Repost-Simon Blackburn From ‘Rorty And His Critics’

The further below quotation is from Blackburn’s contribution to ‘Rorty And His Critics,’ by Robert Brandom.

Essay here.

Rorty’s embrace of a kind of moral relativism within the tradition of American pragmatism is viewed with a critical eye.

It ain’t ‘revolutionary praxis’ on the way to post-Enlightenment utopia and failed theories of history, but it’s got serious problems.

Blackburn:

‘Justifying something to your peers is not the same thing as getting it right. It is a political achievement to make sure that wherever it matters, in science, history, law, politics, or ethics, the people to whom you need to justify yourself have their gaze pointed in the right direction, and so will only accept something when it is likely to be true. Like any political achievement, it needs careful protection. This explains why the words went onto the school gate in the first place.

Sometimes Rorty seems to recognize this, though it seems to clash with his ambition to demolish. At any rate, he remains fond of saying that if we look after freedom, truth will look after itself. In a free world, he seems to think, only the people with the library tickets and the microscopes eventually get into the coffee house. This might sound like Mill’s belief in the invincibility of truth_but Mill is much more the kind of stalwart who wrote the words on the school gate in the first place. Without those words it seems romantically optimistic to expect the achievement to sustain itself. Rorty has this optimism. He has a soft spot for Deweyan visions of the psalm of the people, as muscular workers stride shoulder-to-shoulder down limitless vistas into ever more glorious sunrises, which they greet with ever more creative vocabularies.

Lost in this Whitmanesque glow, it is easy to forget that there is no reason whatever to believe that by itself freedom makes for truth, any more than there is to suppose that labour makes one free. Freedom includes the freedom to blur history and fiction, or the freedom to spiral into a climate of myth, carelessness, incompetence, or active corruption. It includes the freedom to sentimentalize the past, or to demonize the others, or to bury the bodies and manipulate the record. It is not only totalitarian societies that find truth slipping away from them: the emotionalists of contemporary populism, or the moguls of the media and the entertainment industries, can make it happen just as effectively. That is why Plato felt that he had to forge the vocabulary of reason and truth in opposition to democratic politics; and it is why it remains vandalism to rub the words off the school gates. Orwell thought this, and anybody worried about such things as the ideology of those who own the press, or the Disneyfication of history, should think it, too.’

Some other quotations on the same topic as found on this site:

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’

From Liberal England on J.S. Mill:

“So read Rorty, Popper and Berlin. Read L.T. Hobhouse if you want and pretend to have read T.H.Green if you must. But above all read the Mill of On Liberty. Then you will see how wrongheaded it is to plead his name in aid of attempts to curb our liberty. Mill’s is the most powerful voice ever raised in support of the expansion of liberty.”

Karl Popper on why you never go full socialist:

“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

Or just take a look at the historical record, or the current regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, the post-Soviet kleptocracy…

Also On This SiteA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Repost-Some Thoughts On Noam Chomsky Via The American Conservative: ‘American Anarchist’

Positive and negative rights are also a part of Leo Strauss’ thinking (persona non-grata nowadays), and Strauss thought you were deluded if your were going to study politics from afar, as a “science.”  There has been much dispute about this: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand to Robert Nozick:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

Roger Scruton On Moral Relativism And Ross Douthat On Bill Maher

Via A Reader-Peter Thiel On The Logic Of Multiculturalism

Resurgent Nationalism Isn’t Exactly Right: Two Links On Foreign Policy-ISIS & Pompeo’s Rights Commission

Mere mention of the current President’s name invokes rabid response from all quarters, so I’ll refrain.

Graeme Wood at the Atlantic-ISIS Prison Breaks: Foreseeable Tragedy

‘The United States will not be present to cut and broker deals with and between these parties, but Russia and Damascus are already there, bidding for influence now that the United States has left the auction.’

Well, the previous President initiated a process of withdrawal from our role as ‘bouncer’ in the Middle-East, so I’m largely seeing an appeal to political bases which do not want to see the U.S. involved in the region.  There has arguably been a shift towards secular, humanist peace idealism as well, uniting many disparate groups in America, which could mean bigger bases for non-interventionism.

The abandonment of the Kurds, and our obligations to them, made by American interests and many in our Special Forces, is deeply sad, of course, but given our politics and a long-enough time curve, not entirely unexpected.

