Books: Reality Is for Real
Why we can't give up on objectivity, even though it is decidedly uncool.
November 16, 1998
The Last Word, by Thomas Nagel (Oxford University Press, 160 pp.; $19.95, hardcover); Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal Reason, by Nicholas Rescher (University of Notre Dame Press, 264 pp.; $35, hardcover; $16, paper). Reviewed by Ric Machuga, professor of philosophy at Butte College.
A mere 30 years ago I was an undergraduate philosophy major wrestling with intellectual doubts surrounding my emerging Christian faith. Back then Bertrand Russell, A. J. Ayers, B. F. Skinner, and their acolytes were proclaiming that Christ's claims to be the Son of God were simply not true and that anyone who believed them was irrational. Seeking to be both rational and a Christian, I had to come to grips with their arguments.
Today, there is good news and bad news for Christians. The good news is that the Russells, Ayerses, and Skinners have died and left no intellectual heirs. In the postmodern world, Christians are not so likely to be told that their faith is not true. The bad news is that now when we proclaim Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, we will most typically be greeted with a Pilate-like sneer: "What is truth?" For us, Thomas Nagel's little book The Last Word and Nicholas Rescher's slightly bigger book Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal Reason are a godsend.
The heart of Nagel's manifesto is that—contrary to the rampant subjectivism and perspectivism of the day—he really does know that things like rabbits exist. He flat-out denies that "the first person, singular or plural, is hiding at the bottom of everything we say or think." A person need not preface all statements with "for me rabbits exist" or "for us it is true that there are rabbits." Instead, Nagel argues that there is nothing philosophically ...