Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory / Edition 1 available in Paperback
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Charges of abandoned standards issue from government offices; laments for the loss of the best that has been thought and said resound through university corridors. While revisionists are perplexed by questions of value, critical theoryhaunted by the heresy of relativismremains captive to classical formulas. Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s book confronts the conceptual problems and sociopolitical conflicts at the heart of these issues and raises their discussion to a new level of sophistication.
Polemical without being rancorous, Contingencies of Value mounts a powerful critique of traditional conceptions of value, taste, judgment, and justification. Through incisive discussions of works by, among others, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Northrop Frye, Georges Bataille, Jacques Derrida, Richard Rorty, and Jürgen Habermas, Smith develops an illuminating alternative framework for the explanation of these topics.
All value, she argues, is radically contingent. Neither an objective property of things nor merely a subjective response to them, it is the variable effect of numerous interacting economies that is, systems of apportionment and circulation of “goods.” Aesthetic value, moral value, and the truth-value of judgments are no exceptions, though traditional critical theory, ethics, and philosophy of language have always tried to prove otherwise.
Smith deals in an original way with a wide variety of contemporary issuesfrom the relation between popular and high culture to the conflicting conception of human motives and actions in economic theory and classical humanism. In an important final chapter, she addresses directly the crucial problem of relativism and explains why a denial of the objectivity of value does notas commonly feared and chargedproduce either a fatuous egalitarianism or moral and political paralysis.
About the Author
Barbara Herrnstein Smith is Braxton Craven Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and English at Duke University.
Table of Contents
1. Fixed Marks and Variable Constancies: A Parable of Value
Evaluating Shakespeare's Sonnets
2. The Exile of Evaluation
Fact and Value in the Literary Academy
The Politics of Evaluative Criticism
An Alternative Project
3. Contingencies of Value
Contingency and Interdependence
Matters of Taste
Processes of Evaluation
The Dynamics of Endurance
4. Axiologic Logic
Hume's Natural Standard
Kant's Pure Judgments
Logical Tastes and The Other's Poison
Three Postaxiological Postscripts
Judgment Typology and Maclntyre's Fall
Value without Truth-Value
Changing Places: Truth, Error, and Deconstruction
6. The Critiques of Utility
Humanism, Anti-Utilitarianism, and the Double Discourse of Value
7. Matters of Consequence
Critiques and Charges: The Objectivist Generation of "Relativism"
Quietism and the Active Relativist
Community, Solidarity, and the Pragmatist's Dilemma
Politics and Justification
Conceptual Tastes and Practical Consequences
What People are Saying About This
Barbara Herrnstein Smith has written a critique of objectivism and absolutism in the theory of value--a critique addressed so directly to our own experience and sustained with such lucidity and wit that it will force even those it outrages to think again about their position. Given our contingencies, this is a book of enormous value.
Smith's book argues, very lucidly and persuasively, for a Deweyan conception of value. The idea is that value is neither an 'intrinsic' property of a thing nor 'in the eye of the beholder,' but a function of an infinitely large set of contingent, constantly changing, relations between things. Contingencies of Value is a very useful contribution to the philosophical literature on the topic.
This remarkable work by Barbara Herrnstein Smith must be read in order to initiate a critical evaluation of aesthetic evaluation.
A pleasure to read ... It is impossible to imagine anybody daring to write about the subject without giving this book close consideration.
One of our most brilliant thinkers about literature confronts one of the most recalcitrant problems about literature. The results are compelling, original, and altogether astonishing.