Pushing Against Moral Relativism & The Academic Fashions Of Modern Life-Some Links

I keep picturing a young Briton in Paris, within a doorway, observing the generation of 1968 pushing inexorably by, shouting through the streets, agitated:

‘No, that’s not really for me.

Roger Scruton At Spiked: ‘Academic Freedom In Conformist Times:’

‘Williams is also correct to lay bare the philistine consequences of reducing truth and knowledge claims to assorted wills to power. Yet, philosophy, which Williams does not touch on, has been, in the Anglo-American academy, largely immune to the replacement of truth by power as the goal of speech. Richard Rorty is to be deprecated because he tried to undo that. But he did not succeed. The same is not true of musicology (thanks to the likes of Theodor Adorno and Susan McClary), where, too often, it is now assumed that music is merely expressing and justifying various power relations. Work is needed on the question of what it is about a ‘discipline’ that makes it into a real discipline (that is, one in which there is the collective pursuit of knowledge rather than the battle for power). What is needed is a theory of different kinds of knowledge other than the factual: knowledge of how, what, and what to feel, etc’

From Kelley Ross, who takes a step back from moral relativism and good ‘ol American Pragmatism:

‘It is characteristic of all forms of relativism that they wish to preserve for themselves the very principles that they seek to deny to others. Thus, relativism basically presents itself as a true doctrine, which means that it will logically exclude its opposites (absolutism or objectivism), but what it actually says is that no doctrines can logically exclude their opposites. It wants for itself the very thing (objectivity) that it denies exists. Logically this is called “self-referential inconsistency,” which means that you are inconsistent when it comes to considering what you are actually doing yourself. More familiarly, that is called wanting to “have your cake and eat it too.” Someone who advocates relativism, then, may just have a problem recognizing how their doctrine applies to themselves’

And on Richard Rorty:

‘Pragmatism is really just a kind of relativism; and, as with Protagoras’s own strategy, it is a smoke screen for the questions that ultimately must be asked about what it means that something is “better,” or now that something “works.” Something “works,” indeed, if it gets us what we want — or what Richard Rorty wants. But why should we want that? Again, the smoke screen puts off the fatal moment when we have to consider what is true about what is actually good, desirable, worthy, beneficial, etc. All these responses are diversions that attempt to obscure and prevent the examination of the assumptions that stand behind the views of people like Rorty. It is easier to believe what you believe if it is never even called into question, and that is just as true of academic philosophers like Rorty as it is for anybody else. Being intelligent or well educated does not mean that you are necessarily more aware of yourself, what you do, or the implications of what you believe. That is why the Delphic Precept, “Know Thyself” (Gnôthi seautón) is just as important now as ever.’

———

Into which vessels are American universities shaping young minds as those minds are shaped by this past few centuries’ great works?:

A.O Scott The Chronicle Of Higher Ed-‘When Critics Become Professors:’

‘It does not come because our students fail to respond to ideas, rather because they respond to ideas with a happy vagueness, a delighted glibness, a joyous sense of power in the use of received or receivable generalizations, a grateful wonder at how easy it is to formulate and judge, at how little resistance language offers to their intentions.

Trilling’s concerns are a mirror image of the ones Winters identified. The problem is not that scholarship — at least the apprentice version practiced by bright young students at fine old schools — is serious but that it is not serious enough. It is the art that is grave and difficult. Winters solved this problem by insisting that the split between art and learning was based on a romantic delusion about the emotive, expressive, and personal essence of art. Trilling, while noting that “nowadays the teaching of literature inclines to a considerable technicality,” found it impossible to contain the discussion of modern writing within the ambit of technique. To do it justice was to grapple with painful and personal matters, with one’s own thoughts about sex, alienation, injustice, and death, to “stare into the abyss” and then write a term paper about it.’

Let’s hope those vessels are more imaginative than the modern pop-art meta celibri-fame commentary one can find out in the popular culture.

As for that 3rd-wave feminist ‘male-gaze’ stuff, it must take a special kind of myopia to make your ‘personal’ life ‘political,’ and then end-up shilling for….Hillary Clinton.

Such a lack of imagination:

As previously posted:

On that note, Roger Scruton had some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

Quite importantly:

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”

This is a matter of deep debate in our society right now.

Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.

Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?

Are we really that thick into the postmodern weeds?:

 —————————–

Judgment, as Scruton points out, shouldn’t necessarily be subsumed to political ideology.  I would agree, and I generally default in assuming that each one of us is the ultimate arbiter of our own judgment.

But, no man is an island.

Does Scruton’s thinking eventually lead us back to the problems that religion can have with artists and writers?

Is there anybody whom you trust to decide what you should and shouldn’t read?

Parents?  Great authors?  Public intellectuals?  Professors?  God?  Laws and lawmakers? Religious leaders?  A school-board?  A democratic majority?  People who think like you?  A Council of Cultural Marxists?

The Department of Institutionalized Idiocy?

See Also On This Site:  Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’ 

Stanley Fish also says keep politics out of academia: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

6 thoughts on “Pushing Against Moral Relativism & The Academic Fashions Of Modern Life-Some Links

  1. Henry,

    Thanks for stopping by! In the Scott piece, I think he was referring to Lionel Trilling, but, either way, it’s a long way down to Lena Dunham…

  2. Indeed, Lionel Trilling. My mistake. It’s going to be a long climb up for Lena and I would not be surprised to find her evolving in interesting ways. The reason she is mostly of interest is that she holds a certain amount of power.

    1. Henry,

      I would prefer people in the arts not advocate a particular politician, but it’s my contention that’s where such ideas lead (the ‘personal is political’): We end up with neither the best artists nor politicians

  3. The genie is so out of the bottle on this. What we see are people in power putting on an act to get what they want (or what they genuinely believe in) from the general public. That is here to stay. That does not mean we cannot have honorable and thoughtful individuals emerge in the world of art and politics. Everyone needs to play the game at some level. It is the 21st century, after all.

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