Gerald Gaus on the Primacy of Individual Moral Perspectives

In “Social Morality and the Primacy of Individual Perspectives” (2017), Gerald Gaus responds to critics of his The Order of Public Reason (2011) as part of symposium on that book. I presume The Tyranny of the Ideal (2016) is a continuation of the ideas earlier and more formally developed in the 2011 book. The 2017 essay is valuable because it aims to “sketch a modest of recasting of the analysis” presented in the 2011 book. That is, more or less the whole argument of 2011 is restated in new terms, and obviously much abbreviated. The following is a brief summary of the argument and one of its implications.

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The Beautiful People

Is it legitimate to criticize someone’s physical appearance? I don’t mean: is it legitimate to have or even express personal preferences about someone’s physical appearance. I mean: is it legitimate to issue an objective verdict on someone for looking the way they do, e.g., criticizing the very structure of a person’s face for giving them the facial appearance they have? Continue reading

Connie Rosati on “The Lincoln Virtues”

I spent the weekend at the American Philosophical Association’s (APA) Central Division meeting in Denver, my first APA, believe it or not, since 2011. It was a good time, certainly a welcome relief from my day job in health care revenue cycle management.

The APA is always punctuated, if that’s the right word, by a “Presidential Address,” a lecture given by the distinguished philosopher who is president of that particular division. This meeting’s presidential address was given by Connie Rosati of the University of Texas at Austin, an ethicist whose work I only know in a superficial way. Rosati gave an interesting talk on what she called “The Lincoln Virtues,” meaning a set of virtues associated with, or nicely exemplified by, Abraham Lincoln. The virtues in question involve a certain kind of magnanimity, generosity, and humility–not quite Christian and not quite pagan, but maybe a synthesis of the two or a mean between them. Think of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and you’ll get the basic idea: “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” asserted by a president approaching imminent victory in a bitter civil war. (The address was given about a month before the Union’s victory in the US Civil War.) Continue reading

The “Muhammad Painting” Case: An Update

Someone asked me last night for an update on the Hamline “Muhammad Painting” case. I’m happy to report that public opinion, in the US at least, seems largely to be going against Hamline, and in López Prater’s direction. Here’s a sample, focused mostly on the American reaction to the case. 

In the original post, I’d said that The New York Times article “tells you what you need to know.” That’s almost, but not entirely, true. Eugene Volokh at Reason magazine has reproduced the full texts of many relevant university communications on the controversy, not otherwise reported elsewhere in their entirety–memos, statements, scuttlebutt, etc. Some of the details matter, but none of them really alter anything I said in the original post. Continue reading

Virtue, Happiness, and the Greeks: Burdened Interpretations

tessman-burdenedI’m currently involved (along with some other members of the POT blog) in an online reading group on Lisa Tessman’s book Burdened Virtues, and while there’s a lot in the book that I admire, I want to grump here a bit about some of the things that Tessman says in ch. 3, which is where we currently are in the book. (The main focus of the book is on how to understand what Aristotelean-style virtue ethicists see, and what Tessman rather forlornly longs to see, as a harmonious and mutually reinforcing relationship between virtue and well-being, in the context of oppressive social structures that impose often devastating costs on those who attempt the sorts of resistance to oppression that virtue seems to require. That’s an interesting and important topic, but – be warned – I say virtually nothing about it in the present post.)

Despite the occasional perfunctory acknowledgment (e.g. at p. 62, n. 15) that views on which morality and flourishing can come apart were “quite thinkable within the ancient Greek context,” Tessman nevertheless persists in treating ancient and modern views as divided by some deep conceptual gap; hence she contrasts the “contemporary meaning of the word happiness” with the “ancient Greek understanding of … eudaimonia or flourishing” (p. 57), as though conceptions of eudaimonia centered on wealth or subjective pleasure or the amoral pursuit of power were alien to the ancient Greek context. But in fact the virtue-centered conception of eudaimonia common among philosophers in the broadly Socratic lineage (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics) seems by no means to have been automatically congenial to Greeks generally; indeed in Plato’s dialogues Socrates’ interlocutors often react with puzzlement or disbelief or even mockery to his insistence that morality and self-interest cannot come apart.

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