The controversies between traditionalists and postmodernists are the topic of this book. It examines questions at the heart of the debate, such as: truth, reason, and objectivity - can we survive without them? What happens to law, science and the persuit of justice when these ideals are abandoned? The clash of belief and skepticism, and our need for intellectual stability are also examined. Focusing on the impasses to which these controversies often lead, and on the charges - absurdity , irrationalism , complicity , blindness , stubbornness - that typically accompany them, the author stresses our tendency to give self-flattering reasons for our own beliefs, and to discount or demonize the motives of those who disagree with us. The resulting cognitive and rhetorical dynamics of intellectual conflict is accounted for, drawing on research and theory in evolutionary biology, neuroscience, developmental psychology, and the history and sociology of science. The analysis continues into ongoing debates over the possiblity of an objective grounding of legal and political judgements, the value of Enlightenment rationalism, challenges to dominant ideas of scientific truth, and responses to denials of the factuality of the Holocaust.
Barbara Herrnstein Smith is Braxton Craven Professor of Comparative Literature and English at Duke University, where she is also Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory.