Barbara Herrnstein Smith

Duke University

“Perplexing Realities: Practicing Relativism in the Anthropocene”

Being realistic about climate change does not require an endorsement of what philosophers call “realism.” What it requires, among other things, is an ongoing recognition of both the multiplicity of realities—experiences, percepts, constructs, and cosmologies—and the possibility of their irreducible difference. Thus, with regard to clashing convictions and denials of anthropogenic global warming, we would do well to acknowledge not only the significance of conflicting material interests but also the existence and power of vested cognitive interests. Constructivist understandings of human cognition are especially useful here, inasmuch as they offer conceptually sophisticated, empirically grounded perspectives on the formation and stabilization of what we call (our) “knowledge” or (their) “beliefs.”

Barbara Herrnstein Smith is Braxton Craven Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and English at Duke University. Her publications include Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory (1988); Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy (1997); Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth and the Human (2005); and Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion (2010).