[extropy-chat] In defense of a good verbal contest

John-C-Wright at sff.net John-C-Wright at sff.net
Mon May 9 21:13:10 UTC 2005

Giulio Prisco writes:

"I always enjoy a good verbal contest, but I have a feeling that we are
sort of wasting our time with this specific issue. You can affirm the objective
existence of absolute morality, and I can deny it, and we can still come to the
same moral conclusions on specific practical issues, same as we could still come
to completely different conclusions if we shared the same opinion on absolute
morality. So, believing or not in absolute morality has just no effect on
specific moral judgements. So it is like middle age scholars discussing the sex
of the angels, or how many angels can dance on a needle tip: completely void of
practical meaning and relevance."

My dear sir, I know not if this comment is meant for me, but permit me to answer
as if it were: I compliment you on your good natured dis-interest in this topic.
You believe moral reasoning is pointless and sometimes (if one reasons to an
absolute dogma) dangerous; you also believe men will come to the same general
conclusions about morality whether moral reasoning is present or absent. 

How wonderful a world it would be if we could all agree on the correct measured
justice for which humans long, and fight, and die, merely without a word uttered! 

My understanding of history, limited as it is, does not permit me to agree with
this happy vision. 

Someone, uttering arguments no different in scope or approach from the ones
uttered on this list, convinced the pagans to adopt Christianity during the
Imperial period of Rome. Someone convinced the Christians in the Dark Ages to
Crusade against the Paynims. Someone convinced the Protestants to Reform the
Church; someone convinced the Catholics to counter-reform. Someone convinced the
Abolitionists to organize a world-wide century-long opposition to the slave
trade. Someone convinced the Suffragettes that the fairer sex should vote.
Someone convinced the American to prohibit the sale of alcohol; someone
convinced them a few years later that this was unwise. Someone convinced the
Europeans of the unchallenged wisdom of socialist ideals. Someone convinced the
Free World to oppose those ideals, a death-stuggle that continues to this day.
Someone convinced the Academy to promote speech-codes to prevent any free speech
that might offend race-minorities, women, homosexuals. 

Surely not all those words were wasted. Surely they had some influence for good
or ill on human destiny. 

Sir, I mean not to offend, but if you and I just so happen to agree on whether
it is right or wrong to help an old lady across the street, it is because we
share a common humanity, and to protect the elderly is a sentiment often found
in the breast of civilized men. 

But if you and I happen to agree on the need for pre-emptive war in the Middle
East, or the justice of the death penalty for rapists, or the morality of
child-abortion, or any other issue where there is no common consensus, there is
nothing you can say to me, because you have denounced the use of reasoning on
moral topics. 

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