Saturday, October 08, 2005

On disagreements

This is outstanding. Edward Fesser writes at The Conservative Philospher about the nature of disagreements:
The point here is not to adjudicate the dispute between the traditional religious worldview and the secularist one. The point is rather just to illustrate how thoroughly a difference in metaphysical views is bound to entail a difference in moral outlooks. Why, then, do some people pretend that the former differences can be ignored? Why do thinkers like the later John Rawls suppose that a conception of justice might be found which is substantial enough to hold together a society comprised of people who radically disagree with one another about the most ultimate metaphysical questions? Part of the answer lies in the very fierceness of the disagreement itself; as I indicated earlier, the moral and political problems it poses are so great that there is a strong incentive to want to believe that there simply must be a way to defuse it, however contrary such a belief is to all the evidence. But I think there is also another reason, namely that the sorts of people who tend to think that metaphysical issues can be ignored for purposes of moral and political inquiry also tend to be committed to the broadly secularist and liberal worldview that prevails in the academy, in the arts, in journalism, and in governmental bureaucracies. The metaphysical disagreements between such people are relatively trivial, and exist against a background of general agreement on fundamentals. Moreover, such people rarely encounter – and are not particularly interested in trying to encounter – intelligent people committed to radically different metaphysical assumptions. Hence they are blind to the contingency of their own shared metaphysical premises, and falsely assume that no one could reasonably hold any metaphysical views that couldn’t easily be assimilated into the broad secularist consensus, and ignored for purposes of ethics and politics. When it is suggested to them that a recourse to metaphysics might in fact be unavoidable in settling moral disputes, and that not all “reasonable comprehensive doctrines” (to use the Rawlsian jargon) can plausibly be fitted into the Procrustean bed of liberal justice, they react like the famously clueless New Yorker columnist Pauline Kael, who couldn’t believe that Nixon had won the 1972 presidential election, since she didn’t know anyone who voted for him. Conservatives who make this sort of point are sometimes accused (as I know from personal experience) of trying to rationalize the pursuit of a controversial moral and political agenda based on controversial metaphysical assumptions (as if the people who make such accusations were not trying to further controversial moral and political agendas of their own, and as if the independence of their agendas from controversial metaphysical premises were not itself **precisely** what is at issue). This is just silly, an exercise in blaming the messenger. The depth of metaphysical disagreement in our society, and the influence it has on the moral and political disagreements that threaten to tear it asunder, are facts we had better acknowledge. To be sure, to acknowledge these facts is to see that the political problem facing contemporary pluralistic Western society is a serious one indeed. But we cannot even try to solve a problem if we refuse to face it squarely and honestly.
Check it out; it'll be time well spent.

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