All posts filed under: Philosophy

Bitterness and Inequality—A Reply to Matt McManus

In a recent article for Quillette entitled “The Argument for Equality and Fairness,” Matt McManus attempts to rebut the charge that the Left is motivated more by a hatred for the rich than concern for the poor. McManus’s main argument, drawing on John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, is that while some on the Left may be motivated by an abiding resentment of the rich, sound arguments for policies designed to redress naturally occurring inequalities have merit independent of that antipathy. But McManus’s argument doesn’t answer—or even attempt to answer—the question of how can we tell the difference, or why a reasoned argument for redistribution is so frequently discarded in favor of a bitter hatred of the wealthy, successful, and fortunate. Justice vs Cosmic Justice It is interesting that McManus uses John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice as a launching pad for his argument about what the Left gets right, because it is the same example used by Thomas Sowell in his book The Quest for Cosmic Justice to make precisely the opposite argument. Equality …

The Argument for Equality and Fairness

A recurrent criticism of the political Left is that it is elitist and remote from those it professes to care about. Conservative outlets like the National Review have run numerous articles on the topic of progressive elitism and disdain for everyday people. Progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders have been routinely derided as champagne socialists, who talk a lot about the struggles of the working class, even though they are themselves millionaires. And intellectuals like Jordan Peterson have often nodded approvingly to the claim that the Left doesn’t really care about the poor, it simply hates the rich: Some of these arguments can be readily dismissed as little more than partisan potshots. Whether or not Bernie Sanders happens to be wealthy is largely irrelevant to the merit of his arguments and demands. But here I want to examine the more foundational question of whether or not the Left is actually driven by compassion for the poor and marginalized or resentment of the rich and powerful. The Left and Resentment The argument that progressives are primarily motivated …

Theoterrorism versus Freedom of Speech—A Review

A review of Theoterrorism versus Freedom of Speech: From Incident to Precedent by Paul Cliteur, Amsterdam University Press, 250 pages (February, 2019) You will probably not have heard of the “Rudi Carrell Affair.” Paul Cliteur writes that this episode is largely unknown to the English-speaking world, and yet it changed history and marked the beginning of something new—the “theoterrorist suppression of free speech.” Carrell was a Dutch-born entertainer who hosted popular shows in Germany from the 1960s to the 1980s that reached 20 million people. Rudi’s Tagesshow (1981–87) lampooned famous personalities and politicians, including Willy Brandt, Nancy Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Helmut Kohl, and Margaret Thatcher. The episode transmitted on Sunday, February 15, 1987, included a short sketch in which women were shown throwing their underwear at Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini: While lampooning international figures—including the pope—was acceptable under the umbrella of freedom of expression, Carrell was about to discover that the same rules did not apply to a major figure of Islam. As Cliteur states: It is my claim that with this specific television fragment the …

Straw Men and Viewpoint Manicheanism

The fallacy of special pleading—also known as the double standard—occurs when one offers a special excuse for one’s own violation of a standard that one continues to apply to others. At a buffet, one person says to another, “Let’s stock up before all the hoarders get here,” as if preemptive hoarding is different from hoarding. This move resembles the fundamental attribution error, which occurs when one attributes the negative behaviors of others to fundamental features of their character, while attributing one’s own negative behaviors to circumstantial factors. When opposing parties adopt these attitudes toward one another’s views, a vicious cycle results: Each “side” sees the other’s behavior as evidence of evil, and their own behavior as justified on the ground that we good folks must defend ourselves against them. This suboptimal and highly contagious cognitive condition, which unfortunately characterizes much of our contemporary political landscape, is what I’ll call “Viewpoint Manicheanism.” People on the collectivist Left often discount the evils historically associated with socialism, attributing them to totalitarianism or dictatorship, while attributing the evils historically …

National Conservatism and the Preference for State Control

A nation that makes greatness its polestar can never be free. ~Abraham Bishop National conservatism is the new hot political topic. Following a July 14–16 conference in DC that was part intellectual movement building, part political strategy session, many commenters speculated about what this meeting portends for the future of American conservatism. The program at this conference differs significantly from your grandfather’s conservatism. National conservatives are quickly distancing themselves from the older conservatism in several important ways. First, national conservatives are much more willing to question the efficacy and desirability of markets in allocating a nation’s resources. Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, argued that “market economies do not automatically allocate resources well across sectors” and that “policymakers have tools that can support vital sectors that might otherwise suffer from underinvestment,” namely industrial policy. This entails wide-ranging federal programs that subsidize research and development, increase infrastructure investment, and impose “local content requirements in key supply chains like communications,” among other interventions. Not all conference attendees were on board with this kind of …