Of course, questions of controlling our security here at home against Islamic terrorism, and extending our influence for purposes of trade, strategic alliance with our allies, and what I’ll call the ‘West’, is another matter.

Charlie Hill, before the last election, suggested that if America doesn’t lead onto a new set of challenges that now face the West back nearly a decade ago, then Europe surely isn’t capable of leading either. If we don’t strike out on our own as Truman did with bold leadership after World War II, we will end a generations long experiment in American exceptionalism.  If we don’t lead, someone who doesn’t share our values, probably will.

Much of this could still be true.

Shading into diversity and moral relativism, and what’s going on here at home and throughout the West: Carlos Lozada took a look at some of Samuel Huntington’s work: ‘Samuel Huntington, a Prophet For The Trump Era:

‘Huntington blames pliant politicians and intellectual elites who uphold diversity as the new prime American value, largely because of their misguided guilt toward victims of alleged oppression. So they encourage multiculturalism over a more traditional American identity, he says, and they embrace free trade and porous borders despite the public’s protectionist preferences. It is an uncanny preview of the battles of 2016. Denouncing multiculturalism as “anti-European civilization,” Huntington calls for a renewed nationalism devoted to preserving and enhancing “those qualities that have defined America since its founding.”

Adam Garfinkle at The American Interest:  ‘Is Pompeo’s Rights Commission More Or Less Than Meets The Eye?’

‘Mike Pompeo’s commission isn’t really about abortion or homosexual rights or anything so fleshy. He and Ambassador Glendon at least are able to lift their gaze above their own and other people’s genitalia. Rather, it is the larger trend to conflate civil with human rights in the service of parochial political claims that they wish to call out and resist. I’m fine with that.’

Roger Scruton has an interesting take on moral relativism, and the ever-growing list of rights that come in its wake:

See Also: Google books has ‘Who Are We?: The Challenges To America’s National Identity‘ (previews) available.

From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

Problems Of The Minority-Cross Your Heart

Via Althouse on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

‘That’s the line up in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the case about the 32-foot cross on public land that honors soldiers who died in WWI. The American Legion won — the case is reversed and remanded. It will take me a little time to find my way through those opinions. The precedents in this area of the Establishment Clause have been very confused, and (as someone who taught those cases for many years) I want to know how the Court puzzled through them this time.’

As posted many years ago now:

Strausberg Observers post here

Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notes.  All parties involved didn’t think it’s a good idea to strip the cross from it’s religious meaning in law.

Aside from an interesting comparison on a specific legal question, perhaps there are underlying currents as well.

Full post here.

‘The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered by 15:2 in Lautsi v Italy (App. No.: 30814/06) on the 18th March 2011 that it is justifiable for public funded schools in Italy to continue displaying crucifixes on the classroom walls.’

Here’s a quote from The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy:

“The philosophy of human rights addresses questions about the existence, content, nature, universality, justification, and legal status of human rights. The strong claims made on behalf of human rights (for example, that they are universal, or that they exist independently of legal enactment as justified moral norms) frequently provoke skeptical doubts and countering philosophical defences.”

And further on down the line, some humanists are pretty ‘aspirational’ as well as having a logo and a revised manifesto.

Martha Nussbaum argues profoundly for more equality but also removing religion as a source for the laws:  From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

…Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notesFrom Law At The End Of The Day: ‘Torn Between Religion And Law In Spain’

Low European Birth Rates In The NY Times: No Babies?

I’ll repost the below again because, in America,  I believe we’ve likely tipped from a majority religious civic fabric and culture to something more like a majority secular culture.   This likely brings a lot of European problems over (people searching for meaning, membership, group belonging).  We’ve got less frontier and more hierarchy and more reactions to inequality and the same old socialism gaining deeper representation in our politics.

Ack, mutter, so much German theory and deep, metaphysical maps:

I’m sure some will be eager to note that this took place in Budapest, Hungary, a country currently under politically right leadership, out from under tradition and institution-destroying Communist bureaucracy, in the news these days for refusing many Middle-Eastern refugees.

I recommend the video, as Scruton spent many years behind the Iron Curtain, working with folks to help chart a course out of Communist rule.

Moral Relativism is actually quite hard to define:

========

A quote that stuck out:

‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’

Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source?

