Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Summarizing case against Ibrahim's position

To refocus the dialogue, can we now start commenting here, please...

Also, remember the main topic here is whether or not Ibrahim is right to suggest that in any good Islamic school "Islam is a given and never challenged".

Let me summarize my case for getting children to think critically about morality and religion from as young an age as possible:

(i) Actually, individuals cannot avoid the responsibility for making moral judgements. They cannot hand that responsibility over to some religious or other authority. Given they cannot hand it over, shouldn't they be encouraged and trained to discharge the responsibility properly? Surely the best way to do this is to confront them with the responsibility and encourage them to think and question.

(ii) There's evidence that raising people to think and question, rather than more or less uncritically defer to authority, provides some protection against the sort of moral catastrophes that marred the 20th Century.

(iii) There's growing evidence that even young children can think philosophically, and that it is good for them emotionally, intellectually, and socially. Suppress this kind of independent, critical thought and you risk stunting these important forms of development.

(iv) If you raise young people to defer unquestioningly to religious authority, they will be vulnerable, later, to the wiles of other self-styled "authorities". They will have no critical defences. The best protection against brainwashing by zealots is not to do our own brainwashing first. It's to train young people to be robust critical thinkers - to equip them with the skills they need to spot when they are being brainwashed and manipulated. By suppressing independent critical thought and expecting mindless acceptance of whatever religious authority says, isn't Ibrahim's school churning out the perfect fodder for zealots to turn into weapons of jihad?

Remember, I am not arguing against Islam (here) or against faith schools. Let Ibrahim tell pupils that he believes Islam is true, and explain why he thinks so. But he should also give them the freedom to think and question - and even reject. Other religious folk manage it, so why won't he?

Perhaps Ibrahim could now summarize his case for saying Islamic schools should present Islam as a "given" that is "never challenged"? Why, exactly, is this a good idea?

25 comments:

anticant said...

Stephen, when you say "individuals CANNOT avoid the responsibility for making moral judgements", don't you mean they OUGHT not, or SHOULD not?

Unfortunately, all too many DO, which is the root cause of so much of the trouble in the world today. It should be a primary objective of genuine education, as opposed to indoctrination, to ensure that this does not keep on occurring down successive generations.

The Barefoot Bum said...

They cannot: To submit to a moral authority is itself a moral act that cannot be handed to the moral authority.

We have judged and hanged people at Nuremburg precisely for the moral act of submitting to an authority.

If you raise young people to defer unquestioningly to religious authority, they will be vulnerable, later, to the wiles of other self-styled "authorities". They will have no critical defences. The best protection against brainwashing by zealots is not to do our own brainwashing first.

This is an important point: In The True Believer, Eric Hoffer observes that the best, easiest, and most zealous recruit for any authoritarian ideological movement, from Islam to Nazism to Communism, is a true believer on the other side. It is the mode of thought, not its particular details, that makes one susceptible to any authoritarian movement.

Stephen Law said...

Yes I do mean "cannot". People might think they can, and have, handed over this responsibility. but they are mistaken. They have not succeeded.

See previous post...

Sam Norton said...

Would it be fair to summarise your position as:
1. we each have independent access to "the good" (a moral sense);
2. it is essential to cultivate and develop this sense in order to avoid harmful exercises of authority; and
3. where a religion is not allowed to be questioned in an educational establishment then that sense is not cultivated, and so it is more likely that there will be harmful exercises of authority?

Ibrahim Lawson said...

I am in the process of considering my response to Stephen’s last three posts, which I have appreciated very much. However, that is going to take some time. Meanwhile, is this a fair, interim summary?


Believer – my religion is true.

Philosopher – I’m sorry, either I don’t understand what you mean or you are wrong.

Believer – and I’m sorry, I can’t explain. You just have to ‘see’ what I mean, that’s the best I can say at the moment. Perhaps once you have ‘seen’ it, you will know what I mean. Is there a way to explain that will help you to understand?

Philosopher – I still don’t understand what you mean, but that’s OK, believe what you like. However, in the meantime, I would like to prevent you from doing certain things – for example, indoctrinating your children into your idiosyncratic and purely subjective belief system which you can’t explain.

