LeagueCast: Values, Pluralism and Public Reason

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Murali

Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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50 Responses

  1. Avatar Plinko says:

    Is this the G+ hangout?

    Can we watch without participating much?Report

  2. To what extent is the average “values voter” willing to exert the discipline required to appeal only to reasons that everyone (or almost everyone) shares?

    They’re voters. You appeal to them.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      Tom, its a 2 way street. Public reason means that politicians shouldn’t appeal to deep philosophies, whether it is natural law, classical utilitarianism, the bible or for that matter a generic providentialist God especially where these deep philosophies are in many cases accessible to only some members of the public. Similarly, voters should not accede to such blandishments or at least they should pay attention only to the parts which can be justified by public reason.

      Also, conversations happen between citizens in public fora such as this. Citizens make moral demands on eachother, to support particular candidates, policies, laws etc. Is it okay to make a demand of a fellow citizen (who is notionally situated as one’s political equal and is presumably reasonable) which that citizen has absolutely no reason to support?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Murali says:

        In any case, these are voters who (unless I am mistaken) clearly claim to offer themselves up as examples of how to publicly enact the values that people ought to prioritize in considering legislation. They’re not just some voters over there doing thier private thing, unless I’ve misapprehended them.

        If I have that wrong, Tom – i.e. if their arguments merely claim to show the way toward upholding some parochial set of vlaues it is assumed the public is not concerned with – please show me using their on-the-record words wherefore that’s the case.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Michael Drew says:

          Michael, those voters don’t have to justify themselves to anyone. [Nor do you, as a voter.] I decline—as I have all week—to attempt to defend the dumbest MFers on the right from only somewhat less dumb MFers of the left.

          😉

          I have been glib in saying that “progressivism is less a coherent philosophy than a rhetorical strategy” against its enemies, but here we are.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Murali says:

        Tom, its a 2 way street. Public reason means that politicians shouldn’t appeal to deep philosophies, whether it is natural law, classical utilitarianism, the bible or for that matter a generic providentialist God especially where these deep philosophies are in many cases accessible to only some members of the public. Similarly, voters should not accede to such blandishments or at least they should pay attention only to the parts which can be justified by public reason.

        I’ll vote for whom I want, for whatever reason I want. John Rawls can go to hell.

        And I reject his/your rejection of America’s Founding political theology. I do not recognize your edict about what concepts and moral vocabulary are permissible in the public square and I find what you call “public reason” to be indefensible gibberish.

        So there. 😉

        America never abolished providential monotheism. Some argue America is no more than its constitution—and a godless one at that*—but to them I say phooey. A nation is more than the sum of its laws.

        “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

        Here, Mr. Lincoln dates America not to 1787 and the ratification of the Constitution, but to 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence—which as we all know but I must repeat here, is a natural law document, and further a document invoking providential monotheism.

        We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

        And let’s skip over the “truth claim” of the existenc of a creator, let alone one who endows rights. Their just powers from the consent of the governed.

        Now you can prop up your Mr. Rawls’s opinion about what we may and may not talk about, and how. But I say that even under a social contract theory, our polity derives its “just powers” from a consent of the governed—and if that consent is based on the belief that our rights are endowed by our creator, God-given*, then so they are.

        “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?”

        A question that continues to ask itself centuries later.

        ___________________________
        *http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/godlessconstitution.htm

        **http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/09/05/democrats-push-god-back-into-their-platform-after-a-sloppy-misguided-vote/Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          I do not recognize your edict about what concepts and moral vocabulary are permissible in the public square and I find what you call “public reason” to be indefensible gibberish.

