A “Dictatorship of Relativism”?: Symposium in Response to Cardinal Ratzinger’s Last Homily

An issue of: Common Knowledge

A “Dictatorship of Relativism”?
Journal Issue Pages: 356 Volume 13, Number 2-3 Published: 2007 An issue of Common Knowledge
Special Issue Editor: Jeffrey M. Perl
In the last homily he gave before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described modern life as ruled by a “dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely” of satisfying “the desires of one’s own ego.” An eminent scholar familiar with the centuries-old debates over relativism, Ratzinger chose to oversimplify or even caricature a philosophical approach of great sophistication and antiquity. His homily depicts the relativist as someone blown about “by every wind of doctrine,” whereas the relativist sticks firmly to one argument—that human knowledge is not absolute. Gathering prominent intellectuals from disciplines most relevant to the controversy—ethics, theology, political theory, anthropology, psychology, cultural studies, epistemology, philosophy of science, and classics—this special double issue of Common Knowledge contests Ratzinger’s denunciation of relativism.

One essay relates the arguments of Ratzinger to those of two other German scholars—the conservative political theorist Ernst Wolfgang Böckenförde and the liberal philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas—since all three men assume that social order depends on the existence of doctrinal authority (divine or otherwise). The contributors here argue for an intellectual and social life free of the desire for an “infantilizing” authority. One proposes that the Christian god is a relativist who prefers limitation and ambiguity; another, initially in agreement with Ratzinger about the danger relativism poses to faith and morals, then argues that this danger is what makes relativism valuable. The issue closes with the first English translation of an extract from a book on Catholic-Jewish relations by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, one of the Catholic Church’s most progressive figures.

Contributors. David Bloor, Daniel Boyarin, Mary Baine Campbell, Lorraine Daston, Arnold I. Davidson, John Forrester, Kenneth J. Gergen, Simon Goldhill, Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Julia Kristeva, Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, Christopher Norris, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Richard Shusterman, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Jeffrey Stout, Gianni Vattimo

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Table of Contents Back to Top

1. The Resolute Irresolution Of Clifford Geertz–Richard A. Shweder

2. Geertz’s Gifts–Renato Rosaldo

3. The Crowd Parts–Stephen Greenblatt

A “Dictatorship Of Relativism”? Symposium In Response To Cardinal Ratzinger’s Last Homily

4. Introduction: “Surtout Pas De Zèle”–Gianni Vattimo, Translated By Robert Valgenti

5. Rethinking “Normative Conscience”: The Task Of The Intellectual Today–Julia Kristeva

6. Relativism, Today And Yesterday–Barbara Herrnstein Smith

7. Epistemic Grace: Antirelativism As Theology In Disguise–David Bloor

8. Dictatorship Of The Professoriat? Antiobjectivism In Anglo-American Philosophy–Christopher Norris

9. The Scandal Of Sophism: On The Epistemological Seriousness Of Relativism–Daniel Boyarin

10. T. S. Eliot’s Small Boat Of Thought–Jeffrey M. Perl

11. Relativism, Religion, And Relational Being–Kenneth J. Gergen

12. Fallibilism And Faith–Richard Shusterman

13. A House Founded On The Sea: Is Democracy A Dictatorship Of Relativism?–Jeffrey Stout

14. Overkill, Or History That Hurts–Jeffrey F. Hamburger

15. Enlightenment Now: Concluding Reflections On Knowledge And Belief–Mary Baine Campbell, Lorraine Daston, Arnold I. Davidson, John Forrester,

And Simon Goldhill

16. Appendix: Homily Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice–Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

17. Little Reviews

Ian Hacking, Peter Burke, Natalie Zemon Davis, J. G. A. Pocock, Kirsten Schultz, G. Thomas Tanselle, Charlie Samuya Veric

Fiction And Poetry

18. From The Witness–Juan Villoro, Translated By Chris Andrews

19. Twenty Poems–Grzegorz Wróblewski, Translated By Adam Zdrodowski And

Joel Leonard Katz

20. The Consequence Of Ian Watt: A Call For Papers On Diminished Reputations–Joseph Frank

21. Road To Jerusalem–Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, Translated By Yaakov Mascetti

22. Notes On Contributors

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ISBN Paperback: 978-0-8223-6669-0
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