Understanding Triggers and Microaggression as Strategy (Part 2) [new The Good Life column]

The opening of my latest column at EveryJoe:

Microaggression theory could be seen as a sign of progress. The luxury of obsessing over tiny hints of racism or sexism implies that the problem of macroaggressions has been solved.

“If your environment — to draw a parallel — is dirty and unhealthy, then you focus on the big messes first. Only when those are cleaned up will you consider bringing out the microscope to look for dirt in tiny nooks and crannies.

“Trigger theory, as discussed in this article’s first half, wants us to put first the needs of hyper-sensitive individuals who could be damaged further by hearing certain words or phrases. Microaggression theory goes on the offensive against the speaking of certain words or phrases, on the ground that they betray unconscious racism, sexism, or some other unsavory -ism.

“Of course there is an ideological agenda at work, and it is enabled by some heavy-duty theory …” [Read more here.]


Previous column in The Good Life series: Understanding Triggers and Microaggression as Strategy (Part 1).

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Video Interview with Professor Douglas Rasmussen — Transcript

Interview conducted at Rockford University by Stephen Hicks and sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship as a part of the Profiles in Liberty series.

Part I:

Why did you become a philosopher? 1024px-Douglas_B_Rasmussen

Rasmussen: I guess the reason I became a philosopher is because I was asking questions at a very early age. I remember in my Sunday school class, I would keep on asking why, why, and why and being told, “Well, you are a Greek, not a Hebrew,” or something like that, and I enjoyed it and I found to be fun. At about the age of eighteen, in fact, I was interviewed for a sort of student spotlight thing, and I decided that Rasmussen wants to be a philosopher. And I really couldn’t imagine my life without doing it, so it’s been an easy choice for me.

Where did you go to college?

I went to the University of Iowa for my undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and Economics, and my doctorate was from Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Why does liberal society need a philosophical basis?

Well, liberal society, let’s try to define our terms a little bit here. Let’s define liberalism as the political, philosophical view that holds that liberty is the paramount value for the political, legal order. Liberty is the value. Now, there are a lot of folks that would say, well, liberty is a value, but it’s one among many. There is equality, justice, virtue, etc. So, if we understand liberalism or a liberal society as one that holds liberty be paramount, then we have to explain why it is paramount over contending values. So that’s, in a nutshell, why we have to have a deeper answer to the question. Also, just to put it in another way, political philosophy is a fairly, middle-range set view, and it presupposes certain views about ethics, about human nature, and about reality. So, it also requires, even if it’s not in the deductive way, other philosophical insights to set a context in which it might be understood.

You present those themes in detail in your books Liberty and Nature, Liberalism Defended, and Norms of Liberty. What is your argument for liberty?

These works, I should begin by saying, are works that I co-authored with Douglas Den Uyl. He and I went to graduate school together and started doing projects together. And so, these three works that I will be talking about is a joint project between myself and Doug.

But, anyway, Liberty and Nature set out to make an argument for liberalism by appealing to a tradition of thought that is usually thought to be antithetical to liberalism, and that is the Aristotelian tradition. And what we did in that book was develop an account of ethics that’s Aristotelian-inspired. We are not trying to do scholarship about Aristotle, but it’s inspired from Aristotle and that tradition. And in that book we argue that there is an account of human flourishing that gives rise to an understanding not only of the ethical life but the need for political principles and, in particular, political principles that could be understood as natural rights. These natural rights could be described more or less as Lockean — life, liberty, property. These would be negative rights, the right not to be interfered with in one’s choices, one’s living, and one’s use of one’s own property. And so, we began then in Liberty and Nature to talk about how this view of ethics could support such a theory of rights.

We also in that book talked a lot about how to understand the concept of the common good of the political community, and we went after fairly traditional accounts of the common good and argued, instead, that the common good of the political community should be understood as a political legal order based on rights. We also in that book spent some time asking ourselves whether the political, legal order known as liberalism was really something that was possible. In other words, is it more than just a philosopher’s pipe dream? Is it something that could be realistically achieved? And we’ve argued for answering that question affirmatively.

