Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Rationalism

Why Richard Dawkins Fails to Appreciate Plato

The other day, Richard Dawkins had a go at Plato:

It’s not the first time. Dawkins has a thing for picking on Plato. He said this back in March:

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Nye vs. Ham: The Broken Evolution/Creation Debate

Yesterday, on encouragement from my little brother, who is an aspirant aeronautical engineer and a huge Bill Nye fan, I watched the debate between Bill Nye (of Bill Nye the Science Guyand Ken Ham, who is president of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. I also ran across this piece on Buzzfeed, in which Ham supporters ask lots of questions that, based on what I’m reading on my Facebook, don’t seem especially reasonable to Nye’s guys. Instead of contributing to the internet flame war, I’d like to try to use what philosophical skills I have to highlight what precisely the difference is between the two positions, because the gulf is incredibly vast, more vast than I believe most of the participants on either side of this debate commonly understand.

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Unreasonable People

Many of the popular theories of justice claim that all “reasonable people” in a given circumstance would rationally agree to them, and therefore they are just. Rawls, for instance, claims that all reasonable people can readily agree to Rawls’ principles of justice (in order of priority: everyone has as much liberty as possible without infringing on the liberty of others, all people have equal access to opportunities, and inequality is only justifiable provided that it benefits the worst off–“maximin”) because he thinks all reasonable people readily acknowledge that all people are free and equal. This leaves a question open–who are the unreasonable people? Racists, sexists, ethnocentric people, all of those are obviously unreasonable under this theory, but what about conservative theorists? Are they unreasonable, and, if so, what does that mean for theories of justice?

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Intuition versus Utility

A lot of people in politics, particularly political theory, have used the objection “this doesn’t feel right” as a counter to logical arguments. The primary victims of this line of emotion-led reacting have been the utilitarian and consequentialist moral theorists. “This is conducive to the general welfare for reasons X, Y, Z” is often met with “well sure, but I just don’t like that”. This sort of reaction is typically treated as a legitimate argument, but does it deserve this level of standing? Today, I intend to argue that it does not.

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