In Defense of Compatibilism: A Response to Edwards and Coyne

I was excited to read William Edwards’s article “The Academic Quarrel Over Determinism.” As a philosophy professor, I teach my students about that quarrel every semester. As I read the article, however, I was disturbed by what was missing from Edwards’s account. Jerry Coyne’s rejoinder “Why We Shouldn’t Bet on Having Fee Will” only deepened my frustration. Edwards vs. Coyne William Edwards frames the quarrel as an argument between thinkers who believe in free will and those who believe we live in an entirely deterministic universe. He argues that it feels like we’re in control of our actions in a way that makes us morally responsible for those actions but that this feeling is “dismissed as an illusion by serious, contemporary neuroscientists.” Rather than bowing to the verdict of the neuroscientists, though, Edwards recommends that we see the question of whether free will exists as “the Pascal’s Wager of the twenty-first century.” There’s “too much about the universe that we don’t understand” for us to be confident that the neuroscientists are right, so it’s appropriate …

Why isn’t Jordan Peterson on This List of the World’s Top Fifty Intellectuals?

Prospect magazine was founded in 1995 by David Goodhart. From the beginning the focus was predominantly on politics and social issues, though Goodhart also ensured a high standard of reporting on literature, the arts, popular culture and science. For many years the magazine was essential reading among London intellectuals. Its point of view was center-left, and broadly liberal, like that of most Establishment British journalists and academics. Readers were assumed to be cosmopolitan, internationalist and more or less progressive. Still, they were respectful of institutions, friendly to capitalism and basically tolerant of religion. Prospect stood out from other major English intellectual journals and general magazines in its familiarity with the social sciences, particularly sociology and economics. The editorial position was never partisan. For the first decade and a half of its existence Prospect was often wrongly thought of as a ‘New Labour’ house organ. True, Gordon Brown wrote for it in 2009 when he was still Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But contributors included the conservative philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, the Conservative Party MP …

The Role of Politics in Academic Philosophy

Recently Quillette published an exchange about the low proportion of conservatives in academic philosophy departments, consisting of an article by Tristan Rogers and a response by Shelby Hanna. This interesting exchange largely concerns the status of conservative political philosophy within the discipline and the interpretation of the PhilPapers survey results regarding philosophers’ stances on political philosophy. But this is a very limited way to understand the role of politics in academic philosophy. In fact, political philosophy is perhaps one of the least political places in philosophy at the moment, precisely because it is in political philosophy that conservative ideas must be, as a matter of intellectual integrity, taken seriously. Activist philosophers, and philosophical activists, increasingly find themselves publishing work on topics in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, and so on. The problem here is precisely the opposite of what Hanna seems to be thinking about: It’s not that there is little conservatism within political philosophy but that there is little political philosophy within the politicized work of philosophers in other subfields. Activist …

How the Left Turned Words Into ‘Violence,’ and Violence Into ‘Justice’

Responding to news that journalist Andy Ngo had been beaten by antifa protestors in Portland last month, a woman named Charlotte Clymer tweeted that “Ngo intentionally provokes people on the left to drive his content. Being attacked today on video taken by an actual journalist (because Ngo is definitely not) is the greatest thing that could have happened to his career. You know it. I know it. He knows it. We all know it. Violence is completely wrong, and I find it sad and weak to allow a sniveling weasel like Andy Ngo to get under one’s skin like this, but I’m also not going to pretend this wasn’t Ngo’s goal from the start. I mean, let’s cut the shit here. This is what they do.” Who is Charlotte Clymer? She is an activist who works at the Human Rights Campaign, America’s “largest LGBTQ civil rights organization,” which supposedly “envision[s] a world where LGBTQ people are ensured equality at home, at work [and] in every community.” Andy Ngo, who has written for Quillette, the Wall …

Why We Shouldn’t Bet on Having Free Will—A Reply to William Edwards

It’s hard to discern the main point of William Edwards’s article The Academic Quarrel over Determinism, as his argument is discursive, confusing, contradictory, and sometimes misleading. In a first reading you may dimly perceive that he has a problem with determinism, and sees the negation of determinism as evidence for free will. But what does he mean by “free will”? He’s not explicit about it. Since he contrasts it with determinism, it appears that for Edwards free will means our physically uncaused ability to change our decisions so that, at a given moment, we could have done something other than what we did. And what does Edwards mean by “determinism”? He seems fixated on biological determinism—the view that all our actions are coded in our genes, a “DNA-driven view of the social world,” as well as a vision that “our future…is written in our DNA.” Edwards sees little or no influence of the environment on our actions: “Our trials and triumphs…are encoded in our DNA sequence.” But no biologist is a determinist in this sense, …