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December 11, 2003

Missing the Point

">Anal Philosopher recently linked to an article by his friend John Ray titled Lakoff "Deconstructed". Ray's approach violates two ideals Anal Philosopher claims to admire. Scholarly writing and the principle of charity. Ray, in our opinion, has either not read Lakoff's book or needs a remedial reading course. Right in the beginning Ray gets Lakoff wrong. "Lakoff has written a book which purports to explain the Left/Right polarity of politics as Mother-oriented politics vs. Father-oriented politics, " It's Nuturant Parent not Mother- oriented. There is a significant difference, and one, even a cursory reading of Lakoff's book makes clear. In the liberal world view a Mother or a Father could be nurturant. So is Lakoff implying that mothers can't be strict by calling the conservative world-view Strict Father? I should say at the outset that, though I have used the term "Strict-Father" to name the model given, there are variants of the model that can be used by a Strict Mother as well. There are many mothers, especially tough single mothers, who function as Strict Fathers. But the model is an idealization, and is intended here only as that. (Lakoff, p. 67) Not only does Ray exhibit bad scholarship, but he follows it with poor reasoning. Ray quotes Lakoff as saying "Leftists stand for civil liberties and equal treatment" He then offers the following as counter examples. "Tell that to conservative and Christian students who are regularly muzzled and intimidated on America's leftist university campuses!" and "how is it equal treatment to have almost the entire university Professoriate politically leftist?" This doesn't show that liberals don't believe in equality and civil liberties, at most it demonstrates that they are fallible, aren't we all. For the sake of argument let's concede that the "entire Professoriate" has leftist politics. Ray implies that because there are more liberal professors there was unequal treatment. Where is his evidence for this? This is an example of post hoc. There are other possibilities. For example, the low wages of university professors don't deter as many leftists as they do conservatives who may be more likely to seek out positions in the private sector. Even worse than the above, Ray makes the fundamental mistake of begging the question. "Lakoff further says that leftists believe in "the promotion of an economy that benefits all". No economy benefits more people than a capitalist one so leftists are friends of capitalism? Not exactly likely!" It is a matter of vigorous debate whether a capitalist system benefits more people. What is Ray talking about anyway? There really are no functioning pure capitalist models. It is not a given that capitalism benefits the most people even if Ray tries to define it as such. We have additional evidence that Ray has not read Lakoff's book. He writes, "He [Lakoff] says that conservatives think that children should learn self-discipline, self-reliance, and respect for legitimate authority. What's wrong with that?" In a word, nothing. Lakoff doesn't say there is anything wrong with that. What differentiates the liberal view from the conservative view, for Lakoff, is how those values are prioritized. According to Lakoff, liberals value those things, but place a higher priority on fairness and compassion. Conservatives value fairness and compassion also, but place a higher priority on self discipline, self reliance and respect for legitimate authority. Ray concludes his thoughts by masterfully constructing a straw man. In doing that he makes his most egregious misread of Lakoff's book. He points to the fact that his politics are on the right and yet he doesn't use corporal punishment on his child. He fails to account for the possibility of having a Strict Father model for your politics while having a Nurturant Parent model for child-rearing. Lakoff writes, Nuturant Parent child-rearing practices are superior to Strict Father child-rearing practices. But that, in itself, does not show that liberal politics is superior to conservative politics. You might, for example choose the Nurturant Parent model for you family life and the Strict Father model for politics. (Lakoff, p. 364) In short, Lakoff is not making claims that how you are raised forms your political attitudes. He is not claiming a causal link between the two. What he is claiming is that conservatives use the Strict Father model as a METAPHOR for their political thought. Lakoff argues the Strict Father model taken as a model for real child-rearing is an ineffective one so, by ANALOGY, it is not a good METAPHOR for politics. Ray finally provides evidence in the form of a litany of references to the psychological literature, but it is alas irrelevant. Lakoff isn't making the claim the provided literature discusses. Ray would know this if he'd read the book or if he was charitable....

