Unified Science and the Library of Unified Science were discontinued because of the war. The work on the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science was hampered, although a number of monographs were issued.
The World War did not put an end to the work of the Logical Empiricists. The work continued along several lines. The Sixth International Congress for The Unity of Science was held at the University of Chicago, September 2-6, 1941. Some of the topics were the unification of science, the theory of signs, psychology and valuation. Since then no congresses have been held. Considerable advancements had been made in Semantics-- Carnap wrote Introduction to Semantics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1942) which presents the problems involved in the construction of semantical systems, especially with the construction of L.-concepts, i.e., concepts which are applications or merely logical reasons as opposed to factual reasons, and with the relations between syntax and semantics. He explained in detail how he would modify the theories expressed in his Logical Syntax of Language. Further attention to the relation between semantics and syntax is paid in Carnap’s Formalization of Logic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1943). He also outlines a system of modal logic which he constructs in greater detail in “Modalities and Quantification,” Journal of Symbolic Logic (xi, 1946: 33-64).
Several contributions to semantic theory are contained in the “Symposium on Meaning and Truth,” which appeared in Volumes IV (1944) and V (1945) of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. C.I. Lewis in “Modes of Meaning” (ibid., vol. IV), gives an analysis of language similar in many respects to intention-extension distinction made by Carnap. He distinguishes (as terms): Denotation - the class of all actual things to which a term applies; Comprehension - the class of all consistent thinkable things to which a term applies; Connotative - that which is identified with a correct definition of the term; and Signification - the comprehensive character as such that every thing that has that character is correctly namable by the term.
Another significant line of work, which was pursued throughout the War years, was the analysis of science by Philipp Frank. His work, Philosophy of Physics was published under the name Between Physics and Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1941). Felix Kaufmann presented his theory of scientific procedure in Methodology of The Social Sciences (NY: Oxford University Press, 1944). The influence of the relativism of Benedict and Mead, et.al. Had not yet reached the academy. After this enormous body of work, we are now in the postmodern anti science mode.
Rules of scientific procedure are extremely important. These rules may be changed, but only in connection with “rules of higher order” (see Thomas Kuhn’s Theory of Narrative Displacement This work is the most referenced work in the past 45 years).
Another crucial work is Hans Reichenbach’s Philosophical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics in which he discusses the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics and the problem of interpretation. He proposes a three-valued logic, i.e., that of “probability” (therefore enters the calculus of probability). Here there is no neutral language; however, sentences about interphenomena do appear when this language is used. In his Elements of Symbolic Logic (NY: MacMillan, 1947), he attempts to characterize the logic of scientific laws (e.g., original nomological statements).
An important contribution to the logical analysis of sciences is “Studies in The Logic of Explanation” by Carl G. Hempel and Paul Oppenheim in Philosophy of Science, xv (1948), 135-175). Also, C.I. Lewis wrote regarding the theory of meaning, Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation (La Salle, IL: Open Court Pub. Co., 1946). Lewis begins with a general theory of meaning derived from Peirce, together with the distinction between empirical and analytic statements. The analytic ones are those which relate to meanings alone. Empirical sentences are of three types: (1) Expressive statements, which express an experience directly and which are, therefore, indubitable to the one who utters them, although they may be false in the case of a lying report--they are thus much like Schlick’s substantiations; second, terminating judgments, which make predictions concerning experience specific as to time and place; and (3) non terminating judgments, which make predictions concerning experience, general as to time and place.
Charles L. Stevenson wrote Ethics and Language (New Haven: Yale University Pres, 1944). He attempts to distinguish between belief and differences in attitude. Valuation statements are analyzed into cognitive and prescriptive components. An excellent summary of the position of empiricist publications can be found in Herbert Feigel’s article on “Logical Empiricism,” in Twentieth Century Philosophy--Living Schools of Thought, ed. By D.D. Runes (NY: Philosophical Library, 1943). This work contains articles by Quine, Tarski, Frege, Russell, Carnap, Lewis, Schlick, Nagel, Weismann, Hempel, Broad, Ducasse, Reichenback and Stevenson, et.al. of empiricist philosophers. These great representatives of Logical Empiricism represent just some of the great contributors to this epic-making philosophy of science school. The entire Vienna Circle, the Positivism of E. Mach, the Logical Positivism of Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Logical Philosophical treatise, Rudolf Carnap’s Theory of The Constitution of Concepts, The Berlin Group, The Warsaw Group, Pragmatists and Operationalists, The Uppsala School, Muenster Groups, Verifiability and Testability, Unity of Science and Physication, etc. This school played an enormous part in the discussion of the nature and limitation of science which probably laid the foundations of the postmodern anti science movement. (See my essay on “The Anti Science Movement” More extensive analysis would be required--see the third section of this paper, “A Proposed Defense of Objective Truth Claims: In the Context of Pluralistic World Religions, Beliefs, Cultures and Their Views of Truth”)
See the following essays: “Crisis, Narrative and Science” “Lost Transcendence in Our Post Christian Culture” “Narrative Displacement in Concepts of God, Man and Nature” “ Eastern Antecedents to The Development of Western Science” “Narrative Displacement From Newton’s Principia (1687) to The French Revolution (1789)” “Theories of Scientific Method From the Renaissance to Anti Science/Sociology of Knowledge Thesis” “Teleology, Mechanism and Ontology” “Teleology as Subtle Poison” “Heart of Postmodernism is Rooted in Kuhn, Popper, Goedel, and Polanyi Debate” “Prolegomena to Theories of Scientific Revolutions: Kant, Lakatos, Carnap, Popper and Kuhn” “Critique of Theory of Science as Eurocentric in Nature” “Critique of The Sociology of Knowledge Thesis”
Dr. James Strauss, Professor Emeritus
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, IL 62656