At The Prospect, Malcolm Thorndike Nelson on Hilary Putnam's new collection of essays:
It seems a simple matter to sort our beliefs into neat piles—objective facts in one corner, subjective opinions and values in another. “The acceleration of gravity on earth is 9.8 metres per second squared” as opposed to “Schubert’s music is better than Justin Bieber’s.” Politicians and pundits are always trying to “get to the facts.” We placate disagreements with “well that’s just my opinion.” Working in the background here is another idea: that facts are something that all rational people can agree upon while values are ultimately impervious to reason and argument. This view of the world as divided into the subjective and objective is so deeply held that many people assume that it is just the way things are and not a philosophical position.

Putnam’s argument against this dichotomy is not any sort of naive relativism, where there simply is no difference between asserting “2+2 =4” and “That pasta carbonara tasted revolting.” Putnam’s point is simply that values and facts are inextricably entangled.

05/05/2013 22:44

I haven't read the essays or the review by Nelson, but I don't see the significance of Putnam's solution. The notion that facts and opinions/values judgments are connected is not new. It is a long standing problem that every philosophy professor has to address in an introductory ethics course. And the problem isn't philosophical but pedagogical. Student's treat ethical judgements as "opinion", which seems relativistic, but opinions can be just as much fact anything else about the world.


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