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Relativism and the Social Sciences [Paperback]

Ernest Gellner
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

26 Feb 1987
This volume of essays deals with the problem of relativism, in particular cultural relativism. If our society knows better than other societies, how do we know that it knows better? There is a profound irony in the fact that this self-doubt has become most acute in the one civilisation that has persuaded the rest of the world to emulate it. The claim to cognitive superiority is often restricted, of course, to the limited sphere of natural science and technology; and that immediately raises the second main theme of this volume - the differences between the human and natural sciences. These essays reach towards a new style and mode of enquiry - a mixture of philosophy, history and anthropology - that promises to prove more revealing and fruitful.

Product details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; New Ed edition (26 Feb 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521337984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521337984
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 13.5 x 21.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 67,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'Gellner writes with a razor. His first essay on positivism and hegelianism … is simply brilliant.' The Times Higher Education Supplement

' … one of the pleasures of reading Gellner is just that he always finds a more apt phrase, a sharper comment, a better example than most of us could make up for ourselves.' New Society

Book Description

These essays deal with the problem of relativism and, in particular, cultural relativism. If our society knows better than other societies, how do we know that it knows better? The claim to cognitive superiority is often restricted to the sciences - raising the second theme of the volume: the difference between human and natural sciences.

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First Sentence
It is a curious but indisputable fact that every philosophical baby that is born alive is either a little positivist or a little Hegelian. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gellner - relativism and the social sciences 29 Dec 2009
Despite the heavy-metal title, this is one of the most stimulating and entertaining collection of essays that a philosophy or social anthropology student could wish to find. The essay on "structuralisme" is particularly fine, perhaps because of the intrinsic difficulty of the topic - but the whole book is a gem. Gellner's writing style is so clear, and his flashes of wit are so funny, that you absolutely find yourself turning the pages as if you were reading much lighter material. Good for a plane journey!
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Somewhere between Kant and Herder!! 18 Feb 2004
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on Amazon.com
As noted by many who knew or were influenced by Gellner, he was a dying breed: a polymath who was equally adept at philosophy, sociology, antrhopology, and politics. That ability, always noticeable in these essays, is what makes this book so different from like books on the subject.
This is needed because the subject - the problem of relativism in the social sciences - has become such a commonplace one, that one could easily fill a Barnes and Noble with titles adressing it. For all that, one would be hardpressed to count one one hand the books that actually contributed anything useful to the discussion rather than just rehashing the problem while pretending to have original thoughts on it.
I ramble on that for a reason. Gellner's is precisely one of those books that would be counted on that hand. The reason is that he is both a philosopher and an anthropoligist (as most writers in the one discipline ignore the methods of the other). Gellner's philosophic side wants to gravitate towards human universals and in this he resembles Kant and the Enlightenment. His anthropologist side, though, wants to gravitate towards the differences, and in this he takes after Herder and the Romantics.
As those who have read Gellner before know, he sides more-or-less with the Englightenment on this one (never all the way). As a brief synopsis, the first and fourth essay defend positivism and argue that the scientific process not only applies to the 'social sciences' but is the best way for them to operate. The second and (my favorite) third essay, deal with the problem of human universals in a world of seemingly different areas, approaches, cultures and...dare we say it...natures. The fifth, sixth and seventh essay (more antrhopologic theory and less philosophy) deal with and demolish 'structuralism' and 'hermeneutic' approaches to antrhopology with the lattter taking direct aim at Wittgenstien's 'community' theory of language.
While this collection is short (at 187 pages) the insights are fantasitc and as mentioned above, blend the theoretic prowess of the philosopher with the empirical traditon of the antrhopologist. On a personal note, as a longtime fan of Karl Popper, I found Gellners extended critique (first essay) of Popper most useful. Long and short: this book is worth the time, effort, and money.
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