Inside the epistemological cave all bets are off

  • Colin Wight
Symposium: Kratochwil's ‘Tartu Lecture’ and its Critics

DOI: 10.1057/palgrave.jird.1800109

Cite this article as:
Wight, C. J Int Relat Dev (2007) 10: 40. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jird.1800109


In this short rejoinder to Friedrich Kratochwil's plea for a ‘pragmatic approach to theory building’, I argue that, despite his claims to the contrary, his position essentially rests on a curious form of foundationalism and relativism. The problem, as I identify it, is that Kratochwil's attempt to move contemporary debate forward fails because he treats the issue only in epistemological terms. Kratochwil is deeply suspicious of the very idea of the ‘real world’ and reduces it to an infinitely malleable construct of our ways of thinking and talking about it. This means that he remains trapped in the epistemological cave and is condemned to an endless quest to solve problems that have no solution. But the real world is not simply something that we think and talk about but, rather, we engage with it in practice and as such it offers resistance to our attempts to grasp it. Hence, it is not a subject without a voice in the global conversation. This is an important theoretical limit, particularly in relation to contemporary issues surrounding global environmental problems.


dogmatism epistemology foundationalism reality relativism theoretical pluralism truth 

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin Wight
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PoliticsSchool of Humanities and Social Sciences, The University of ExeterExeterUK