Now, Liberty and Nature got us going. The next book, Liberalism Defended, came about first as an essay, and then Charles Rowley at The Locke Institute published it as a monograph because it was a large essay. And we were, in that work, considering two contemporary thinkers that we thought were challenging the point of view that we had, and these two thinkers were John Gray and Alasdair MacIntyre. John Gray argued that the whole notion of human flourishing or perfectionism was an incoherent notion, and so was the attempt to try to base anything on human fulfillment, self-actualization, living the life proper to human being. Those types of concepts really didn’t stand up, he argued. And Alasdair MacIntyre argued that if one really wanted to endorse an Aristotelian-type ethic or virtue ethic or any ethic that’s in that sort of view, then you really have to reject liberalism. MacIntyre was famous for posing the choice of either Aristotle or Nietzsche, and he argued for Aristotle. And then he said, “either Aristotle or liberalism,” and he argued for Aristotle. We, of course, in this book, Liberalism Defended, responded that Gray’s understanding of perfectionism was flawed, flawed  because by and large it assumed the good for human beings was a one-size-fits-all conception of the good, and we challenged that. And we also went after MacIntyre’s understanding of the Aristotelian tradition and also his understanding of liberalism.

And, in making these arguments against Gray and MacIntyre, both Den Uyl and I realized that we had something more going on to say about liberalism and how to defend it, and this gave raise to our third book, which was Norms of Liberty. Norms of Liberty continued to develop the idea of human flourishing, or as I sometimes call it, ‘self-perfection’ and what type of ethic that was. We called this ethic ‘individualistic perfectionism’. So, we continued to develop that, but we did in a context that asked people to reconsider what liberalism really was. And there we argued that liberalism should not be understood as either an ethics or a world view, but as just a political philosophy. And, as such, it required a deeper structure to support it. And, when we started talking about this deeper structure, what we would come to realize is two things: that liberalism was a political philosophy and I am going to use a technical term that we developed — it was a political philosophy of meta-norms — and that the way to understand liberalism also required us to understand what liberalism’s conception of what political philosophy was about. To get both these points we needed to look at deeper structure, and that deeper structure is called individualistic perfectionism.

But, now, let me explain myself a little bit here because I used a technical term, meta-norms, and one of the things that Den Uyl and I started to realize is that norms are not all of the same type. The idea that norms all have the same function, we think it is a mistake, and one way of trying to begin to get this idea across is to consider an analogy. The analogy is baseball, something I like and I think hopefully the audience here will know. If one is playing baseball and one strikes out and then one returns to the bench, one is acting or playing the game according to the rules. And there are rules that constitute or determine what it is to play baseball. Also, though, if you are playing baseball and the situation is such that you need to do a certain thing to advance a runner, or you hit the ball to the right and you need to execute in this way, you are following the rules for playing baseball well. And one of things that we started thinking about is that there are norms that tell us what ought to be regarding the general structure of things and norms that tell us what to do in terms of living our lives. And, one of the things we want to say, then, about this is that the liberal understanding, and now we want specifically want to talk about here individual rights, life, liberty and property. The way to really understand the liberal approach to rights is to conceive of rights not was as norms that people use to achieve a worthwhile life or to be virtuous or good or even just in the sense of the virtue of justice, but rather these are norms that have to do with what we need in order to have a certain type of society, a certain type of political, legal order. And I will explain that more in a minute. But, the point we wanted really emphasize was that we needed to rethink what we thought about rights. But even more, we needed to rethink what it was that political philosophy was about, and this is one of the key things about liberalism. Liberalism, if it is to be understood, is a political philosophy that rejects the idea that the political, legal order exists to make men moral or, to use George Will’s famous phrase, the idea of “statecraft as soulcraft”, to be the soulcraft, left-wing versions of it or right-wing versions of it. The liberal order rejects that kind of thing.

Part II:

So, anyway, to try to defend all of these distinctions and to understand liberalism, we argued in Norms of Liberty that if we looked at human flourishing, individualistic perfectionism again, we are going to find a view of human perfection and flourishing that is objective, individualized, age-relative, self-directed, and social. And we consider all of those factors, what it means to be a flourishing human being, and once we reject the idea that objectivity requires that something be universal, that is possible for something to be objective and individualized. And once we understand the human flourishing is always related to a particular person, then we have some traction for showing. This is one of our big points in the book, that the aim of the political, legal order cannot be to achieve human flourishing or even the conditions for human flourishing because it’s too diverse and too different. And more importantly, what usually happens when you try to do that, you also end up running afoul of one of the central features of the nature of human flourishing, namely, that human flourishing is not something that happens to you, but it’s something that you do yourself. It’s a self-directed activity. norms-of-liberty-rasmussen

