Sunday, September 19, 2004

Tu Quoque

Of Liberalism and Conservatism and who is actually the relativist seems to be the issue of the day--from the blogs I frequent. I think the whole argument is Tu quoque, or at the very least, and in defense of Liberalism, should pragmatically take that tact. The pile on begins with Volokh humbling offering his thoughts; Yglesias tangentially weighing in; Beyerstein thoroughly confusing me; Weatherson leaving me nothing to object to because no normative depth is presented; and Kevin Drum being, in a word, terse.

My thoughts, respectfully, tend to reject the underlying premise of the argument. First, because as Conservatives so desultorily rationalize untidy histories of human existence and Liberals sometimes too often practice a pornographic sort of punitive historiography against human nature, the argument, and the consequent methods employed, isn't all that controversial and worthwhile. Second, because of the sheer terminology involved, specifically from a rigorously moded philosophic one, the degrees of difference between Moral Realism, Cognitivism, Non-Cognitivism, Moral Constructivism, Error Theory, Expressivism, Cognitivist Expressivism, Moral Phenomenology, Cognitive Phenomenology and a whack-load of others, the argument cannot be intelligible when we try to articulate normative variances from a colloquial vantage. In plain English: It doesn't mean much, really. But a word I will add, nonetheless.

Eugene Volokh makes this salient point:

It's true that some people do employ a sort of cultural relativism, in which actions are made right or wrong by the country or culture in which they happen. This is far from a purely liberal principle, though; in fact, sometimes it's liberals who are most universalistic in their calls for human rights.

I'd say I'm a cultural relativist when particular actions, deeds, and cultural mores are outside of my jurisdiction and area of influence. Indeed, I hold utter reprehension to the existence of Shari’ah in provinces of Nigeria and would hope that the weight of world opinion and legitimate international organizations, including any number of African nations, act accordingly to advocate the repeal of the harsher, physically brutal portions of Shari’ah, but who am I, and with what moral, epistemic, ontological justification do I have to ask a culture of millions to stop living there lives the way they have been for the past few millennia?

Do I hope that modernity catches up with them? Yes! Are there some instances where, perforce, modernity smokes them out of their holes? Yes. Sounds absolutist, though pragmatic at the same time. Sometimes I feel like a nut; sometime I don't. Paleo-Conservatives and Libertarians take relativistic stands when it comes to Humanitarian interventions, whereas hawkish Liberals and Humanitarian hawks take universalistic or absolutist stances.

Yet, again, the underlying premise that isn’t and obviously cannot be agreed upon by the interlocutors’ remains elusive. At the moment, I reject—research of String Theory aside—that true justified belief or the ultimate nature of reality and truth can be categorically determined. This doesn’t mean any malice irreligiosity on my part, rather that faith can and only should offer so much, as far as empirical argumentation goes-- likewise with the limits of Secular Humanism.

For example, I think Tony should be able to engage in consensual sex with the man of his pleasing—that didn’t sound right—ed: with his partner. I also think that if Wilbur is a responsible citizen and has his guns registered and properly kept, why not let him have his guns—clearly not assault weapons.( The Ban didn’t necessarily included particularly assultier assault weapons. It should have been wide ranging. Doesn’t really matter now, I guess). So who’s more morally relativistic, Conservatives or Liberals? I don’t think it’s a realistic question to ask or answer.

Update: I Re-read Beyerstein, and now it makes sense.

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