As this blog has often noted, such secular idealism can lead to an ever-expanding list of human-rights, demands, and obligations; these in turn leading to rather sclerotic, over-promising, under-delivering, deeply indebted European states and poorly functional international institutions. It can also produce a kind of liberal bien-pensant worldview, which can catch a radical cold every now and again, but which generally supports political leaders claiming such ideals and causes. Oh yes, most folks nowadays believe we’re progressing, but where was that we were progressing to, exactly? How do you know this to be true?

Many Christians in the West tend to see such secular idealism and humanism as being birthed from Christianity, and as being unmoored from the duties and obligations that come with religious belief in a transcendent God. People haven’t changed that much, after all, nor has human nature, they often subtly argue, pointing out the many consequences such secular humanist claims have in the world by placing all kinds of laws, duties, and obligations upon us all.

Ross Douthat made similar arguments some years ago while promoting his book ‘Bad Religion:

‘…what is the idea of universal human rights if not a metaphysical principle? Can you find universal human rights under a microscope?

===============

As previously posted:

Part 10 of a discussion between Douthat and Will Saletan here.

Natural law, Christian theology and metaphysics meet liberalism, gay rights, and a more rights-based definitions of liberty. Saletan and Douthat are discussing Douthat’s new book Bad Religion and having a back and forth.

Douthat puts forth the following:

‘Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities. No liberal confidence about the march of historical progress without the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history as an unfolding story rather than an endlessly repeating wheel’

Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself. Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:

“Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism. The first was a “brutal” nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type – the “gentle” nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies – was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic”permissive egalitarianism”, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.”

And another quote on Strauss, which seems more compelling to me:

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

I’m more interested in the many people who are claiming that more freedom is necessary to reach a liberal ideal as they go about extending it to another group of people. They aren’t just asking for a little more freedom, for as we humans do, they are striving to make their ideal the highest thing around, as well as a source for the laws, and a way to organize people and a path to political power and influence. That seems to be part of the deal, but rarely discussed and I think should be open for debate a la Strauss. Christianity certainly has a lot of experience in that realm.

Related On This Site: While politically Left, Slate used to be a bit edgy, thoughtful, occasionally more of a haven for artists, writers, creative thinkers and iconoclasts (Christopher Hitchens was a good example). At least Saletan thinks pretty deeply From Slate: William Saletan’s ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Nussbaum argues that relgion shouldn’t be a source for the moral laws From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum…More on Strauss as I’m skeptical of his hermeticism and his strong reaction to Nietzsche and some things he may have missed about the Anglo tradition: From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’From The Selected Writings By And About George Anastaplo: ‘Reason and Revelation: On Leo Strauss’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

Alas, What Were You Hoping For?

Simon Blackburn at the University of Toronto discussing the minimalist or deflationist view:

‘Along comes someone like Pilate, Pontius Pilate, and says something like: ‘What is truth?’ and everybody goes sort of dizzy, and you look to the philosopher to provide a suitably abstract and highfalutin answer. The minimalist says you shouldn’t answer Pilate, or rather, if you answer Pilate, you answer should take the form of a question…which is “What are you interested in?’

So basically, you throw the question ‘What is truth?’ back until the person who’s interlocuting you… gives you an example and says ‘Well, I’m interested in whether penguins fly’ and you say ‘Okay well the truth there…the truth would consist in penguins flying…’

…that’s very disappointing:’

Blackburn on Richard Rorty here.

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.’

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism is skeptical of the Nietzchean influence: ‘Prinz’s Deceptive Silence in His Arguments for Emotivism and Cultural Relativism:’

‘In Beyond Human Nature, Jesse Prinz argues for emotivism and cultural relativism in his account of human morality.  In doing this, he employs the rhetorical technique of deceptive silence.  What I mean by this is that in presenting the research relevant to his topic, he picks out those findings that seem to support his arguments, while passing over in silence those findings that contradict his arguments.  For example, he sets up a stark debate between Kantian rationalism and Humean emotivism in explaining the basis of human morality; and he argues that empirical research supports emotivism by showing that moral judgment is purely emotional and not rational at all (293-95).  This is deceptive in two respects. ‘

Also On This Site: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Repost-Some Thoughts On Noam Chomsky Via The American Conservative: ‘American Anarchist’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’ 

Roger Scruton On Moral Relativism And Ross Douthat On Bill Maher

Repost-Simon Blackburn From ‘Rorty And His Critics’

The further below quotation is from Blackburn’s contribution to ‘Rorty And His Critics,’ by Robert Brandom.