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September 3, 2003

Soft Self

"There is no self, if by self we mean some central cognitive essence that makes me who and what I am. In its place there is just the 'soft self': a rough-and-tumble, control-sharing coalition of processes—some neural, some bodily, some technological—and an ongoing drive to tell a story, to paint a picture in which 'I' am the central player." —From "Natural-Born Cyborgs" by Andy Clark...

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June 25, 2003

More Moral Politics

There has been a lot of discussion on my weblog and here about Moral Politics:How Liberals and Conservatives Think by George Lakoff You remember. Categories of Moral Action here's the summary. Conservative Categories of Moral Action 1. Promoting Strict Father morality in general. 2. Promoting self-discipline, responsibility, and self-reliance. 3. Upholding the Morality of Reward and Punishment a. Preventing interference with the pursuit of self-interest by self-disciplined, self-reliant people. b. Promoting punishment as a means of upholding authority. 4. Protecting moral people form external evils. 5. Upholding the Moral Order. Liberal Categories of Moral Action 1. Empathetic behavior and promoting fairness. 2. Helping those who cannot help themselves. 3. Protecting those who cannot protect themselves. 4. Promoting fulfillment in life. 5. Nurturing and strengthening oneself in order to do the above. I found a great post via Jake at Lying Media Bastards I've pretty much absconded with the whole thing. I trust he wont judge me to harshly. Good stuff Jake I'm looking forward to your promised further comments on this topic. Anyway Jake points out that Tim left the following comment in response to Income mobility post by Cal Pundit. Conservatives are winning the debate because they have shifted the arguments to that of character alone... By shifting the debate to one of character they've essentially won the war. It rhetoricaly fits every one of their issues: We live in a free country where everyone has an equal opportunity so if someone is poor it's because they have bad character. If someone is rich they have good character- there's no other reason for rich and poor. So, there's no reason to tax progressively, to do so would be punishing those that have good character and rewarding those that have bad character. Every argument turns into one of character. Bad public schools? Let people go to private school! If they can't afford to that's they're own fault, they're poor because they have bad character, those with bad character don't deserve a hand-out. Lower taxation of capital? Only someone with good character is able to build capital, they shouldn't be punished for having good character. Estate tax? Only someone with good character was able to build all that wealth, they shouldn't be punished. Allowing corporations to set their own environmental standards? A corporation is led by people who made it, and therefore have good character, so of course they can be trusted. Racism? There is no other reason for racism than individuals with bad character acting badly. No such thing as institutional racism, no such thing as historical context, nothing but some people with bad character (so therefore no reason to reform anything or promote anything via things like AA). The desire to dismantle social programs? Social programs only benefit those with poor character, why should people with good character pay to give hand-outs to those with bad character? Of course some jackhole will probably refute this claim on a literal basis (as if I mean pundits and politicians are literally talking about "character"), but it seems pretty obvious to me. The modern conservative platform makes no sense whatsoever unless you think of it as a basic argument between good and bad character. None of their programs do what they say they'll do. Supply-side economics does not increase tax income, nothing trickles down; standardized tests do not improve schools, less environmental regulation does not mean less pollution; bombing Iraq does not mean less terrorism. It's pretty easy, they do it themselves. Iraq? Saddam was bad, 'nuff said. France? They're arrogant, 'nuff said. Santorum? He's a good guy, 'nuff said. And on and on and on. It's a very easy debate to win, all they have to do is smear the other side and lie about their programs. If they never admit to lying, it's the same as not lying. After all, Bush, for example, is the president. He wouldn't be there unless he had good character. People with good character don't lie, they only make mistakes. Jake writes: That is a significant portion of conservative ideology. It's the belief that if someone tries hard enough, they will be successful. If they are not successful, it's evidence that they need to try harder. Trying hard is a sign of good character. Refusing to try hard is a sign of poor character. Therefore someone who is a corporate CEO or a wealthy entrepreneur must have good character, because they must have worked hard to get to where they are. And someone who is poor must not have good character because they have not worked hard enough to pull themselves out of poverty. He's right and it fits nicely into Lakoff's Conservative's Categories of Moral Action (see above)...

