Dale S. Wright

‘In our time, many respond to the specter of complexity, relativity, and change by recoiling against the threat of “relativism.” This word and the morass of intellectual dangers that it signifies tend to evoke fear and other unhelpful reactions rather than thoughtfulness. When that happens, the two extreme positions mentioned above- blind assertions of dogmatic certainty and hopeless confessions of arbitrary relativism are common outcomes. Neither response is functional, however. Wisdom demands a more thoughtful conclusion, one that appropriates whatever elements of insight may have motivated both positions, while moving through and beyond them.

The partial truth that lends credence to the reaction of “arbitrary relativism” is that human beings are indeed finite, not unlimited in mental powers, and we do live in the midst of an always changing reality that is shifting in accordance with the complex of relations within it. Our concepts are therefore always articulated from particular points of view and always insufficient to a comprehensive and definitive grasp of what they seek to understand. But to conclude from these realizations that our concepts and decisions are therefore arbitrary is an enormously mistaken response to the issue, one that interprets the “relations” in which we stand as insurmountable barriers to understanding rather than as the very connections that make understanding possible. The dangers presented by that naive view lead some people to embrace the opposite view since, without thinking carefully, they see it as the only other option. But assertions of dogmatic certainty do not fare any better. They are equally immature attempts to avoid facing the issue directly. Merely asserting that the understanding currently most persuasive to my mind or the perspectives afforded by my culture are absolute and unconditional does not make it so, and such assertions fly in the face of substantial evidence to the contrary.’ (The Six Perfections)

I am sure I have said this before, but it is hard to open this book anywhere and not encounter strong thinking like this.

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