Now, because of this account of human flourishing, and I can’t go through the whole book obviously, but what we say is there is a problem that results. And the problem is the problem of how do we integrate a political, legal order in such a way that going to deal with the diversity of flourishing? How do we have principles that will apply to everybody and, at the same time, will not prejudice that political order towards one form of flourishing as opposed to another? And we call this sort of question that comes about from our account of individualistic perfectionism that political philosophy has to address ‘liberalism’s problem’ because liberalism has been one of the few theories that has, for the most part, understood that the question for political philosophy is how do we have rules of the game that will not be prejudicial against one form of flourishing as opposed to another. Rules of the game that will respect the uniqueness of individuals, rules of the game that will protect the self-directness of people and thereby allow for the possibility of people exercising their choices. How do we do that? And, that problem we call ‘liberalism’s problem’ because liberalism addresses it. It’s not a problem for liberalism. In a sense, it’s a weakness of liberalism, but in the sense that it is liberalism’s task. So that’s how we use that term. And so, what do we do in addressing this task, which we call ‘liberalism’s problem’? How do we get this unity within among all of this diversity? We end up having a set of criteria that needs to be fulfilled, and I’ve already gone through some of them. And so, what we end up saying is that it’s really a mistake to try to have the political order primarily or directly aimed at achieving the human good. Rather, you want to find a solution to this problem. This problem is legitimate, how do we solve it?

Well, we argue that the only feature of human flourishing that we can use to solve liberalism’s problem is the protection of the possibility of self-direction. The way we do that is we have a set of meta-norms that protect that possibility, and that’s what negative rights end up being. And this is a long story. This is the idea, and once we have this idea we can go on and say, but look, when we’re debating with people about what should or should not be done, do not grant the premise that “oh, this is good for human beings”. Once you get into the debate that the government, or the State, or the law exist to do what is good for human beings, then any and everything that could be good for human beings or could promote something that would help human beings achieve their good is a plausible candidate for government action. And the whole insight of the liberal tradition is to say, no, statecraft is not soulcraft. This is the key insight. And so what you would like to do, and we say this in the book, is, just as it is generally recognized in our culture that the political should be separated from the religious, we want to say that the political should be separated from the substance of substantive ethics. Now, in another sense, of course, we are making an ethical claim because we endorse rights. But rights are norms that have to do with how to play the game, not how to play the game well.

And so, in a way, this is how we want to do that. There are a lot of interesting arguments along the way that need to be looked at by people, and what Doug and I think works well in Norms of Liberty is that we go through a lot of objections against liberalism and, indeed, a lot of objections against individualistic perfectionism and show that they can be met. And we do have a way of making an argument for the liberal order, so that’s sort of a long version of an answer to your question.

Which historical philosophers have you learned most from?

Well, I am going to name about four. Obviously, Aristotle for his metaphysical realism, for his modern essentialism, his life-based natural teleology, his understanding of logic as a human tool and not something purely formal, his understanding of practical wisdom, and what he suggests by that. I think in modern philosophy there are two people who should be paid a lot more attention to.

I like the Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid for his criticisms of Hume, especially on the issue of conceivability.

Then there is a Latin Aristotelian whose religious name was John of St. Thomas. John Poinsot is how he is known today. And he, writing in the 16th century, gives us an understanding of awareness and ideas as formal signs. In the Latin, not as id quod but as id quo. In other words, ideas are not something that you know, but they are by which you know. He has a long discussions about all of this, and I think he is a tremendously important source.

And then, finally, I like Anthony Kenny. Anthony Kenny is an Oxford don, and I like his interpretation and understanding of the later Wittgenstein, in particular, how Wittgenstein can be used as a source of arguing against private languages and also against what I would call an excessive rationalistic approach to philosophy. So, those would be the people that, historically in philosophy that I think I’ve learned a lot from and I take something from. aristotle-bust

How do those issues of metaphysics connect to liberalism?

What we’re ultimately talking about, I think, if we are going to talk about human flourishing and individualistic perfectionism, if that’s going to be the way in which you find the account of how you justify a liberal political, legal order, then you’ve got to be able to make sense of such claims as there is such a thing as human nature. You’ve got to be able to say that our account of what human beings are is not just something that we made up. It’s not just a sort of pragmatic convention that we use, something that is useful for advancing our ends. We have to say something more than that. We have to say, somehow, that our concepts do map reality. And so, this is where I think getting it right on metaphysics and epistemology is very important. In other words, I think it’s vital that we be able to say that there are things that exist and they are what they are apart from human awareness and that we can, with great difficulty, still come to know these things. It may be a process of three steps forward, two steps back, but we need to have that if we are going to be able to get an ethics and, ultimately, a political philosophy off the ground.