Essay here.

Rorty’s embrace of a kind of moral relativism within the tradition of American pragmatism is viewed with a critical eye.

It ain’t ‘revolutionary praxis’ on the way to post-Enlightenment utopia and failed theories of history, but it’s got serious problems.

Blackburn:

‘Justifying something to your peers is not the same thing as getting it right. It is a political achievement to make sure that wherever it matters, in science, history, law, politics, or ethics, the people to whom you need to justify yourself have their gaze pointed in the right direction, and so will only accept something when it is likely to be true. Like any political achievement, it needs careful protection. This explains why the words went onto the school gate in the first place.

Sometimes Rorty seems to recognize this, though it seems to clash with his ambition to demolish. At any rate, he remains fond of saying that if we look after freedom, truth will look after itself. In a free world, he seems to think, only the people with the library tickets and the microscopes eventually get into the coffee house. This might sound like Mill’s belief in the invincibility of truth_but Mill is much more the kind of stalwart who wrote the words on the school gate in the first place. Without those words it seems romantically optimistic to expect the achievement to sustain itself. Rorty has this optimism. He has a soft spot for Deweyan visions of the psalm of the people, as muscular workers stride shoulder-to-shoulder down limitless vistas into ever more glorious sunrises, which they greet with ever more creative vocabularies.

Lost in this Whitmanesque glow, it is easy to forget that there is no reason whatever to believe that by itself freedom makes for truth, any more than there is to suppose that labour makes one free. Freedom includes the freedom to blur history and fiction, or the freedom to spiral into a climate of myth, carelessness, incompetence, or active corruption. It includes the freedom to sentimentalize the past, or to demonize the others, or to bury the bodies and manipulate the record. It is not only totalitarian societies that find truth slipping away from them: the emotionalists of contemporary populism, or the moguls of the media and the entertainment industries, can make it happen just as effectively. That is why Plato felt that he had to forge the vocabulary of reason and truth in opposition to democratic politics; and it is why it remains vandalism to rub the words off the school gates. Orwell thought this, and anybody worried about such things as the ideology of those who own the press, or the Disneyfication of history, should think it, too.’

Some other quotations on the same topic as found on this site:

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’

From Liberal England on J.S. Mill:

“So read Rorty, Popper and Berlin. Read L.T. Hobhouse if you want and pretend to have read T.H.Green if you must. But above all read the Mill of On Liberty. Then you will see how wrongheaded it is to plead his name in aid of attempts to curb our liberty. Mill’s is the most powerful voice ever raised in support of the expansion of liberty.”

Karl Popper on why you never go full socialist:

“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

Or just take a look at the historical record, or the current regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, the post-Soviet kleptocracy…

Also On This SiteA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Repost-Some Thoughts On Noam Chomsky Via The American Conservative: ‘American Anarchist’

Positive and negative rights are also a part of Leo Strauss’ thinking (persona non-grata nowadays), and Strauss thought you were deluded if your were going to study politics from afar, as a “science.”  There has been much dispute about this: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand to Robert Nozick:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

Roger Scruton On Moral Relativism And Ross Douthat On Bill Maher

Via A Reader-Peter Thiel On The Logic Of Multiculturalism

Repost: Via A Reader-Peter Thiel On The Logic Of Multiculturalism

Hey-Hey, Ho-Ho, Western Civ has got to go!

Maybe teaching Western Civ 101 and requiring students to think independently and rigorously would help salvage a more politicized academic climate (especially in the humanities and social sciences).

Not too bad for 1996:

On this site, see:

================

Salman Rushdie at about minute 57:00: ‘This idea of separate treatment for separate cultures…I think essentially if we follow that to its conclusion…destroys our ability to have a really moral framework for society.’

From Theodore Dalrymple:

‘The doctrine of multiculturalism arose, at least in Holland, as a response to the immigration influx, believed initially to be temporary. The original purpose of multiculturalism was to preserve the culture of European “guest workers” so that when they returned home, having completed their labor contracts, they would not feel dislocated by their time away. The doctrine became a shibboleth of the Left, a useful tool of cultural dismantlement, only after family reunion in the name of humanitarianism became normal policy during the 1960s and the guest workers transformed into permanent residents.’

