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Paul Boghossian - Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism

Cniversity of Windsor


Cohen on Boghossian Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus 229 Argumentation has its own Trinity—Rationality, Universality, and Autonomy— but there is no escaping the suspicion that it might be an unholy trinity. Argumentation is constitutive of rationality. It is universal in that we can argue about anything at all. And argument is autonomous insofar as it establishes its own rules. Individually, these are profoundly important for understanding argumentation. Together they tell us that part of what it is to be rational is to reason about being rational, and therein lies a paradox. Universality means that we can even argue about the principles of argumentation, while autonomy means that there is no further court of appeal for the principles of argument than argument itself. At the same time, rationality demands that we reason about reason—apparently, with No Exit from argument anywhere in sight. But surely it would be the height of irrationality to try to argue about something by first arguing about how to argue, then arguing about how to argue about how to argue, ad infinitum. Rationality also bids us stop. Paul Boghossian’s recent book, Fear of Knowledge, has something to say about this problem that is worth listening to. While the primary subject of his book is exactly as the subtitle advertises, the subject of rationality is never far away. What Boghossian offers is an extended argument against some forms of contemporary anti-realism and, by implication, an argument for realism. The intended audience is philosophers with metaphysical and epistemological interests. In the end, however, it could be argumentation theorists who might be most engaged by it and have the most to say about it because while the book is seriously flawed as an argument, it makes a positive contribution when read as a discourse about argument. Let me dispense with the negatives first. The greatest failings of Boghossian’s argument are dialectical and rhetorical rather than logical. His readings of Wittgenstein, K

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