Now, it’s not a straight, deductive line. I am not saying you’ve got your metaphysical premise and out pops individual rights. It’s not that kind of thing, but you need to have a context in which you work and in which you reason. And I am not a fan, I will be very blunt about this, of contemporary analytic philosophy’s use of intuitions as just a starting point, and one just says, well, that’s what I am going to work with. I mean, I am not anti-intuition. I think there is a point for that kind of language in direct insight, but I think you have to be able to put those intuitions in a context that supports and makes sense of them. So, I am fairly systematic or traditionalist. I think you need to pay attention to those more fundamental issues. I guess I could say that when I was talking about Aristotle, I truly think he gives us an approach to ethics that’s important. Ethics is for living, and if ethics doesn’t ultimately relate to our lives and what we do, if it’s something you could ignore like, I guess I could ignore chess, and I could continue to live quite well. Well, if ethics has no greater status than chess, then I think some people might say, well, why bother? In fact, among my students, it’s always interesting that they come in and a standard, freshman or sophomore says well, “Why do I give a hoot about any of these things? Why does this matter?” And they expect me to say, “Well, these things are just things you need to know.” And I say, “No, it’s a very good question. Why do we care about ethics? Let’s start that way.” So, I think Aristotle is in that right vein, and I think, when we get away from that in talking about ethics, we risk making the entire enterprise irrelevant.

Which major historical philosophers do you most disagree with?

Well, I want to preface this by saying, given the standard or general interpretations of these people, because history of philosophy is always coming up with new insights about things. But, I would say, standing on one foot, René Descartes. I think the idea that you can start out with an awareness of one’s ideas and plausibly ask whether there is anything else other than one’s own ideas is just a huge philosophical mistake. And I think it’s a non-starter. And then, I think, the standard reading of Kant, both in terms of epistemology and in terms of ethics, I find are non-starters as well. Even though, about both philosophers, obviously they are brilliant and there are lots of things to learn from them. I never tell my students, don’t read or study or learn from these people. But, fundamentally, Descartes and Kant would be the philosophers I disagree with the most.

Part III:

What is the hardest philosophical problem you are working on now?

Doug and I are working on two projects right now, another book together called The Perfectionist Turn from Meta-norms to Metaphysics and a smaller book called The Illiberality of Human Capabilities and Liberalism. The latter book is going to be a critique of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s Human Capabilities and Liberalism. The former book is obviously a continuation on our reviews about ethics, but here we’re going to, in the perfectionist turn, concentrate on ethics and will not do that much political philosophy. But in concentrating on ethics I suppose the most difficult thing I find is being able to explain how it’s true that ethical principles really matter, and at the same time, making sure that that doesn’t end up treating both individuals and their actions as mere instantiations of the principles. In other words, it’s the struggle to make sure that ethical principles are used and they are vital but they don’t get turned into the actual subject matter of ethics. The actual subject matter of ethics must be the individual, the society, their problems and issues. That is what we are dealing with. And so, you’ve got key principles, but keep them open-ended and aware of the context in which ethical problems come about. Too often, even virtue ethicists who say that they are not going to be giving you a rulebook end up giving you a rulebook. And as any ethical theory that wants to emphasize practical wisdom as much as we do in our theory, we’ve got to somehow work with it. It ends up being more difficult than you think. I am in a current survey of a lot of the contemporary ethical theories, and we see over and over again people saying that they don’t want reify principles and yet they end up being reified. Anyway, so that’s a real problem.

What is the most challenging criticism of your views?

I think probably what people would say about our argument defending liberalism in all of our works is that what we show is that liberalism is in principle possible, but we don’t show that’s a real possibility. In other words, people say to me, well, Rasmussen, that’s all fine and good, but are people really up to that? And it’s a question about how philosophy relates to the real world, and I am not a rationalist.  I think reality is intelligible, reality is rational, but I don’t think rationality is reality. I think there is a difference between our reason and the real. Reason is a tool, it isn’t the real. Knowledge is of reality, knowledge isn’t reality, if you follow me. And so, I think it’s a difficulty because when we have abstraction and we have concepts, and when we form them, we omit a lot of details. We don’t deny them, we omit them. But those details will bite us in the butt. They will affect the plausibility of what will happen. And so the world isn’t a deductive system. It isn’t just a set of theories. And so, we have to acknowledge that, at best, maybe what you can show in philosophy is what is possible in principle, but actually seeing it done, that’s another matter.

What is the state of liberal thought today among philosophers?

Well, I am going to make a comparative judgment. Comparative to what? To what it was when I started really getting involved with this, which will be the late 60s. I think it’s great. I think there are more philosophers that take seriously liberalism as we are talking about it here than never before. I think we can talk, we go through naming a lot of people, but I mean, I think there is a lot more, and I think there is a lot more published, a lot more done. I think there has been definite progress and not only in terms of how Den Uyl and I approach things but other approaches to it. And so, I think there is a lot of good things that are out there. Now, if the question is, but is this view a minority view among academics? Surely, it is a minority view, and it’s also the case that the real question is: how many philosophers that have a sort of liberal understanding are at the very top universities and graduate programs? And, to be quite honest, I can only think of one person. So, I mean, that’s on the negative side I suppose, but it’s sort of interesting. Here we are in 2010, and in many respects, we were seeing the character of our society change, I think radically, and maybe we won’t be able to change this change, maybe it’s irreparable what’s happening. But it’s sort of ironic that this is happening now, and, at the same time, the arguments on behalf of the liberal, political order are stronger than ever, which may mean there is hope in the future. Who knows?