Full interview here with Simon Blackburn.

“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?

Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”

Click through for some of Eugene Volokh’s thoughts. He finishes with the following:

It’s a mistake, I think, to condemn multiculturalism in general, just as it’s a mistake to praise multiculturalism in general. Rather, we should think about which forms of toleration, accommodation, and embrace of differing cultural values and behaviors are good for America — in the light of American legal and social traditions — and which are bad.

Here’s a quote from a previous post, at the request of a friend:

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

A matter of deep debate.

See Also On This Site: Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…?: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Kenan Malik In The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Twenty Years On: Internalizing The Fatwa’-Salman Rushdie

Also On This Site: Morality away from a transcendent God, but back toward Hume through the cognitive sciences?: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon BlackburnFrom The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

 

Simon Blackburn From ‘Rorty And His Critics’

The further below quotation is from Blackburn’s contribution to ‘Rorty And His Critics,’ by Robert Brandom.

Essay here.

Rorty’s embrace of a kind of moral relativism within the tradition of American pragmatism is viewed with a critical eye.

It ain’t ‘revolutionary praxis’ on the way to post-Enlightenment utopia and failed theories of history, but it’s got serious problems.

Blackburn:

‘Justifying something to your peers is not the same thing as getting it right. It is a political achievement to make sure that wherever it matters, in science, history, law, politics, or ethics, the people to whom you need to justify yourself have their gaze pointed in the right direction, and so will only accept something when it is likely to be true. Like any political achievement, it needs careful protection. This explains why the words went onto the school gate in the first place.

Sometimes Rorty seems to recognize this, though it seems to clash with his ambition to demolish. At any rate, he remains fond of saying that if we look after freedom, truth will look after itself. In a free world, he seems to think, only the people with the library tickets and the microscopes eventually get into the coffee house. This might sound like Mill’s belief in the invincibility of truth_but Mill is much more the kind of stalwart who wrote the words on the school gate in the first place. Without those words it seems romantically optimistic to expect the achievement to sustain itself. Rorty has this optimism. He has a soft spot for Deweyan visions of the psalm of the people, as muscular workers stride shoulder-to-shoulder down limitless vistas into ever more glorious sunrises, which they greet with ever more creative vocabularies.

Lost in this Whitmanesque glow, it is easy to forget that there is no reason whatever to believe that by itself freedom makes for truth, any more than there is to suppose that labour makes one free. Freedom includes the freedom to blur history and fiction, or the freedom to spiral into a climate of myth, carelessness, incompetence, or active corruption. It includes the freedom to sentimentalize the past, or to demonize the others, or to bury the bodies and manipulate the record. It is not only totalitarian societies that find truth slipping away from them: the emotionalists of contemporary populism, or the moguls of the media and the entertainment industries, can make it happen just as effectively. That is why Plato felt that he had to forge the vocabulary of reason and truth in opposition to democratic politics; and it is why it remains vandalism to rub the words off the school gates. Orwell thought this, and anybody worried about such things as the ideology of those who own the press, or the Disneyfication of history, should think it, too.’

Some other quotations on the same topic as found on this site:

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’

From Liberal England on J.S. Mill:

“So read Rorty, Popper and Berlin. Read L.T. Hobhouse if you want and pretend to have read T.H.Green if you must. But above all read the Mill of On Liberty. Then you will see how wrongheaded it is to plead his name in aid of attempts to curb our liberty. Mill’s is the most powerful voice ever raised in support of the expansion of liberty.”

Karl Popper on why you never go full socialist:

“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

Or just take a look at the historical record, or the current regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, the post-Soviet kleptocracy…

Also On This SiteA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Repost-Some Thoughts On Noam Chomsky Via The American Conservative: ‘American Anarchist’

Positive and negative rights are also a part of Leo Strauss’ thinking (persona non-grata nowadays), and Strauss thought you were deluded if your were going to study politics from afar, as a “science.”  There has been much dispute about this: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand to Robert Nozick:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

From The Spiked Review Of Books: “Re-Opening The American Mind”

Full piece here.

