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Synopsis

Anthropology revolves round answers to problems about the nature, development and unity of mankind; problems that are both philosophical and scientific. In this book, first published in 1984, Professor Jarvie applies Popper’s philosophy of science to understanding the history and theory of anthropology. Jarvie describes how the ancient view that the aim of science and philosophy was to get at the truth is challenged in anthropology by the doctrine of cultural relativism; that is, that truth varies with the cultural framework. He shows how philosophers as various as Peter Winch, W.V.O. Quine, W.T. Jones, Nelson Goodman and Richard Rorty were influenced by this doctrine. Yet these philosophers also accept the value of rational argument. Jarvie believes that there is a contradiction between relativism and any notion of human rationality that centres around argument. Forced by the contradiction to choose between rationality and relativism, he argues strongly that logical, scientific and moral considerations favour rationality and urge repudiation of relativism. The central argument of the book is that relativism is intellectually disastrous and has fostered intellectual attitudes from which anthropology still suffers.

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