Friday, August 26, 2005

Claremont (and Sciabarra's book on...)

Hello! What a day I have had! I suppose many of you out there were attending your orientations today, or at least returning to your schools of choice for another exciting year!

One course of mine, the "Basics of Political Theory", had 7 thick and wordy treatises assigned as required texts. Man, that should be real fun by the end of the semester. You graduate student bastards should have warned me. I could be drinking right now, instead I am reading the prefaces to all my texts for fear of ridicule come Monday lest I am found unworthy.

On another subject, when reading for fun was still an option, on Professor Horwitz' advice I looked up a book by Chris Sciabarra called "Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical". A wonderful book, to say the least. Very insightful, well written, captivating, convincing, and accessible (understandable), I highly recommend this to anyone. While this book focuses on Rand's own philosophy, it incorporates the ideas of many other giants and does so in a way that manifests correlations between and among various thinkers and various philosophies. Although I am not yet through the whole book, not even half-way, the book has helped me to make sense of many previously difficult subjects and terms, which some of you may or may not be comfortable with. And it has helped me understand where the major philosophers stood in relation to these terms. For example, after reading this book one should be more familiar with: dialectical materialism, realist-idealism, intuitivism, the dichotomies of mind\body, empiricism\rationalism, etc., symbolism, and a bunch of other ism's that are equally cool.

For me, who's introduction to Rand's material while working at Senator Kennedy's office made me feel bad about myself, this book has gone a long way in validating and enlightening for me the philosophy of Ayn Rand. It would do the same for many of you, to be sure. And if I ever have time to read it entirely, I hope that it helps me in my reply to Tony's query long ago concerning the split between Natural Law and Utilitarianism. As Sciabarra's book demonstrates, the tradition from which Rand was influenced, despite her claims to the contrary, sought to find reconciliations between (what was argued to be) false dichotomies. To put it (over)simply now, I propse that Natural Law and Utilitarianism, rightly understood, are the same thing.

For now that will have to be it. I suppose that as the semester rolls on, there won't be a lack of interesting posts considering that we'll all be in the midst of rewarding (and punishing) studies.

One more thing: Claremont just isn't the same without you. Damn hippies everywhere


Blogger Bridget said...

I shall not concede that natural law and utilitarianism are the same thing! What an abomination!

If you are saying that natural law is the same thing as utilitarianism: according to my understanding of utilitarianism, would that not mean that one could craftily justify slavery, the Holocaust, adultery, murder, and all sorts of other nasty things -- because they might even out to the "greater good" for all? Sounds an awful lot like Hitler's ideology to me. Careful what you say!

If, however, you have not abandoned the precious and stalwart fortress of natural law ideology and instead are saying that the greater good results from everyone's (attempts to) follow the truths of natural law, I shall breathe a sigh of relief, rescind my opening statements of damnation upon your head for buckling to utilitarian thought, and perhaps bless you instead for resurrecting that godless ideology.

11:28 PM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Hello Bridget! Good to hear from you, and cool picture.

Because I am, and will be for some time, still working on my interpretation of Natural Law and Utilitarianism, I shall withhold any attempted answer to your question except to say that I gleaned from our conference that proponents of both camps all too readily denigrated their opponents positions on this subject, and in so doing denigrated their opponents themselves to vulgar simplicity. I recall the way in which our presentation was received at Pitzer, and fairly thoroughly dismissed before it even got started. Now, I have been to other groupings where Natural Law was as widely and thoroughly accepted as Utilitarianism was at our conference, and Utilitarianism in a similar vein was oversimplified and vilified. I shall not do that.

And I cannot believe that Utilitarianism can justify anything under the sun, for it would simply be moral relativism at its worst; for I do not believe that Natural Law prescribes action (or lack of) without recourse to context or reason, for it would simply be moral dogmatism at its silliest.

So do not fret. I have not abandoned the fortress of Natural Law; I have lowered the draw bridge and welcomed in shepherds of another flock. Together we shall lead the sheep grown fat from the government dole to the slaughterhouse, and all sleep soundly Saturday night.

P.S. Did you get my emails about that professor from Hillsdale and the exec. officer here at Claremont?

This need not be the case, and indeed clouds the real worth of a constructive argument between these two, possibly falsely split, camps.

10:35 AM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Uh, I don't know how that little three sentence blurb got there after the p.s. Just imagine that it is up somewhere further in the post.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Well, I feel like I say the same thing everytime I post a comment here, but it sounds like utilitarianism needs some more defense.

Bridget: "If you are saying that natural law is the same thing as utilitarianism: according to my understanding of utilitarianism, would that not mean that one could craftily justify slavery, the Holocaust, adultery, murder, and all sorts of other nasty things -- because they might even out to the "greater good" for all? Sounds an awful lot like Hitler's ideology to me. Careful what you say!"

Sure, someone could INCORRECTLY use utilitarianism to justify something that we can all agree is morally abhorrent. But this is true of any system of morals. For example, I could try to argue against natural law by saying there is a natural law that mandates that we all kill off all first born children and then say that any moral system that supports the killing of all first borns is obviously worthless bunk. But this would clearly be a specious argument. Unfortunately, this is almost identical to Bridget's argument I quoted above as well as some of Joseph's arguments on early posts. A refutation of utilitarianism (of this sort) requires a little more: (1) You need to establish a situation that is clearly immoral AND (2) show that that situation maximizes utility. Thus far, the anti-utilitarian arguments on this blog have established (1) but only assumed (2). I would argue that (1) and (2) are mutually exclusive catagories and thus utilitarianism holds in all situations.

P.S. I've never understood why there are such strong feelings against a system of morals that simply seeks to make everyone as well off as possible.

P.S.S. There are certainly other ways to argue against utilitarianism than the one I outined above, and I strongly recommend Utilitarianism: For and Against by J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams for a good outline of utilitarianism and some very good critiques of utilitarianism as well (Thanks to Prof. Taylor for the excellent book recommnedation).

Hope everyone is doing well.

5:27 PM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Hey Tony!

I get a kick out your posts man. And thank you for the suggestions on reading material. Did the authors you mention above co-write a single book analyzing both sides, or are they authors of separate books taking one side or the other? And if the latter, which one was more comprehensive?

11:04 AM  
Blogger Tony said...


The book contains two fairly short essays (about 70 pages each). The first, by J.J.C. Smart (good name eh?), outlines what he calls "act-utilitarianism" (which is more or less the utilitarianism we think about and argue about here), and the second, by Bernard Williams, argues that utilitarianism is crap and must be discarded as a system of normative ethics. It's very good reading and easy to follow. I enjoyed both sections a good deal but actually find Williams' critiques more interesting (although I ultimately don't agree with them).

P.S. We should start a Cafe Liberty book club. I nominate this as our first. = )

11:11 AM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Hello Tony,

You know, a book club is actually a really great idea! I am glad you thought of it. Something like that, I think, would really be a useful and enjoyable tool for all of us, especially as we'll continue to be separately exposed to interesting and compelling works in our travels and studies. Now the question is how to actualize it? Any ideas?

And thank you for the suggestion. I will get the book.

10:06 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home