Friday, October 27, 2006

What is right about Liberals?

Michael Bérubé responding to criticism leveled by "Maximilian Pakaluk’s recent review of my book in the National Review Online." offered the following position....

As I explain in What’s Liberal?, there’s another reason I don’t share Harris’s faith (or that of any other “ethical realist") in mind-independent concepts: I think that believing in them can have nasty consequences. That is, people who believe that they’ve discovered objective moral principles out there in the ether (as distinct from people who think they’re working out sublunary moral principles with their fellow human beings) are especially likely to think of people who believe otherwise—or who simply believe in other principles—as not merely mistaken about this or that but objectively wrong as measured by some nonhuman, observer-independent criterion. Or, as I write elsewhere in the chapter, “you might conclude that people who disagree with you are not simply working from different moral premises but, rather, are alien—or opposed—to morality itself. It then becomes all the easier to exclude them from the conversation, from all forms of human community.” And one of the purposes of the liberal arts—golly, but I thought this argument was as clear as a mountain stream—is to teach people how to think about fundamental disagreements in human affairs, and how to conceptualize fundamental disagreements without coming to the conclusion that the people who disagree with you must be expelled or exterminated.
Not to sound fawning or patronizing but this is the clearest explanation of a "Liberal" position that I have ever encountered. In the space of one paragraph, albeit a complex one, Bérubé is able to point to the crux of the matter, mind-independent concepts. I see his discussion not just as a personal one but as a world-view as well - clarifying many, if not all, of the world struggles.

How clearly I can hear the Christian Fundamentalists saying, "you are not simply working from different moral premises but, rather, are alien—or opposed—to morality itself." Echoed are the voices of the Extremists of almost every camp. Armed with such righteous indignation it is easy to see how violence is the next available method of cleansing the alien immoral influences.

Life becomes very cheap when we disconnect ethics and values from our day to day existence. Mind-independent concepts are just such a disconnect.

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