          Tom, I have not made my case yet. I was just clarifying the scope of the thesis. Let us save some stuff for the hangout. I would love to have you on board for the hangout if you ca make it. Can’t have everyone agreeing with me right? Then I’ll post the edited video as its own post where we can hash out the issue again.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Murali says:

            Thx Murali, but this is like doing a crossword puzzle in Esperanto. I’m speaking your language because you’ve outlawed mine. 😉Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              Well, not really right. I’m not outlawing all of your language, just that which I cannot understand (and similarly I outlaw those parts of my own language which you don’t understand) So we are left with a more limited language, but at least we both understand it. Also, I have not so much outlawed it, so much as posted the topic of discussion as

              Resolved: We shall “outlaw” that portion of everyone’s language which not everyone is capable of understanding because (to lean on the analogy a bit) language should be understood both by listener and speaker and not just by the speaker alone if it is to serve its communicative purpose.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Murali says:

                Everybody got “endowed by their creator” just fine. Still do. So that’s where I get off.

                As for the rest, I understand what you’re saying. I understand every word said around here and am amused when people don’t understand each other. Or are they pretending not to understand? That part I’m never sure about.

                But I have problems with your “lowest common denominator” approach: first that it has difficulty describing stuff like “rights” and “liberty” beyond “I want…”

                Second, that it abolishes any notion of excellence or the ideal for the sake of the “low but solid ground” of mediocrity.

                And third, the limits of language and indeed the linguistic limits of those who speak it! How many men believe in their hearts that we’re all created equal but can do no more than echo Jefferson, Lincoln, or the phrase that “we’re all God’s children?”

                And is this minimal eloquence any less eloquent than the greatest of orators and writers can achieve? Must a “voter” be able to articulate to your satisfaction why he votes this way or that?

                Must a man be able to give you a formal argument as to what is wrong and what is right before he does right?

                [I have a big problem with our addiction to language. Language is a tool, a representation of reality, not reality itself. Although I imagine that’s not a unanimous sentiment these days either.]Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I really want to hear more about these kinds of objections, which is why your presence will be appreciated.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Murali says:

                Thx, Murali, but I’m such a Luddite that’s unlikely.

                I do understand your point well, I think, mostly from reading your fine essays here @ LoOG. All I can say is that traditionalists like meself have already somewhat conceded your Rawlsian argument, but our preferred vehicle, “natural law,” is a verboten as thumping Bible, so we’re like, what’s the use anyway. Attend the Values Voters summit and hope there’s enough of ’em to win election, because “public reason” is so crude a tool as to be useless.

                By your rules of lowest common denominator, rights and liberty come down to “I want” with some provisos about “do no harm” and “don’t coerce.” Which are OK, mind you, and indeed are deemed sufficient for a minarchist state.

                However, the irony is that liberals such as Lib60 and I agree that the minarchist state is an absurdity on both moral and practical grounds. Without an ethos, a nation is without the means of its own preservation—there’s no there there.

                BTW, I think your “Resolved”—that theology, philosophy, and anything higher than the low but solid ground of “public reason” must be outlawed—is borne out by the charade that was Romer v. Evans. You may find this of interest. I certainly do, although it’s a source of my despair. When Plato’s out, all is lost.

                http://linguafranca.mirror.theinfo.org/9609/stand.htmlReport

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I understand what you’re saying. I understand every word said around here

                Tom, a little humility. Please. If not for yourself, think about the rest of us poor unfortunates who don’t understand everything.

                By the way: to you really understand JB? Or Chris? Or CK? Or James? Or Jason? Really?

                I’ll pick Jason as someone you don’t understand, since he’s clearly a natural law advocate who you disagree with on almost every substantive issue.Report

              • I understand Kuznicki well enough to consider him the most solid thinker here, no offense to anyone else. That will have to do.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Explaining any position requires an enumeration of the axioms which went into reaching that position. Your working definitions for Rights and Liberty are not shared by all. It’s Quine’s Rabbit Problem: you’re out trekking with some nomadic hunter type whose language you don’t speak. You startle a bunny in the bushes. Off he goes, hopping away. The nomad looks at the bunny and says “gavagai!.

