truth and the middle ground

Tue, 12 Apr 1994 11:09:28 CDT

I like and value both Bob and Doug. While I don't want to
seem like a polyanna--there IS a middle ground. Try this for size, and if
there are holes, fill them. Cultural relativism is not value-free but value-
laden. The basic assumption is that falsehood is BAD and truth is GOOD and
that methods of investigation must uncover falsehood and substitute what can be
DEMONSTRATED to be true. This is our only claim for scientific method in
cultural anthropology--we have to start with the assumption that we could be
wrong and find ways to present out research and results in a way that allows
for the identification of errors (of logic, of data, of sufficient data to
demonstrate a generalization, etc.). Because we can and do use different
methods to collect our data, often tailored to the stuff to be observed, and
because our original focus of observation always is connected with other areas
of endeavor, other activities, etc., that we did not count on at the beginning,
it often happens that our generalizations can be correct in one context and
either wrong or incomplete in others. I have several examples from my own
experience of being simultaneously dead right and dead wrong. The issue of
truth is non-trivial, but it is also closely connected to the hierarchical
ordering of generalizations that we can make about (a) the folks we study and
(b) the possible comparisons between "our" folks and other folks. The issue
of truth is, to my mind, heavily dependent on the context of assertion and
the level of generalization at which the assertion is made. So I either
agree with both of you or disagree with both of you. Like I said, I hope this
isn't polyanna (or pompous).
Mike Lieber