Death and Furniture: the rhetoric, politics and theology of bottom line arguments against relativism

History of the Human Sciences 8 (2):25-49 (1995)
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’Death’ and ’Furniture’ are emblems for two very common (predictable, even) objections to relativism. When relativists talk about the social construction of reality, truth, cognition, scientific knowledge, technical capacity, social structure and so on, their realist opponents sooner or later start hitting the furniture, invoking the Holocaust, talking about rocks, guns, killings, human misery, tables and chairs. The force of these objections is to introduce a bottom line, a bedrock of reality that places limits on what may be treated as epistemologically constructed or deconstructible. There are two related kinds of moves: Furniture (tables, rocks, stones, etc. - the reality that cannot be denied) and Death (misery, genocide, poverty, power - the reality that should not be denied). Our aim is to show how these ’but surely not this’ gestures and arguments work, how they trade off each other, and how unconvincing they are, on examination, as refutations of relativism.



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