To bring about a more liberal society, what key practical steps can and should be taken?

I would get education out of the hands of government. I would do anything and everything to encourage alternative ways of getting education, alternative ways of getting information out, anything that goes around the structures, the mazes that we are supposed to run through. I think technology, I think individual initiative, I think people in general are beginning to realize that much that passes for education isn’t authentic education. And so, I think that would be the first thing I would want to emphasize.

I think another thing needs to be done is, if liberalism is really to be successful, it’s got to make a transition from abstract philosophical talk to talk that’s more accessible to people. And so we need writers, we need people in the arts, we need journalists, we need people that understand the more philosophical, abstract statements but express it in ways that are more accessible, as I said. I think that needs to be done.

But, then again, I also want to say that people should really, really question the premise: just because something is good, therefore it ought be done by government. I think it’s a really a non sequitur to go from something is good, therefore the government should do it. Or something is bad, therefore the government should prohibit. I think people ought to learn that’s just a gap there and start questioning that. And so, anything that would sort of straightforwardly at a common sense level emphasize that I would like to see.

I think, to some extent, philosophers, we try to write letters to the editor and that sort of thing. I remember I had a letter or two published by the Wall Street Journal, and it always amazes me how long it takes to write a 160 word letter as opposed to a larger essay. I mean, you kind sweat bullets over it. And so, that may mean something about my own skills or may mean also that we need all sorts of different types of people working on communicating  knowledge and a big division of labor point. But, rock-bottom, if I had to say anything, get education out of the hands of the government.

Links to other interviews in the Profiles in Liberty series can be found here.

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O Islã precisa de uma reforma?


Muitas pessoas espertas — incluindo Thomas Friedman no The New York Times, Naser Khader no Newsweek, John Lloyd no The Jerusalem Post, Ayann Hirsi Ali no The Wall Street Journal — estão esperando que algum tipo de Reforma ocorra no Islã. Alguns estão clamando por um Martin Luther King islâmico.

Desculpe, mas não. O Islã precisa de reformismo, mas definitivamente não de uma Reforma.

Antes de qualquer coisa, é importante entender as lições da história. Primeiro, contra o que os ativistas da Reforma estavam lutavam? Durante a Renascença, a religião dominante, católica, tinha se tornado mundana. Seus pensadores leram os naturalistas gregos e romanos e começaram a imitá-los. A busca por sexo, dinheiro e poder substituiu os ensinamentos cristãos de castidade, pobreza e obediência. Consequentemente, abusos ocorreram em todos os níveis da hierarquia da Igreja — de orgias no Vaticano à politicagem e guerras sangrentas, até à venda grosseira de indulgências para pagar por todas essas atitudes excêntricas.

Assim, os principais protestantes — Lutero, Calvino, Zwingli e outros — estavam pedindo que a Europa cristã abandonasse seus comportamentos inapropriados, que se purificasse, retornando ao Cristianismo fundamental.

Mas o que é o Cristianismo fundamental? Martinho Lutero é o mais famoso reformador, portanto, vamos avaliar alguns temas luteranos. Lutero condenava a razão como a “prostituta do Diabo”. Ele detestava Aristóteles — aquele grego racional e mundano — como um “demônio”, um “mentiroso”, e uma “besta” cujos seguidores são “gafanhotos, lagartas, sapos e piolhos”.luther-martin

Lutero pedia que voltássemos às Escrituras para aprender o verdadeiro significado da fé — especialmente pela compreensão da lição presente na exigência que Deus fez a Abraão (sacrifício de seu próprio filho, Isaac). Lutero exaltou a disposição de Abraão a obedecer cegamente, notando que a fé verdadeira “torce o pescoço da razão”. Ele concordava com os críticos de que o Cristianismo requer que um indivíduo creia em muitas absurdidades: “Quem quiser ser cristão deve arrancar os olhos da razão”.

Lutero também pedia a pena de morte para aqueles que emprestassem dinheiro a juros, urgia que as sinagogas judaicas fossem incendiadas e reclamava que “os judeus enriqueciam pelo sangue e suor dos alemães, sugando-os até os ossos, condenando-os à pobreza”.