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June 24, 2003

Busted Again

Chris and I were not the only two to read Bush's Critics Meet the Logic Police and conclude it was a sham. Shortly before posting our take on Mr. Burgess-Jackson's article I returned to Tech Central to get the URL and discovered there were quite a number of comments posted in response to the article. A quick perusal of the comments unearthed this from Stephen Downes the author of the Guide to Logical Fallacies I mirror here. I found it quite remarkable how closely his words paralleled those Chris and I had written. It is articles like this that give philosophers a bad name. Shrouded in a cloak of rhetoric lie fundamental misdirections that lead the reader to an incorrect conclusion. The key point in the argument is that while critics attack Bush's motives for attacking Iraq, the real question is whether the war was justified, and that this justification is an objective measure independent of Bush's motives. Of course, an analysis of the criticisms of the war finds that they are not based on a criticism of Bush's motives. Rather, they were based on the observation that the reasons being advanced in favour of the war were not sufficient to support the conclusion. Critics, for example, expressed scepticism about Bush and Blair's claim that Iraq housed weapons of mass descruction, a suspiciion that today appears to have been warranted. They expressed doubt about the purported link between Iraq and Osama bin Laden. And they questioned whether Iraq was any more deserving a target for invasion than the many other unsavory regimes in the world, regimes that include among their numbers America's allies. It is true that there was speculation about Bush's motives. But such speculation, far from being expressed as an objection to the war, was raised rather in an attempt to understand why Bush would pursue such a course when the stated reasons for the war were so transparently flimsy. The author writes that the justification for the war exists independently of Bush's motives for the war. Maybe so (though by no means all philosophers cling to such a consequentialist notion of justification, despite it being baldly presented as fact in this article). But the justification for the war consists (at least prior to the war) in the reasons advanced for going to war, and the critics were, on reflection, quite right in casting doubt on this justification. On a strict consequentialist point of view, we can ask about the justification for war by looking at the consequences. It is true that Hussein has been removed, vanished into hiding somewhere, that his army has been disbanded, and that his government's repressive policies have been halted. The cost to the Iraqi people, though, was high - it is no surprise to read blogger Salam Pax write that war is never the best solution, no matter how repressive the government. It is not clear whether, in the long run, the Iraqi people will benefit from Hussein's removal, or whether they will, as in eras past, simply experience a period of colonial government followed by another dictator. America's record is not good in this regard. Nor is it clear whether they will be able to benefit from the resources of their country, or whether they will be plundered, ostensibly to 'pay for' a liberation they never sought. The current situation - a destroyed infrastructure, a colonial government, disease, starvation, anarchy and crime - offers no justification whatsoever for the war. It is relevant today, though, to raise questions regarding Bush's motives, not in order to determine whether the war was justified - for it appears not to have been by the objective evidence available either before or after the war - but rather to assess whether Bush is guilty of a war crime. As any philosopher should well know, guilt or innocence is determined not only by consequences, but also by intent, and if Bush's intent was petty revenge, or whether it was to loot Iraq of its oil, then he is in fact guilty of a war crime and ought to be punished. Indeed, the only bright note that can be said of this article is that it does clearly separate Bush's motives from the purported justification for the war, suggesting implicitly that not even Bush could have believed the lies he offered as grounds for its prosecution. As for the author of this piece, I can only suppose that he, writing on the wrong side of the law of logic, as it were, must have felt that he trolled out of sight of the logic police, thinking, perhaps, that no philosophers ever descend to the depths of a journal with the word 'tech' in its title. Sadly, he was mistaken, and so his sad little sham is exposed. As it should be...

