This response to Barbara Herrnstein Smith's article, “The Chimera of Relativism: A Tragicomedy,” presents some thoughts on how the debates about “relativism” upon which Smith comments could be refigured in the light of this symposium's theme of “comparative relativism.” If the notion of relativism can be rendered relative unto itself, as the notion of a “comparative” relativism would seem to suggest, then how might one understand its “position” within the kinds of debates in which Smith's paper, by way of commentary, also participates? In particular, if part of Smith's aim is to defuse some of the unfair thoughts that have fueled the antirelativist industry in academia, then how might one think of the character of such “anti-anti-“moves themselves? What manner of academic debate does a properly relative notion of relativity allow for? The response herein to these questions takes off from the obvious thought that, properly squared, relativism cannot be understood as a “position”—one that should or could be “defended,” albeit in the Geertzian “anti-anti-“mode that Smith's article seems sometimes to adopt. Rather, it would imply a somewhat different way out of the tribal deadlocks that Smith so elegantly helps put to rest (relativists vs. positivists, etc.); namely, a manner of debate in which a generalized relativity of thinking, including the relativity of that thought itself, would make a merit of academic opposition at all levels. This piece suggests, in other words, a manner of debating in which the “anti-” would be both proffered and received as a manner of compliment rather than attack.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.