This column by R. Emmett Tyrrell is worth your time.
Tuesday, 20 March 2007
Here is a short op-ed column by Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, who rejects the use of intuitions (“considered judgments”) to test normative ethical theories. Singer thus rejects what John Rawls calls “reflective equilibrium.” Singer advocates a top-down approach to ethics. First, one chooses a theory. Then one applies the theory to fact situations to reach a conclusion about what to do. Note that Singer is a progressive rather than a conservative. He believes that intuitions are biases or prejudices that stand in the way of progress. Not all utilitarians are progressives. Henry Sidgwick tried to show that common-sense morality has a utilitarian basis. His aim was to support, rather than alter, common-sense morality. David Hume did something similar. What this shows is that the distinction between utilitarians and deontologists does not map onto the distinction between progressives and conservatives. There are conservative utilitarians (e.g., Hume and Sidgwick), progressive utilitarians (e.g., Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, J. J. C. Smart, and Singer), conservative deontologists (e.g., Immanuel Kant and W. D. Ross), and progressive deontologists (e.g., Rawls and Ronald Dworkin).
I actually enjoy these skin tests. But then, I enjoy lots of painful things, such as running and bicycling. There are two kinds of suffering: that which is self-imposed and that which is not self-imposed. The former can be enjoyable. The latter is invariably experienced as intolerable. Lance Armstrong, who is one of the greatest bicyclists of all time, has said that there are two types of pain: sour and sweet. He feels sweet pain while climbing, but sour pain while time trialing. If you’re not an athlete, you’ll have no idea what he’s talking about. If you are an athlete, you’ll know exactly what he’s talking about.
Addendum 2: If you’re still not convinced, listen to this.
Addendum 3: Here is the first music video I ever saw, in 1983. I happened across it while walking through the Student Union Building at the University of Arizona. I thought then, and think now, that the video has nothing to do with the song, either lyrically or instrumentally.
A star is rising in the world of running. Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya is only 20 years old, but he has already broken the world half-marathon record three times. Three days ago, in the Netherlands, Wanjiru broke his own record of eight days earlier by an incredible 18 seconds. He covered the 13.109375 miles in 58:35, which is 13.42 miles per hour and an average mile pace of 4:28.12. (Imagine running 13 consecutive 4:28 miles!) Wanjiru is brash. He shocked reporters before the latest race by saying that he would run the first 10 kilometers (6.214 miles) in 27:30. He ran it in 27:27. (The world record in the 10K, held by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, is 26:17.53.) What’s amazing to me is that Wanjiru ran most of the half marathon alone. Nobody could stay with him. It’ll be interesting to follow this young man’s career. He could rewrite the long-distance record book during the next decade. Who knows? He could be the first person to break the two-hour mark in the marathon. (The world record, held by fellow Kenyan Paul Tergat, is 2:04.55.)
Here is a New York Times story about immigration. The Republican Party is divided on this issue. Why? Because the Republican Party is the party of business as well as the party of law and order. Businesses want a cheap supply of labor so that they can keep their profits up. They don’t give a damn about the effect of immigration on our culture or values. They want profit. The law-and-order wing of the party is getting shafted on this issue. It needs to let its voice be heard in the Republican primaries. By the way, it’s no surprise to me that the Wall Street Journal supports “comprehensive immigration reform,” which, among other things, would allow lawbreakers to benefit from their criminal conduct. The Journal has long been the voice of the business community.
Iannone: A new professional association of historians, the Historical Society, has been formed to counter the increasing left-wing politicization of the discipline, as manifest in the Organization of American Historians and the Association of American Historians. Did you notice increased politicization of the discipline in the course of your career? Some say the field of history has not done that badly, compared to the worst cases, such as literature. Did you find politics having a negative effect on the things you care about?
Barzun: The charge of politicizing history requires that a distinction be drawn. It has been said by judicious minds that all writing is a political act, everybody being biased on all the issues and institutions of life. This generality would be hard to disprove, and it could be argued besides that total impartiality would achieve total dullness. But there is a wide gulf between self-expression that is unconsciously colored by political and religious beliefs and the tenor of deliberate partisanship.
Latterly, political bias has been deliberate; indeed, it has been represented as a duty, namely, to carry on the propaganda against a corrupt and oppressive capitalist society. This platform is a hangover from the Marxism long pervasive in academia and that ceased to be overt at the fall of the Soviet regime. In both its phases the animus is quite unlike the inactive bias that one may detect in traditional academic writing, liberal or conservative, religious or freethinking.
(Jacques Barzun, “A Conversation with Jacques Barzun,” interview by Carol Iannone, Academic Questions 19 [fall 2006]: 19-27, at 23)
To the Editor:
It is with great sorrow and amazement that I mark the beginning of the fifth year of this war in Iraq.
Our administration felt so strongly about this move to overthrow Saddam Hussein that it was willing to use false information to justify our going in. It was intended to help fight the war on terrorism. Yet we have created another unstable region in the Middle East.
We have more enemies now, not friends. War does not make things better. It makes things worse.
War and the instability it creates in turn can create more terrorists.
The costs of this war are running in the hundreds of billions, and many precious, beautiful lives have been ended. Multiply those by loved ones and friends and neighbors, and we have millions directly hurt by this war.
I want this war to end, and I want a large percentage of the cost to go directly to humanitarian and peacemaking efforts throughout the world so that we have no more war.
Ita Hardesty Mason
Kingston Springs, Tenn., March 18, 2007
Note from KBJ: Progressives have said so many times that President Bush “misled” us into war that it’s going to be hard to correct the historical record. This letter writer doesn’t come right out and say that President Bush lied, but she comes close when she says that the administration “was willing to use false information to justify” the war. First point: There was never just one “justification” for the war, even publicly. There were always many. So even if one of the justifications was inadequate, it doesn’t follow that the war was unjustified. Second point: We often make decisions under conditions of uncertainty. That things weren’t as we supposed them to be at the time we made the decision does not imply that the decision was irrational or unjustified. President Bush appears to be as surprised as anyone that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He acted on the information he had available. That’s all a person can do—or be expected to do—in such a situation. Third point: The letter writer says that we (the United States) have “created another unstable region in the Middle East.” The letter writer thus appears to be evaluating the war on the basis of its consequences. But the consequences are not yet in, and may not be in for several decades. Why assume that the region will not become stable? That’s just defeatism. Things like regional stability take time. What if the American Civil War had been evaluated in 1862? It would have appeared that the South would prevail, that the nation would be divided, that slavery would remain intact, and that all the lives lost (on both sides) had been in vain. Fourth point: Contrary to the writer’s assertion, war does sometimes make things better. Sometimes war is the means to lasting peace.