Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Richard Rorty

Richard Rorty, whose inventive work on philosophy, politics, literary theory and more made him one of the world’s most influential contemporary thinkers, died Friday in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 75.
Mr. Rorty’s enormous body of work, which ranged from academic tomes to magazine and newspaper articles, provoked fervent praise, hostility and confusion. But no matter what even his severest critics thought of it, they could not ignore it. When his 1979 book “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” came out, it upended conventional views about the very purpose and goals of philosophy. The widespread notion that the philosopher’s primary duty was to figure out what we can and cannot know was poppycock, Mr. Rorty argued. Human beings should focus on what they do to cope with daily life and not on what they discover by theorizing.
Mr. Rorty drew on the works of Freud, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Quine and others. Although he argued that “no area of culture, and no period of history gets reality more right than any other,” he did maintain that a liberal democratic society was by far the best because it was the only one that permits competing beliefs to exist while also creating a public community.
In recent years, Mr. Rorty fiercely criticized the Bush administration, the religious right, Congressional Democrats and anti-American intellectuals. Though deeply pessimistic about the dangers of nuclear confrontation and the gap between rich nations and poor, Mr. Rorty retained something of Dewey’s hopefulness about America. It is important, he said in 2003, to take pride “in the heritage of figures like Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, and so on,” he said, and “to use this pride as a means of generating sympathy” for a country’s political aims.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Brownback vs. Coyne

It was inevitable that certain people of Science, such as Jerry Coyne, were going to flip out about the three Republican candidates who raised their hands during the debate to assert that they did not believe in evolution. But Coyne goes too far:

“Whether he knows it or not, Brownback's forthright declarations, denying any possibility that empirical matters of fact might differ from those assumed by his creed, amount to nothing less than a rejection of the whole institution of science.”

No, Jerry Coyne, they don’t. It’s possible not to believe in evolution without rejecting the whole institute of science, and Brownback’s performance in the Republican debate doesn’t dictate what course he would take as president. (It certainly presages it and influences it.) "Whether he knows it or not?" Has Brownback succumbed to false consciousness?!

We in America (mostly) make public decisions based on the principles we share, and in private we’re given much more freedom. When our most deeply held beliefs come into conflict with a public rule that’s been agreed to by most of the population, you get seriously intractable issues, like how severe restrictions on abortion should be, and whether Jehovah’s witnesses can prevent their children from getting blood transfusions, and whether Christian scientists have to vaccinate theirs. There isn’t any handbook to tell us how to handle these cases, and in a democracy like America the religious belief doesn’t always trump the public rule. Amish citizens are largely exempt from compulsory public education, but this is due to their history as well as their beliefs. My truly believing I should start my own religion and exempt my children from education would not be permissible. I am willing to give Amish people this area; conversely, if they were to pass a rule requiring the severe beating of all male 10-year olds on Thursdays, I would not give them this no matter their history or beliefs. Thus, there seems to be some sort of flex area between our personal beliefs and the actions of others. Compulsory education is law and is absolutely without exception--except for the Amish. No one is allowed to beat their children.

It’s my opinion that Brownback’s beliefs and statements fall into this flex area. Whether he, as president, would actually violate our tentative democratic agreement cannot be known beforehand by public statements on evolution during a Republican debate. He certainly was not rejecting the entire institution of science. Jerry Coyne does not have a monopoly on it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Blogversating with j. morgan.

me: Question:
Was Judge Reggie Walton just doing his job in the Libby case, or does he have nerves of steel to mete the sentence he did?
I'm going with the latter.

Joshua: I'm with you on this one.
I just checked, Walton was appointed by Bush
that complicates things considerably

me: I saw that.
Hey, Patrick Fitzgerald is a Republican too.
Democrats don't have a monopoly on integrity.

Joshua: That'll do just fine

me: Indeed
It's nice to live in a country where you aren't killed for sentencing presidential aides.
Though it does seem to me that Cheney, Rove etc. don't particularly care for this setup.

Joshua: Agreed
or rather, they want such a setup to be flexible so that it mostly is the case except for when it shouldn't be

me: Yes, much better put.
They don't actually want us to be, say, Egypt.
They do want some powers reserved for themselves, though.

Joshua: right
it is this sort of arrogance that allows them to think that they can be trusted with power rather than systems in times of need but others can't

me: Right.
Is that too sophisticated a point for the American public to grasp?

Joshua: not at all

me: Good

Joshua: the trouble is that a large portion of the American people think that's okay because they share the hubris
they think they also could make the right call when given power
it probably has to do with having a southern accent and going to a megachurch or something
so they trust those people because they trust themselves