O reformador João Calvino obteve poder suficiente em Genebra para implementar estritos códigos de vestimenta, especialmente para mulheres. Ele censurou escritos que considerou não propriamente cristãos e baniu a dança, canto e o teatro. Ele tornou a presença na Igreja compulsória e demandou que todos os pais nomeassem seus filhos somente com nomes que remetessem ao Antigo Testamento. Frequentemente, Calvino recorria à tortura e, se necessário, execução daqueles — como Miguel Servet – que considerava hereges.

Mesmo o mais moderado Huldrych Zwingli argumentou que o individuo deveria viver pela Escritura e que qualquer pessoa que não o fizesse “era um assassino de almas e um ladrão”. No Conselho de Zurique, Zwingli expulsou aqueles que não praticavam o batismo de recém-nascidos e declarou que “nenhum cristão deveria ser ofendido ou escandalizado por ninguém; caso o fosse, essa pessoa estaria condenada à morte” — deixando em aberto que tipo de castigo deveria ser dado.

O ponto histórico é que a Reforma foi um movimento que se afastou da razão, do mundano e da tolerância. Prefiro católicos corruptos a reformadores fundamentalistas.

Portanto, espero que aqueles que clamam por uma Reforma do Islã tenham outra coisa em mente.

Uma forma melhor de expor esse ponto é que o Islã necessita são as consequências não intencionais da Reforma. O que os Reformadores tinham em mente era o oposto do mundo moderno naturalista e tolerante, mas este mundo foi em parte resultado das ações dos Reformadores.protestant-reformation-luther

Os Reformadores realmente ajudaram a quebrar o monopólio do Catolicismo sobre a cultura europeia nos anos 1500. Grande parte da Europa setentrional separou-se do Catolicismo. Cada nação tomou uma direção distinta. E muitas daquelas novas direções foram importadas pelas nações que permaneciam predominantemente católicas. Os próprios Reformadores protestantes queriam impor uma versão simples do Cristianismo sobre todas as pessoas, mas eles desencadearam forças que criaram um espaço social para que alternativas se desenvolvessem.

Além disso: embora os Reformadores fossem uniformemente intolerantes, um dos seus princípios teológicos levou involuntariamente à adoção geral da tolerância.

Os Reformadores argumentavam que todo o indivíduo deveria ter uma relação direta e pessoal com Deus — em contraste à visão católica de que a relação de um indivíduo com Deus é indireta e mediada através da hierarquia da Igreja. Mas para um indivíduo ter uma relação direta com Deus, os Reformadores argumentavam, ele ou ela necessita conhecer a Palavra de Deus. Isso significa que todas as pessoas precisam ser capazes de ler a Bíblia, isto é, precisam ser alfabetizadas.

Consequentemente, os Reformadores propuseram campanhas vigorosas de alfabetização e se empenharam fortemente na tradução da Bíblia do latim para todas as outras línguas faladas na Europa.

Tal fato ajudou o “coelho” intelectual a sair da cartola, por assim dizer. Tão logo os indivíduos começaram a ler a Bíblia por conta própria, eles formularam diferentes julgamentos quanto ao seu significado. Eles então debateram uns com os outros sobre estas diferentes interpretações. Consequentemente, a sua capacidade de raciocínio e debate aumentou e a Europa tornou-se mais racional.

É claro, a transição foi difícil — de sentimentos feridos a cismas violentas — com os crentes de diversas vertentes tentando impor sua interpretação, às vezes, recorrendo à força.

Eventualmente, todavia, as pessoas perceberam que se cada indivíduo era livre para estabelecer sua própria relação com Deus e seguir seu próprio julgamento, o respeito deveria prevalecer. Isso significava que elas tinham que tolerar diferenças de opinião.  Além disso, depois de uma ou duas gerações de conflitos religiosos brutais, um bom número de pessoas racionais perceberam que métodos violentos de resolução de conflitos eram insustentáveis.

Uma cultura de tolerância “viva e deixe viver” emergiu na Europa.

Qual é a situação do Islã? O Islã já teve sua “Reforma”. O Islã já teve muitos indivíduos poderosos dispostos a integrar o Islã moderado às alternativas seculares do Oeste. E, por um século, ele certamente teve muitos fundamentalistas clamando por um retorno a um Islã purificado.islam-symbol

As nações islâmicas já alcançaram taxas de alfabetização significativamente maiores que aquelas da Europa dos tempos da Reforma nos idos de 1500 e 1600, permitindo à maioria ler o Corão por si própria assim como ter acesso a uma literatura ampla de fontes ocidentais e orientais.

