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I tried the following:

Directory[]
/Users/John
SetDirectory["Library/Mathematica"]
/Users/John/Library/Mathematica

The documentation for SetDirectory says:

For a relative path name, SetDirectory sets the directory relative to the current working directory.

So it seems that SetDirectory interprets my argument as a relative path name. How can I get SetDirectory to interpret my argument as an absolute path name, so that the result is /Library/Mathematica instead of /Users/John/Library/Mathematica?

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Not really a Mathematica specific question but in Mac OS X absolute paths begin with a / character exactly as you give in your desired result, so

SetDirectory["/Library/Mathematica"]
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If you want Mathematica to interpret it as an absolute path, why don't you pass it one? In Windows:

SetDirectory["D:\\Library\\Mathematica"]

will set the path to D:\Library\Mathematica.

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  • $\begingroup$ are the double backslashes really necessary, in Windows? $\endgroup$ – magma Jul 14 '14 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ @magma - Apparently not, but I saw them in a notebook I got from WRI, and I sticked to it. $\endgroup$ – stevenvh Jul 14 '14 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ @magma - Yes, otherwise you'd get the "Unknown string escape" error. When you copy paste a file path within a Mathematica string (""), MMA will prompt you to allow it to insert escape--whatever that means--and you should pick "Yes". $\endgroup$ – seismatica Jul 14 '14 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ @seism - I tried it with a single backslash, and it also works. No error, no warning, no prompt. $\endgroup$ – stevenvh Jul 14 '14 at 10:00
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    $\begingroup$ @stevenvh I have no idea why mine showed the error. I took a screenshot of it: !Mathematica graphics. Could you help me use single backlash without error? $\endgroup$ – seismatica Jul 14 '14 at 10:20

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