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June 23, 2003

Rogue Cop Gets Busted

We were excited to see a philosopher contributing to public discourse when we came across Keith Burgess-Jackson' Bush's Critics Meet the Logic Police despite its title. He starts his article by suggesting that philosophers can contribute much to the public discourse on a variety of political issues. We wholeheartedly agree with him on this. We were hoping that his article would point out fallacies progressives make so that we could avoid them in the future. We were severely disappointed by his article. The level of scholarship is just not there and his work gives philosophers a bad name. If some philosophers are logic police, then others are officers from internal affairs. Burgess Jackson writes. "Either there is a justification for the war (objectively speaking) or there is not. If there is, then it doesn't matter what motivated President Bush. If there isn't, then it doesn't matter what motivated President Bush. Either way, it doesn't matter what motivated President Bush." Though Bush's motivations may not be relevant in establishing the logical possibility of providing a moral justification for war, they are relevant in judging whether Bush himself was moral in instigating that war. We don't know about Mr. Burgess-Jackson, but it matters to us whether or not our president acts morally. Burgess-Jackson argues, "A badly motivated person can do the right thing (by accident, as it were), just as a well-motivated person can do the wrong thing." One might argue quite the opposite. A person could act immorally and despite this the outcome may be good. Conversely, a person could act morally and the outcome could nevertheless be bad. If motives were irrelevant in evaluating the morality of somebody's actions, then we couldn't distinguish between a crime of passion and a cold calculated murder. Just as there are common expressions that capture Burgess-Jackson's viewpoint, there are common expressions that capture the view outlined above. "The ends don't justify the means" comes to mind. The moral viewpoints presented above come from an age-old philosophical debate about ethics. Burgess-Jackson argues for a view known as consequentialism. According to consequentialist theory, an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill argued for such a view. The alternative I presented is based on deontological (duty) theories of morality. Deontological theories base morality on specific moral principles that are not to be violated regardless of the outcome. The Ten Commandments are a good example. John Locke's rights theory and Emmanuel Kant's categorical imperative provide further examples of deontological theories. The point we want to make is that it is terribly presumptuous to assume that consequentialism is true and subsequently charge progressive pundits with committing logical fallacies based on this. If deontological theory is true then the progressive's conclusions are not fallacious because motives are everything in such theories. We would expect a freshman undergraduate to make such a philosophical move, but it is unacceptable from philosopher with a PhD. Burgess-Jackson follows this questionable premise by asking why the public debate focused so sharply on the President's alleged motives, to wit oil, revenge, and the economy. He suggests the answer is hatred of the president and confusion. There was no confusion. The focus wasn't on motives. It was on the legal justification for the war. Only after Bush's legal justifications were deemed inadequate, did progressive pundits begin to question his motives. The progressives concern was not with the removal of Saddam, which was acknowledged by all as good, but rather the aftermath of war. Those who opposed the war questioned the primary justification George Bush offered, that there was an imminent threat to the United States, and that the threat came from weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorists. Bush said Iraq had or was close to getting nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The administration argued further that Saddam would use those weapons or pass them on to others to use and that there was no time for alternatives to military action. He didn't make the case. He failed to convince the world community, he failed to convince the United Nations Security Council, and he failed to convince many Americans. Another reason many opposed the war was that they had misgivings about the chances of long term success in imposing a government on Iraq. George Bush senior made the same argument against occupation after the first gulf war, and repeated it prior to this war. It is still unclear if he was right or not, but the problems so far seem to support his view. Burgess-Jackson is correct that many questioned the president�s motives. These questions were not meant as arguments against the war. They were offered as an explanation of Bush's advocacy of war despite the lack of legal justification and expected problems long term occupation would bring. Finally, the question of Bush's motives are important in their own right quite apart from whether war was justified. The United States is a constitutional Republic. We are a nation of laws. Questions of motivation and honesty go to the core of what we value in America. They are the reason that Richard Nixon, facing impeachment, left office. The Watergate burglary itself was not earth shattering, but a president that would lie about it shook the foundations of our republic. It is important for a president to be honest, and it is important for the president�s motivations for taking action in our name to reflect our values. If those motives are hidden, if those motives are disguised, if those motives are based on lies and exaggeration they undermine our democracy. The threat this poses to our republic is far greater than danger from terrorist attacks. To claim the focus of criticism was Bush's motives fails to present the best argument that those who opposed the war made. Need we remind Burgess-Jackson. "One thing - maybe the most important thing - young philosophers learn is charity. Before criticizing an argument, make it the best it can be. This is the fundamental fairness of the philosophical method." Burgess-Jackson's article is not philosophy, it is partisan pop culture. The best way he can help make philosophy more relevant to the wider public is to stop writing. update: John Hudock likes the logic cop though he doesn't say why. Perhaps he just likes all cops. More on Burgess-Jackson at Lies.Com...