Our author, Sean Collins, revisits Allan Bloom’s “The Closing Of The American Mind” 25 years on.  He tries to clear away some misconceptions:

‘The obscure professor certainly threw a cat among the pigeons. Conservatives pundits such as George Will and William Kristol praised the book in reviews, framing it as an indictment of liberal administrators and professors. Liberals in turn, as Ferguson notes, ‘took the book as a personal affront and reacted accordingly’

But Bloom wanted to get at something deeper, namely, how to restore a vision of classical learning in place of a pop culture, academic culture and a broader American culture infused with Nietzschean nihilism.  For Bloom, Nietzsche’s existential crisis and its effects through post-modernism and moral relativism especially, are something to get around, or over, or simply away from:

‘Bloom admires Nietzsche for his ‘profound philosophical reflection which broke with and buried the philosophical tradition’. Nietzsche finds that man is left without an overarching reason to be; that objective knowledge, truth and morality are all fictions. To both Nietzsche and Bloom, this is a profound problem. But to the countercultural American left of the 1960s onwards, it is seen as something to celebrate. ‘

Nietzsche, American style?  I certainly appreciate the attempt to try and understand how we’ve ended up with such balkanized groups in the liberal arts, e.g.  women’s/feminist studies, black studies and now gay studies.  This approach leads to a strong continental influence in the Academy that trades in relativism and nihilism lite as Bloom pointed out.  For some brief discussion on this site, see: Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful… Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment.

Bloom explored Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s work on the subject in order to get back some openness of mind against such influence.  As Collins notes and quotes:

‘‘Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason. It now means accepting everything and denying reason’s power.’

But what is the scope of that power outside of such nihilism?  What are the bounds of reason as Bloom might define them? Which strains of Enlightenment thought and which thinkers work particularly well within our American traditions against this nihilism?

Our author seems to think Bloom fails to get back across the Enlightment/Anti-Enlightenment divide as it’s been discussed here:

‘Bloom essentially shares the critique of the Enlightenment and modernity put forward by Nietzsche (as well as Heidegger and Max Weber). According to this view, the Enlightenment rationalism of John Locke et al is instrumental and technocratic; it does not satisfy the soul. Bloom’s agonising over the soulless MTV generation derives from this anti-modern outlook.’

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

How do you ground the liberal arts and define a liberal education, especially if an exceptional phase in American economic growth and educational opportunity may be at an end? Is it at an end?

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Incidentally, I take Bloom and Leo Strauss as wrestling with Nietzsche’s project and trying to chart a course out of it.  While seeing Nietzsche as a problem, they have been deeply affected by his thinking and offer a cautionary tale.

The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy has more:

‘Leo Strauss, and many of his followers, take rights to be paramount, going so far as to portray Locke’s position as essentially similar to that of Hobbes. They point out that Locke defended a hedonist theory of human motivation (Essay 2.20) and claim that he must agree with Hobbes about the essentially self-interested nature of human beings. Locke, they claim, only recognizes natural law obligations in those situations where our own preservation is not in conflict, further emphasizing that our right to preserve ourselves trumps any duties we may have.

On the other end of the spectrum, more scholars have adopted the view of Dunn, Tully, and Ashcraft that it is natural law, not natural rights, that is primary. They hold that when Locke emphasized the right to life, liberty, and property he was primarily making a point about the duties we have toward other people: duties not to kill, enslave, or steal. Most scholars also argue that Locke recognized a general duty to assist with the preservation of mankind, including a duty of charity to those who have no other way to procure their subsistence (Two Treatises 1.42). These scholars regard duties as primary in Locke because rights exist to insure that we are able to fulfill our duties.’

Is there something he’s missing about Locke?

Related On This Site:  Bryan Magee’s series available on youbtube is useful:  Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…

Martha Nussbaum also offers a vision of classical learning using Aristotle, the utilitarians, and Enlightenment ideals to broaden a platform for feminism, and is not much of a friend to religion, nor using religious belief and thought to guide laws…:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’… From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.

Jesse Prinz defends cultural relativism and weaves Nietzsche in as well, but wants to get back to Hume and a theory of Moral Sentiments (morality has its roots in the emotions):  Jesse Prinz Discusses “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” On Bloggingheads.

God and continental philosophy…regulated markets and progressive liberation theology?: Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”…Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

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Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

Full interview here.

I just wanted to focus on an interesting problem:

“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?

Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”

It looks like we’ve been dealing with such a problem for a long time, in one form or another.

See Also On This Site:  Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes:  From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?