                You’re the linguist, you whip out your little spiral pocket notebook and scribble down “gavagai” as you heard it. You pencil in “said in context of startling a rabbit”. Does it mean Rabbit? It could also mean “Dammit, you startled the prey and now I’m going hungry, dumbass.” In a nomadic hunter culture, you can bet the farm on that tribe having a word for just that situation because it happens a lot.

                You’re awfully quarrelsome when it comes to other people’s definitions, Tom. But you don’t produce very many of your own. It’s always “gavagai!” with you.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I don’t quarrel definitions atall, Blaise. A sure sign of a discussion gone wrong.

                I ask the other fellow what he means by “progressive” or “freedom” or “liberty.” Such a call for clarity usually ends things.

                As for the progressive definition of “rights” and “liberty,” exactly. My only problem with the great Randy Barnett is that his “presumption of liberty” in the Founding documents depends on his mutated contemporary definition of “liberty.”

                All that remains is injecting the vessel of the word “liberty” with the modern libertine mutation of the concept, virus-like.

                “If the meaning of the text be sought in the changeable meaning of
                the words composing it, it is evident that the shape and attributes of
                the Government must partake of the changes to which the words and
                phrases of all living languages are constantly subject. What a
                metamorphosis would be produced in the code of law if all its ancient
                phraseology were to be taken in its modern sense.”

                Sophist’s delight, Blaise, as usual—the meaning sacrificed to the manipulation of words.

                BTW, libertarian originalist Randy Barnett vs. liberal originalist Akil Amar’s new book. Very cool.

                http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444914904577619763983330558.htmlReport

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I don’t quarrel definitions atall, Blaise. A sure sign of a discussion gone wrong.

                Tom, if people are using terms with different and conflicting definitions, it’s not that the discussion has gone wrong, it’s that there’s no discussion at all. The two people are speaking different languages.

                If definitions play the role you think they play, then coming to an agreement on a workable definition is necessary for any discussion to proceed at all. If you (I mean you personally, TVD) refuse to find a workable definition or identify the what you think is an incorrect definition, then you’re not critiquing their views or objecting to their conclusion. You’re not having a discussion.

                At a more meta level, definitions are like facts: people don’t get to make up their own. Or perhaps they do, but if so, they’re not communicating with others, and they might not even be speaking English.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                You may not have it both ways. Must a man be able to give you a formal argument as to what is wrong and what is right before he does right?

                Yes he goddamn well does, Tom. Now man up and quit weaselling around like some Hugely Fronch Postmoderniste and act as if words have meanings because that’s what you’re looking like at present moment. We might disagree on those meanings, that’s fine. But you are not the only one with a definition and all this Fan Dancing around Concepts like Freedom and Liberty and other such words is making you look ridiculous.Report

              • I understand you perfectly, Blaise. How humbling it must be to not be misunderstood. 😉Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Well that’s excellent, Tom. You win the Humpty Dumpty Semantics Prize.Report

              • I suppose you’ll fool some readers with that reply, Blaise. But I don’t write for them. Gavagai indeed.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          I’ll vote for whom I want, for whatever reason I want. John Rawls can go to hell.

          And I reject his/your rejection of America’s Founding political theology. I do not recognize your edict about what concepts and moral vocabulary are permissible in the public square and I find what you call “public reason” to be indefensible gibberish.

          This is good stuff Tom, even if you’re being a bit cheeky in advancing it. Personally, I think this is the proper way for conservatives – or a certain strain of conservatives – to approach politics and political discourse, to wit: embracing the strategy and justification of argument by assertion. The big mistake conservatives (or a strain of conservatives) make is trying to offer affirmative justifications for their views rather than justifiable defenses of them. I’ve always referred to this phenomenon with some pretty loose language: that conservatives often believe that the psychological act of holding a belief constitutes a justification for that belief. That’s wrong, I think, both conceptually as well as psychologically.

          A held belief can be both false as well as unjustified even if it’s true, independently of whether the person holding that belief thinks it’s true or thinks it’s justified. Truth is a property that attaches to propositions (or sentences, or beliefs) and is therefore not a psychological property.

