TRUTH by Felipe Fernández-Armesto


A History
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From Fern†ndez-Armesto (Modern History/Oxford Univ.; Reformations, 1997, etc.), a thoughtful and incisive meditation on the historical development of the concept of truth, and on its uncertain future. Fern†ndez-Armesto asserts that to an unprecedented and dangerous degree, our society has abandoned the pursuit of truth, “a long-standing, widely shared project of mankind.” His hope here is to explore this modern predicament and suggest that the quest for truth is not dead, despite the conflict between religious fundamentalists who claim to know all truth and secular nihilists who think it can never be known. The author illuminates this theme by sketching the development of four basic epistemological categories: (1) the “truth you feel,” characteristic of primitive society, in which emotions and nonsensory or nonrational kinds of perception convey truth; (2) the “truth you are told,” important in archaic society, in which truth flows from oracular, divinatory, or scriptural sources of authority; (3) the “truth you think for yourself,— or deductive or rationalist methods of pursuing truth, which evolved from ancient origins to reach an apex of prestige in the 17th and 18th centuries; and (4) the “truth you perceive through your senses,” or that derived from direct perceptual experience, which is dominant today. All four, Fern†ndez-Armesto argues, have always been around, though the ascendancy of the fourth is a relatively recent phenomenon. Examining the modern abandonment of truth in the humanities and the growth of relativism in our culture, which he views as ominous developments, he urges a return to traditional approaches to truth and advocates “hounding subjectivism and relativism until truth is run to earth.” Fern†ndez-Armesto’s profound analysis of a crisis that pervades both the academy and the larger world points a way beyond the timid equivocations of our time.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-24253-0
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999


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