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May 14, 2003

We Will Win

Why the Web Will Win the Culture Wars for the Left: Deconstructing Hyperlinks Cultural conservatives have a lot of worries. They fear that Grand Theft Auto and other video games will turn their kids into crowbar-wielding criminals, they believe that Hollywood will turn their daughters to floozies and sons to gigolos, and they despise the constitutional barrier between church and state as an unnecessary evil that has estranged religious beliefs from public life and eroded the core values of our country. Underlying all these concerns is the overarching belief that moral relativism -- which holds that competing claims to right and wrong cannot be judged objectively -- is making America a godless, bankrupt country, and a very dangerous place to raise a kid. [snip] That will change. Like reading or breathing, web browsing itself is agnostic with respect to politics and culture. Unlike reading or breathing, however, surfing mimics a postmodern, deconstructionist perspective by undermining the authority of texts. Anyone who has spent a lot of time online, particularly the very young, will find themselves thinking about content -- articles, texts, pictures -- in ways that would be familiar to any deconstructionist critic. And a community of citizens who think like Jacques Derrida will not be a particularly conservative one... viaAmerican Samizdat...

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April 29, 2003


"Fundamentalism means sticking strictly to the script, which in turn means being deeply fearful of the improvised, ambiguous or indeterminate...Since writing is meaning that can be handled by anybody, any time, it is always profane and promiscuous. Meaning that has been written down is bound to be unhygienic...Fundamentalism is the paranoid condition of those who do not see that roughness is not a defect of human existence, but what makes it work." Terry Eagleton --The Guardian 22 Feb. 2003...

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April 11, 2003


Julian Baganni writes in Making Sense Since the Ancient Greek philosopher Protagora proclaimed that 'Man is the measure of all things' there have always been philosophers who it would be accurate to describe as relativists. But very few of these relativisms boil down to the belief that no 'truths' are superior or inferior to any other, or that truth is simply what people happen to believe. I think postmodernism is often unfairly criticized as not believing one truth is better than another to wit. An empiricist remarked that the test of truth is to punch a postmodernist in the face and see if he can explain why it hurts. The postmodernist responded with: punch an empiricist and then ask if he could tell you what the pain means?...