          Of course, even though those beliefs are privately held (just like all beliefs, in one sense of that word), those beliefs are often as a matter of fact shared to a great degree with other people. Does the fact that a belief is publicly shared meet the condition of being publicly justified, or satisfying the criteria of public reason?

          I think a person could go about answering this question in one of (at least) two interesting ways: philosophically or politically (“politically” is understood very broadly), and get different answers (or not!) in either case.

          Just putting it out there Tom. 🙂Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?

          The problem I have with this line of reasoning is that for you to use God as a firm basis for liberty, you need to find a firm basis for God. Biblical morality (aside from being odious on multiple fronts) is a castle built on sand.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to James K says:

            Try reinterpreting the question as one about politics rather than one about metaphysics. That is, the question is not “Is the idea of a god-given morality true or logically valid?” but rather, “Is it effective?”

            It seems to me that the vast majority of people have a psychological need for some kind of authority figure. I think it’s a valid concern that as the masses turn away from God, they will turn towards government and other secular idols to fill that void.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to James K says:

            That’s Jefferson, that’s the normative American political theology, JamesK. [Although the Democrats seem to be flirting with latering it*.]

            And you miss the distinction conceded above between the truth claim for the existence of God and merely “a conviction in the minds of the people.”

            As for your use of “odious”…

            Dude.
            ____________

            *http://www.wickedlocal.com/framingham/news/lifestyle/columnists/x1885027851/MADDOCKS-Democrats-vote-to-replace-the-word-God-with-Bill-Clinton#axzz26aUyeCxfReport

            • Avatar James K in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              Slavery. Genocide. Adultery is punishable by death, but raping a woman is a property crime – against the woman’s father. And don’t get me started on the notion that any disobedience or scepticism is to be punished with eternal torture.

              I stand by my use of odious. I have met many fine Christians, but they are good people because they are morally superior to their religion.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James K says:

            Well, James, if we talk about the morality of the Bible, in both the Old and New Testament, there’s the idea of atonement for sin. To make a very long story short, the Bible says everyone’s guilty of sin, therefore we’re all going to have to not only stop sinning but start forgiving each other.

            These days, any competent psychotherapist will help his patient begin to live in the present and put down his burden of the past. Thus, the patient is liberated from his crippling and dysfunctional coping strategies and get a Fresh Start. That’s really the only point Christ ever made about morality, that we must be “born again”. You don’t have to (nor am I asking you to!) believe in God to grasp this point: believe me, I’m with you in saying much of what passes for “Biblical” morality stinks horribly. Truth is, that crap isn’t Biblical.

            Civil liberties aren’t the gift of God. God didn’t write the First or Second or any of the other Amendments. I’m so sick and tired of Tom trying to turn Thomas Jefferson into Jesus Christ.Report

  3. Avatar Jon Rowe says:

    This is what I wrote on the matter in 2004 when I was more long winded.

    http://jonrowe.blogspot.com/2004/11/public-reason-law-and-morality.html

    As per TVD’s comments, as I understand America’s Founding (and we’ve done quite a bit of research together) you could cobble together a “public reason” case on their behalf that proof texting the Bible, wise book that it is, is a no no because of sectarian disputes about how to properly interpret the good book. However, the Founders were not relativists. They believed in objective truths. Hence the need for natural law as discovered by reason. Hence the “rational” Founding. But then debate ensures as to the character of America’s Founders “public reason.” They seemed quite comfortable with an Aristotelian theistic natural law. John Rawls believed in excluding sectarian religious based public arguments. But did he believe in excluding rationalism? Even if one disagrees with the substance of Aristotelian-Thomistic rationalism, can’t one make those disagreements on rational grounds? (Whereas arguing Bible alone doesn’t provide that mechanism).Report

  4. Avatar Murali says:

    Note that LeagueCast is also open to commenters as well. So, commenters who feel that they have something to say on this are welcome to shoot me an email as wellReport

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