E mesmo nas nações oficialmente islâmicas, existem muitos bravos intelectuais lutando em prol de valores liberais e humanistas, embora sejam normalmente uma minoria e frequentemente fora dos corredores do poder.

O ponto é que o Islã já é um estado pós-Reforma, não pré-Reforma. Dessa forma, precisamos buscar outros exemplos análogos na história.

Tenho uma sugestão melhor:

Na Europa, todos os ingredientes culturais do Renascimento e da Reforma foram reunidos entre os anos 1400 e 1600, culminando no Iluminismo nos anos 1700 na Europa Ocidental. O mundo islâmico é onde a Europa estava antes de 1700 — em transição e necessitando tomar uma decisão crucial. Ele tem todo o histórico do Renascimento e da Reforma, todavia, como o filósofo David Kelley argumenta, ainda não alcançou seu Iluminismo.

O mundo islâmico já tem muitos Luteros, Calvinos e Zwinglis. Contudo, ele ainda não produziu seus Galileus, Lockes e Voltaires. Isto quer dizer, ele precisa de um Iluminismo, não mais Reforma.

* * *

hicks-stephen-2013“O Islã precisa de uma reforma?” Por Stephen Hicks. Tradução de Matheus Pacini. Revisão de Russ Silva. Artigo Original no “The Good Life”. Visite Publicações em Português para ler os últimos artigos de Stephen Hicks.

Stephen Hicks é o autor do livro Explicando o Pós Modernismo e Nietzsche and the Nazis.

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Garrett Hardin on India’s 600 million population in 1974

Hardin is one of the most widely-read twentieth-century intellectuals, most known for his two pieces “The Tragedy of the Commons” and “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor.” The two are intimately related, as one diagnoses a fundamental problem with resources and the other draws policy conclusions.

A key quotation, in which Hardin states his view of the problem with India:

“India, for example, now has a population of 600 million, which increases by 15 million each year. This population already puts a huge load on a relatively impoverished environment.Hardin,Garrett The country’s forests are now only a small fraction of what they were three centuries ago and floods and erosion continually destroy the insufficient farmland that remains. Every one of the 15 million new lives added to India’s population puts an additional burden on the environment, and increases the economic and social costs of crowding. However humanitarian our intent, every Indian life saved through medical or nutritional assistance from abroad diminishes the quality of life for those who remain, and for subsequent generations. If rich countries make it possible, through foreign aid, for 600 million Indians to swell to 1.2 billion in a mere 28 years, as their current growth rate threatens, will future generations of Indians thank us for hastening the destruction of their environment? Will our good intentions be sufficient excuse for the consequences of our actions? …”

The article’s conclusion:

“Without a true world government to control reproduction and the use of available resources, the sharing ethic of the spaceship is impossible. For the foreseeable future, our survival demands that we govern our actions by the ethics of a lifeboat, harsh though they may be. Posterity will be satisfied with nothing less.”

I note that India’s population has now passed the 1.2 billion mark that Hardin feared. Further, those Indians are living at a higher standard of living, including a historically-unprecedented lifting of hundreds of millions out of abject poverty.indian_people Even further, India’s forest coverage is increasing, according to official reports.

So a question: Is there a serious rethinking of Hardin’s argument occurring among intellectuals and policy makers — or is it still the prevailing orthodoxy?

(And I wonder how many of those 600 million additional Indians have grown up to become Hardinesque intellectuals advocating policies that would have made their own lives non-existent.)

Source: “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor”, Psychology Today, September 1974.

Related: My video-lecture discussion of the Tragedy of the Commons (or transcript here).

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Can the Existence of God be Proven (or At Least Be Made a Reasonable Hypothesis)? [new Theist vs. Atheist series column]

The opening of John C. Wright’s latest column in the Theist vs. Atheist series debate at EveryJoe:

“This column needs must be thrice the normal length, for I must answer two columns by Mr. Hicks, and address the subject matter of this week’s question.

“First things first:

“There is nothing in the opening salvo of Mr. Hicks that need be controverted because he has said nothing controversial.

“He has offered that it is not impolite or untoward to discuss religion; and so it is not, when it is kept at the level of polite conversation. Mr. Hicks has offered some parenting advice that children should not be indoctrinated. I am not sure what he means by this word, but from the context it seems he means taught to recite rather than understand their parents’ beliefs. If so, I agree wholly.

“By this definition, ‘indoctrinating’ children would mean that the children are not be properly catechized, hence not properly prepared to face skeptical questions against their beliefs (be those theist or atheist beliefs). If so, then we all agree children should be properly catechized rather than being indoctrinated …” [Read more here.]


