North Western Winds

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The Truth

During her talk yesterday, Dr. Smith said a couple of things that get right to the heart of why leftist (atheist, materialist) thinking is just silly. I’ll repeat them here because in my dream world everyone would know them and no leftist could get away with it.

Leftist: “There is no such thing as truth.”

Answer: “Is that true?”

Leftist: “Well, there is one truth, and that is that there is no truth.”

Answer: “If that is true, then there are at least two truths: 1) there is no truth and, 2) that #1 alone is true. But #2 also contradicts itself and #1, since it is a second truth.”

More left silliness…

“You can’t legislate morality.”

Well, every law on the books is a form of coercion and a normative claim but you won’t hear them cry about laws sending smokers into the rain or forcing people to wear bike helmets. Why not? They’ll say that those are not morals being enforced. They aren’t? How is it that the principle of harm reduction is not a moral principle?

Max Gross writes at The Conservative Philosopher:

It is hard to imagine a reason for enacting the harm principle into law that does not stem from a recognition of some normative notion such as the importance of preserving natural rights or of maximizing individual autonomy. Someone who didn’t care about morality would find the principle irrelevant to his decision-making.

The question to ask is, does the law in question address something real? Does it do so in a way that is not self contradictory? (such as costing more than it benefits) Is it within our human scope to deal with or enforce? Is it beneficial for everyone?

People speaking against “the legislation of morality” make the mistake of thinking that what they like and want from the law is somehow exempt being a moral claim. It’s contradictory, like saying there is no such thing as truth.

Perhaps “You can’t legislate morality” means “Law cannot supply the motivation that is distinctive of morality.” Law is coercive; it says either “Do this or else” or “Don’t do this or else.” If I obey the law solely out of fear of punishment, I act out of self-interest, which is arguably a nonmoral motive.

I would agree with Burgess Jackson here. The law can’t affect our motivation. We really are free in a radical way that the law has no effect on. Even Grace has to be accepted freely. Legislation should not be seen as instructive or corrective. Its normative function gives us society, a framework in which we act, and it is this frame from which practical freedoms arise and are protected, just as grammar allows us to speak and be understood.

Answering “why?” with “more!”

William Voegeli writes at the Claremont Institute:

Bill Clinton was fond of saying that character is “a journey, not a destination.” But to leave home without a destination, convinced that the very idea of a destination is arbitrary and false, is to embark on a “journey” that will be no different from just wandering around. How, then, shall we live? The entirety of liberalism’s answer is, according to Rawls… humans can rescue their lives from meaninglessness by striving, however they pass their days, to employ more rather than fewer of their talents, finding new ones and expanding known ones, to the sole purpose of being able to enlarge them still further, endlessly.

Looks to me like failing to answer the question or failing to understand Hume’s fork – there is no “ought” to be derived from nothing but an “is.” Utilitarian ethics can devise a perfect price point but it cannot say anything about the refusal to use it and choose some other point due to personal preference. The charge that an action is irrational has no meaning in such a system. It’s simply an empty concept.

False Consciousness

Voegeli continues:

As an ethical precept this position is risible. As the basis for social criticism, it is infuriating. This is the standard by which liberals judge us to be spiritually unemployed, the basis on which they are going to lift the level of our existence? Many Democrats lament that Republicans have been successful in getting working-class Americans to vote “against their own interests,” by stressing social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Thomas Frank wrapped an entire bestseller, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, around this idea. It’s a “false consciousness” diagnosis that betrays rather than describes the Democrats’ problem: the smug assumption that we know, far better than they do themselves, the “real interests” of people who live in dorky places and went to schools no one has heard of.

Liberalism means all lifestyles are equal, unless you shop at Wal-Mart, recognize God’s existence or express doubts about the coherence of liberalism. Then you’re less equal. That’s pride and intolerance, plain and simple. Now, as a Catholic, I subscribe to claims about what is good and what is bad, which can be seen as prideful and intolerant by those who disagree with those claims. Catholicism, however, does not claim that all lifestyles and choices are equal, so there is no contradiction. False Consciousness is invoked by liberals as means of 1) shutting out criticism it cannot rebut, and 2) to get around the apparent betrayal of the equality principle. To be fair, false consciousness is not usually invoked except by people holding far left ideas.

How is false consciousness different from the concept of sin? Sin can be left to an individual and God to sort out, through grace given and freely received (or left unresolved through grace rejected). There are sins so grave that the force of law must be drawn in, but the idea of sin has within it the idea that not all problems have their source or solution in human action. False consciousness arising from material creation, on the other hand, can be fixed by altering the false thinking person’s material circumstances. Usually that will need to be done by force, even if that force is “only” taxation.

When presented with two ideas in a material world, how does one know which is false? Good question. In such a world, the concept of truth (and therefore falsity) is empty. Well, which one ought to correct the other? There is also no ought. The most efficient idea would probably be chosen, although it could be fairly said that that is a mere preference. More likely, the persons wielding the strongest force (power, charisma, credibility) would succeed in discrediting the weaker.

Causation

Consider the following:

Art, design and politics meet in Joanna Rytel’s jewelry collection “Happy abortion-children“. Her earrings, brooches, necklaces and rings formed as aborted foetuses, takes a stand for abortion. The idea can be said to be a continuation of her project “Abortkyrkogard.se” on the internet. There many have told of the guilt they have felt after having an abortion. “I wondered about why this was and I believe that it is society that induces the guilt, particularly for girls. I want to do something about it.”

Why does this “artist” think that her indifference to abortion is fully her own thought, and that it is the truth freely arrived at through strength of will and intellect? Why is the opposing view something that is not true, but something that is created and therefore false? She has not presented an argument of any kind. The words “society induces” are used in this case merely as adjectives with the intention of discrediting an opposing view. The argument, such as it is, is begs the question. It also leaves open the idea that anyone can be killed at any time if it is deemed “better for them.”

Conclusion

If it isn’t obvious by now, I have a very hard time taking Utilitarian Ethics seriously. I cannot accept that something is right at ten o’clock and wrong at two pm, or that it is right in one set of circumstances and wrong in another. I do believe that we operate in very difficult circumstances, in which it is not always clear what the best source of action is. We can easily be faced with a circumstance in which the right choice is not obvious, and we must choose between the lesser of two evils, as best we can. There are also actions that I think are not permissible in any circumstance because if we allow them we open the door to “doing evil that good may come of it.” I fall into what Burgess Jackson describes as “commonsense morality” in a fascinating post. I accept Agent Centered Restrictions and I accept that these restrictions have intrinsic value.

Ps. I’ll accept that not everyone who calls their politics leftist subscribes to everything I’ve said here. That appears to me to say that they are being inconsistent, however. Is there such a thing as a leftist ethics that is not utilitarian, rationalist, materialistic, consequentialist?

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Written by Curt

January 30, 2005 at 7:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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