Posted: Saturday, November 20, 2010 (3:24 pm), by John W Gillis
Quote of the Day for Saturday, Nov 20, from Georgia Warnke, in Justice and Interpretation (MIT Press, 1994):
MacIntyre insists that the "only rational way in which these disagreements could be resolved would be by means of philosophical enquiry aimed at deciding which out of the conflicting sets of premises, if any, is true." But within the liberal tradition, not only can individual claims to what the good life is for human beings not be understood or appear as validity claims in the sphere of public discussion; the same restrictions apply to the set of assumptions that would be used to support these claims. They too are reduced to subjective preferences. And, since liberal individualism thus denies that any conception of the good or any set of assumptions can be true or false, where conflicts occur they must be resolved by other means.
MacIntyre concludes that the characteristic mark of liberalism is that it does not seek a real resolution of conflict in genuine philosophical inquiry. Rather, liberalism simply accepts the verdicts of the legal system, verdicts that have been formed through appeals to whatever position in the philosophical debates seems to support them most easily at the time. "The lawyers, not the philosophers, are the clergy of liberalism," MacIntyre claims.
Discussing Alasdair MacIntyre, in Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (University of Notre Dame Press, 1989)
It’s not hard to predict that a cultural philosophical framework of moral relativism will culminate in a system where might makes right, but MacIntyre’s observation has the virtue of showing us how this proceeds in our case, and it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. A legal system needs to be able to draw on a knowledge of the good in order to produce an order of justice. When the lawyers themselves define the “good,” the place of good is usurped by self-interest, and justice is cashed out for political advantage.
Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2008 (10:13 pm), by John W Gillis
From the Department of Degenerate Disgrace: An article showed up in the Boston Globe a while back about a former U.S. Vice Consul to Brazil (no pun intended) who was asking a Virginia U.S. District Court judge for leniency after having been found guilty of taping himself having sex with various 14-17 year-old girls. Gons G. Nachman argued that it should be considered OK for him to have done this, because he did it in countries (the Congo and Brazil) where, he claimed, girls mature more quickly, and the cultural emphasis is on finding financially stable men for them to marry. A psychologist was being lined up to assert that the cultural differences between America and these other countries somehow made Nachman think what he was doing was acceptable.
I find this a fascinating twist on the usual relativist dissembling, which appeals to subjectivism: just because it’s not right for you doesn’t mean that it’s not right for me; whatever I feel is “natural” to me, and I am good, so whatever is natural to me is good, so whatever I feel like is good for me, and the only “wrong” is depriving me of doing whatever I feel like, or making me feel bad about it.
But here we have Nachman taking a completely different tack. Instead of arguing that his subjective sensibilities should define the morality of the situation, he is claiming that an objective circumstance (his geographical, and by extension cultural, location) was impinging upon the morality of the act, to the point of trumping his own subjective knowledge of the moral character of the acts – for he seems to be admitting that the acts would be not only illegal in America, but also immoral.
Nice try, Mr. Nachman. Even if the argument could hold its own water (it can’t), it would reduce morality to mores – which might fit snugly into your worldview, but would have nothing to say in the face of cannibalsim, genocide, or human sacrifice.
It seems Judge Gerald Bruce Lee also saw through the smoke (I’m glad this was tried in Virginia, not Massachusetts!). According to The Post Chronicle, Judge Lee last month sentenced Nachman to the maximum sentence (20 years) for the charges he was convicted on.