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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Driving with Thrasymachus

Woke up late this morning, so had to take an Uber to the train station. After congratulating me on my foresight for ordering a car before the rain (I had no idea it was going to rain), and complaining about the cut Uber was going to take out of the fare (almost 70%?), my driver intoned, in a Pakistani accent, “Because Irfan, let’s be clear: justice is the advantage of the stronger.” Followed by the most cogent-cynical lecture I’ve ever heard on monopolies, tax policy, and the “game changer” of coming developments in data analytics.

The book I brought to read on the train—Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christanity—now seems anemically irrelevant to the world we actually inhabit.

Have a Tough Month

All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.


Tonight is the first night of Ramadan–”Ramadan Eve,” in effect–the night before the Muslim month of fasting. I used to fast as a child, but lost my faith, and stopped for several decades. I started again in 2016, and intend to fast this year. I’ve journaled about Ramadan privately each year as I’ve fasted, sketching out thoughts about the significance of the month; who knows when or if I’ll commit any of it to print for public consumption. But a few thoughts seem worth posting. Continue reading

Defining “Wokeness”: Socratic Dialogues with Bethany Mandel

The Bethany Mandel “define wokeness” controversy manages to be illuminating and absurd at the same time. Mandel, for the uninitiated, is an American anti-woke polemicist who’s apparently written a book on the subject of wokeness, and generally made a sophistical career of attacking it. She was recently invited to a YouTube talk show on wokeness, and asked to define the term. Turns out she didn’t have a definition. When asked for one, she managed instead to draw an embarrassing blank on her would-be area of specialization, babble a bit, and look like an all-round idiot. Continue reading

Sleepwalking Through Affirmation Culture

For years now, we’ve heard a hue and cry over “woke cancel culture.” There are, no doubt, many subtleties, twists, and turns involved in this controversy, all worth discussing. But it’s clarifying to ask whether there are sufficient conditions for cancellation. Should nothing ever be canceled? Or are there some things, sometimes, somewhere, under some circumstances however carefully defined and delimited, that should be canceled? We have, I think, now reached the reductio ad absurdum of the “never cancel” position in the debate over Bezalel Smotrich’s forthcoming trip to the United States. Continue reading

The Learned-Helpless Grandiosity of the Ukraine War

I hesitate to turn this blog into a running catalog of the absurdities of the Ukraine war, but at this rate, I probably could. From an article in The New York Times about Europe’s confused, ambivalent response to the Ukraine war:

“The consequences of Ukraine in the E.U. will be complicated, even explosive,” said Thomas Gomart, director of IFRI, the French Institute of International Relations. “But it will be politically impossible to reject it.”

The war hasn’t yet been won–there’s no end is in sight–but already the contours of the post-war world are an inevitability, indeed, out of the control of the people tasked with deciding it. They lack the power to resist Ukraine’s entry into the EU, but somehow have the power to defeat Russia by proxy. Continue reading

The Past Is a Foreign Country

Why, according to Bret Stephens, must we remain involved in the Ukraine war? Because if we don’t…

China would draw the lesson that, if there are limits to what America and our allies are prepared to do for Ukraine (which fights for itself and shares a land border with NATO), there will be much sharper limits to what we are prepared to do for Taiwan.

Apparently, we get no belligerency credits for having fought and defeated Imperial Japan, for dropping atom bombs on it, or for having militarily occupied it. We get no credit for having defended South Korea against a North Korean invasion, for having fought the Chinese themselves in North Korea, or for having stationed troops in the DMZ since 1953. And we get none for spending a decade-plus defending South Vietnam against the North at the cost to us of some 58,000 deaths. Continue reading

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