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April 8, 2003

More Bad Moves

Bad Moves: Dubious advantages via Butterflies & Wheels By Julian Baggini "We do not generally employ people who have spent a career doing something else and who have turned to executive search as a second career. We want our people to be the best at hiring great management. … To do this well you need to get the kind of commitment you have in a first career, not a second one." Armstrong International advertisement, 2003 campaign (Source: The Economist, 29 March 2003) The comic alter ego of Graham Fellows, the hapless singer-songwriter John Shuttleworth, had a wonderful line in his stage show when he evangelised to the audience over the merits of a well-known sports drink. "It's isotonic," he said, "it cares for the environment." As with so much of the Shuttleworth act, behind the banality lies an astute observation. Like many of us, Shuttleworth is easily impressed by the claims made by manufacturers and advertisers for their products, even when he doesn't understand what these claims mean. The mere fact that something is presented as an advantage is enough to win him over. This is a version of the wider problem that if a claim is made with sufficient strength, conviction or authority, it tends to be accepted whatever its merits. The sub-species of "dubious advantages", however, works this trick in a slightly more sophisticated way. It works by presenting a claim which is factually correct, but in such a way as to make it appear like an advantage. The classic version of this comes with the many foodstuffs which are advertised as "95% fat free" or similar. There is nothing at all factually incorrect about this. But the way that the claim is splashed over the packaging makes it evident that this fact is supposed to describe an advantage. What could this advantage be? Many consumers will assume that it means the product is healthier, or is a better option if they are trying to lose weight. But many such low-fat cakes, for example, are loaded with sugar and a serving can contain just as many calories as other regular-fat alternatives. In short, the fact that something is 95% fat free isn't necessarily an advantage, even though it is being sold to you as one. Once you become alert to this, examples leap off the supermarket shelves and the advertising billboards. Why is it good that something contains Guarana if the amount it contains is less than that required for it to have any effect, assuming it has a desirable effect anyway? Why is it better that something comes in a new, bigger size, if the price has increased proportionally? Why should we rejoice that a cereal now comes in a foil bag when it was perfectly crispy in the old plastic one? What makes the Armstrong International advertisement particularly interesting is that by spelling out so clearly why recruiting people starting their first career is supposed to be an advantage, they are being more open than those who merely imply their dubious advantages, but they also thereby make the questionable nature of this advantage clearer. For it just doesn't seem at all evident that people are more committed when on their first career than their second. Indeed, many people just drift into their first career, and the move to a second one often requires more commitment. And people on their second career have more experience, including that concerning which kinds of people makes great managers. Prima facie, then, the claim that this feature of their recruitment practices is an advantage is questionable and it seems unlikely that any empirical evidence exists to back it up. The presentation of dubious advantages probably works because we are cognitive misers who will always make as few judgements as possible to get by. We prefer "that's true" or "that's false" to "the factual part of that claim is true but its implied advantages are not real." The latter requires us to distinguish the factual content from the evaluative implication of a claim and when we're glancing at advertisements or product packaging, that can be a cognitive task too many. It's not that we're stupid, it's just that we are already bombarded by commercial messages and we're doing all we can to filter them out. Also, there aren't many of us who are at our mentally sharpest when doing the shopping. Julian Baggini is editor of The Philosophers' Magazine. Additional Bad Moves Columns...

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March 4, 2003

Bad Moves

"Butterflies and Wheels (fighting fashionable nonsense)": fighting fashionable nonsense is an excellent site for those interested in all aspects of Philosophy. Articles, book reviews, news, and a section I found both useful and fascinating called Bad Moves. This is a weekly column by Philosopher Julian Baggini on bad argumentative moves and how to detect them. Here is an example and a timely that is right on target. Bad Moves: Absence and evidence By Julian Baggini "It depends on Saddam. If he co-operates with the inspectors in allowing them not just access but telling them what material he has and allowing them to shut it down and make Iraq safe and free of weapons of mass destruction then the issue is over, but he is not doing that at the moment." Tony Blair, 26 January 2003 (Source: the Guardian, 27 January 2003) The British and American governments have consistently claimed that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. But they have not helped their case by rigging the rules by which their claim is tested. Here's the problem. "continued here":

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February 20, 2003

Critical Thinking

"For myself, I found that I was fitted for nothing so well as for the study of Truth; as having a mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the resemblances of things … and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their subtler differences; as being gifted by nature with desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and as being a man that neither affects what is new nor admires what is old, and that hates every kind of imposture."—Francis Bacon...