Here are the links to other columns in the series.

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St. Augustine on “Righteous Persecution”

Some quotations and brief glosses on Augustine’s views on the use of persecution and torture in order to save souls.

“No salvation outside the church.” (418 CE)

augustine“[M]any must first be recalled to their Lord by the stripes of temporal scourging, like evil slaves, and in some degree like good-for-nothing fugitives.”

Augustine had defended toleration for most of life. Why the change of heart? In 397 CE:

“In the first of the books [Contra partem Donati and Retractions] I said that I was not in favor of schismatics being forcibly constrained to communion by the force of any secular power. And indeed at that time I did not favor that course, since I had not yet discovered the depths of evil to which their impunity would dare to venture, or how greatly a careful discipline would contribute to their emendation.”

How persecution works. If a man

“sees that it is unrighteousness for which he suffers, he may be induced, from the consideration that he is suffering and being tormented most fruitlessly, to change his purpose for the better, and may at the same time escape both the fruitless annoyance and the unrighteousness itself … .”

Our motive is Christian love. Since we love the sinner and are concerned for his salvation, we must not ignore any methods, however distasteful, when “seeking with a mother’s anxiety the salvation of them all”.

Also: “What then is the function of brotherly love? Does it, because it fears the short-lived fires of the furnace for a few, therefore abandon all to the eternal fires of hell?”

saint-augustine-hammer-of-the-donatists-heresyIn 408 CE, a letter to Vincentius, Bishop of Cartenna and a Donatist:

“I have therefore yielded to the evidence afforded by these instances which my colleagues have laid before me. … . [For example,] there was set over against my opinion my own town, which, although it was once wholly on the side of Donatus, was brought over to the Catholic unity by fear of imperial edicts, but which we now see filled with such detestation of your ruinous perversity, that it would scarcely be believed that it had ever been involved in your error.”

Coercion is not intrinsically right or wrong; it depends on “the nature of that to which he is coerced, whether it be good or bad.” In the letter to Vincentius:

“Let us learn, my brother, in actions which are similar to distinguish the intentions of the agents …. In some cases both he that suffers persecution is in the wrong, and he that inflicts it is in the right. In all these cases, what is important to attend to but this: who were on the side of truth, and who on the side of iniquity; who acted from a desire to injure, and who from a desire to correct what was amiss?” augustine-city-of-god-penguin

But not just anyone can use coercive force against another. Only the State may persecute. Individuals serve God by being faithful individuals, but kings serve God by “enforcing with suitable rigor such laws as ordain what is righteous, and punish what is the reverse.”

“Let the kings of the earth serve Christ by making laws for Him and for His cause.”

* * *

A PDF version of the above: St. Augustine on “Righteous Persecution”.

Related: Augustine on why babies are evil.

Posted in Ethics, History, History of Philosophy, Religion | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Upcoming talk in Buenos Aires — “How Revolutions Are Won or Lost”

Here is the flyer (click to enlarge) for a two-day event in Buenos Aires:

The conference is sponsored by Fundación para la Responsabilidad Intelectual, Junior Achievement Argentina, and the John Templeton Foundation. I will be speaking (in English) on “Cómo las Revoluciones se Ganan o se Pierden,” with simultaneous translation into Spanish by Maria Herminia Alonso.

The other speakers are Agustín Etchebarne, Gloria Alvarez, Eduardo Marty, Ricardo Manuel Rojas, Alejandra Salinas, Martin Krause, and Javier Milei.

Thanks to María Marty for her excellent organizing of this event.


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Are Reason and Faith Compatible? [new Theist vs. Atheist series column]

The opening of my latest column in the Theist vs. Atheist series debate at EveryJoe:

“I appreciate Mr. Wright’s opening essay and am in agreement with substantial portions of it.

“If we array religions along a spectrum from most to least rational, his version of Catholicism is among the most rational. Many advocates and opponents of religion are animated more by angers, enthusiasms, and other psychological forces that make them unwilling to reason — either to present their own views clearly or to give the other sides’ views a fair hearing. Reasoning can be a passionate or dispassionate activity, but no progress individually or socially can be made without it.

“So I take it that Mr. Wright and I have agreed to set aside several versions of Christianity — Tertullian’s “I believe it because it’s absurd,” Martin Luther’s “Reason is the Devil’s whore,” and Søren Kierkegaard’s “Faith requires the crucifixion of reason.” And we agree to focus on the view, expressed well by Thomas Aquinas and others, that reason and faith are two legitimate and complementary ways of coming to belief.

“Let me though focus on my substantial disagreements with Mr. Wright’s position …” [Read more here.]


Here are the links to other columns in the series.

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