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January 17, 2003

Link And Think

A fascinating look into the nature of truth from Richard Rorty one of my favorite pragmatists. I have reproduced the entire essay, since the formating on his site looks terrible in some browsers making it difficult to read. I also recommend following the link to his home page for links to more of his excellent writing. THE DECLINE OF REDEMPTIVE TRUTH AND THE RISE OF A LITERARY CULTURE Questions such as ?Does truth exist?? or ?Do you believe in truth?? seem fatuous and pointless. Everybody knows that the difference between true and false beliefs is as important as that between nourishing and poisonous foods. Moreover, one of the principal achievements of recent analytic philosophy is to have shown that the ability to wield the concept of ?true belief? is a necessary condition for being a user of language, and thus for being a rational agent. Nevertheless, the question ?Do you believe in truth or are you one of those frivolous postmodernists?? is often the first one that journalists ask intellectuals whom they are assigned to interview. That question now plays the role previously played by the question ?Do you believe in God, or are you one of those dangerous atheists??. Literary types are frequently told that they do not love truth sufficiently. Such admonitions are delivered in the same tones in which their predecessors were reminded that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Obviously, the sense of the word ?truth? invoked by that question is not the everyday one. Nobody is worried about a mere nominalization of the adjective ?true?. The question ?do you believe that truth exists?? is shorthand for something like ?Do you think that there is a natural terminus to inquiry, a way things really are, and that understanding what that way is will tell us what to do with ourselves?? Those who, like myself, find themselves accused of postmodernist frivolity do not think that there is such a terminus. We think that inquiry is just another name for problem-solving, and we cannot imagine inquiry into how human beings should live, into what we should make of ourselves, coming to an end. For solutions to old problems will produce fresh problems, and so on forever. As with the individual, so with both the society and the species: each stage of maturation will overcome previous dilemmas only by creating new ones. Problems about what to do with ourselves, what purposes to serve, differ, in this respect, from scientific problems. A complete and final unified science, an harmoniously orchestrated assemblage of scientific theories none of which will ever need to be revised, is an intelligible goal. Scientific inquiry could, conceivably, terminate. So if a unified account of the causal relations between all spatio-temporal events were all that were meant by ?truth?, even the most far-out postmodernist types would have no reason to doubt truth?s existence. The existence of truth only becomes an issue when another sort of truth is in question. I shall use the term ?redemptive truth? for a set of beliefs which would end, once and for all, the process of reflection on what to do with ourselves. Redemptive truth would not consist in theories about how things interact causally, but instead would fulfill the need that religion and philosophy have attempted to satisfy. This is the need to fit everything?every thing, person, event, idea and poem --into a single context, a context which will somehow reveal itself as natural, destined, and unique. It would be the only context that would matter for purposes of shaping our lives, because it would be the only one in which those lives appear as they truly are. To believe in redemptive truth is to believe that there is something that stands to human life as elementary physical particles stand to the four elements?something that is the reality behind the appearance, the one true description of what is going on, the final secret....

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January 6, 2003


When I hear the word absolutism used in terms of a world-view I turn and run, I'm frightened by those who think they "know", but absolutism is an appealing idea. How wonderful to look in the "good book" and know how to react in any situation. Man has been searching for this holy grail for centuries and it seems no nearer now than when he began. I'm astounded that much of the world despite millennium of trying and failing, still holds to an absolutist world view. In his book "Twilight of the Idols" Nietzsche writes about "How the 'Real World' at last Became a Myth" Christopher Jenson's essay annotates it to address the metaphysics of Stephen Covey. A metaphysics that is almost identical to Kants. The annotations along with Nietzsche's words provide an excellent way to understand why the absolutist position is untenable. I have pointed to this essay in disscussions with absolutists. The most common response is well, I don't agree with that, but I'll have to think about it and get back to you. To date none have. So the question is where does that leave us, if there are no absolutes on a metaphysical level there are certainly no absolutes on the moral ethical level. Is it as some fear that we will be cast into a relativistic quagmire, or are there other options. Are there moral ethical systems that are not subject to an undisciplined relativism? I would argue that pragmatism provides just such a method, a middle ground. It was Joseph Duemer and Daniel Erlich's conversation that renewed my interest in this subject. Joseph uses the term, divorced from reality, when visiting sites such as this one. He finds himself, upon viewing the content of such a site, "muttering small talk at the wall", perhaps "What the Fuck?"...

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