Believer – but I have to bring them up to believe what I believe! You do too!

Philosopher – the problem is, you are doing them a disservice, in comparison with my approach. Firstly you are disabling an essential part of their humanity – the ability to use reason to decide what to believe. Secondly, you are making them over-reliant on authority as an epistemic source, not only in a general way but specifically in regard to knowledge of moral values. This problem is not just an issue of child protection within your own community, but of wider social harmony: in their engagement with the rest of us, who have not been similarly handicapped, the alumni of your educational system will have a tendency to irrationality (leaving physical force the only way to resolve disagreements) and immorality (‘I was only following orders’) at crucial moments. The evidence to support this accusation is there – plenty of your co-religionists hold demonstrably irrational views (that religious belief is empirically justifiable for example) and the general human tendency to moral bovinity seems to be established by scientific research.

Believer – erm…

Ibrahim Lawson said...

BTW, is this not something of an unfair caricature of my position:

“By SUPPRESSING independent critical thought and expecting mindless acceptance of WHATEVER religious authority says, isn't Ibrahim's school churning out the perfect fodder for zealots to turn into weapons of jihad?”

The Barefoot Bum said...

Believer – my religion is true.

Philosopher – I’m sorry, either I don’t understand what you mean or you are wrong.

Believer – and I’m sorry, I can’t explain. You just have to ‘see’ what I mean, that’s the best I can say at the moment.


Right here we have a problem. The Believer and the Philosopher are using different meanings of the word "true".

The Philosopher (or at least this philosopher) understands "true" in the normative sense, as "I affirm my religion, and everyone else ought to as well; if they do not, they are mistaken. But how can you assert a normative duty that you cannot even explain, much less prove?

I blame the worst postmodernists for this confusion. Before this egregious corruption of intellectual integrity, even the religious used "true" in its normative sense.

Believer – erm…

Heh. Well said.

is this not something of an unfair caricature of my position

I think it's neither unfair nor a caricature. To place Islam beyond question is to place those who promulgate Islam beyond question. Furthermore, how else other than by placing some supposed truths and their purveyors outside the bounds of critical thought would you inculcate the psychological attitudes necessary to produce zealots and weapons?

Stephen Law said...

Hello Sam

I am uncomfortable with your paraphrasing of my case as your first premise is suggestive of a lot of metaphysical stuff (i.e. a "moral sense", "the good")to which I don't necessarily have to subscribe. Also, it misses out on some of the argument - e.g. about general educational, social and emotional benefits.

Ibrahim's paraphrase avoids the first problem. It's closer at least.

The appeal to some sort of religious or spiritual experience is not something I've addressed myself here. It seems to be becoming pivotal now, both in Ibrahim's view, and others...

Probably should address that. BTW, some of you will know all about "reformed epistemology" (Plantinga, Alston, etc.) which provides a framework for allowing such experiences to play an important role so far as making religious belief "reasonable" is concerned.

If you are interested, wiki is good on reformed epistemology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformed_epistemology

Sam Norton said...

Ha! And I was putting "the good" in scare quotes to try and not beg too many questions about metaphysics...

How about simply 'we each have the capacity for independent moral judgement'? (And I'm happy to expand that to something which includes wider benefits).

I like Ibrahim's conversational summary, but I think it's helpful to try and get some clarity in propositional terms. I accept almost all of your argument, but the bits I disagree with might be interesting to pursue (and might help the discussion) if we can get down to the necessary specificity.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Sam - we may not all have such a faculty. But, that most of us do have some such faculty ("ability" might be better) is presupposed by our judgement that, irrespective of what Joe's moral/religious authority/scripture/cultural background decreed, he should have known better than blow himself up in a supermarket.

Stephen Law said...

...and is, indeed, still morally culpable and blameworthy.

Ron Murphy said...

Stephen,

Surely reformed epistemology only claims that 'some sort of god is not irrational', which isn't the same as saying 'religion is not irrational'. I hope you will take this up in another thread.

muslim-apostate said...

Since Ibrahim claims that his creed or ideology, i.e. Mohammedan Islam, is so "true" and superior - can I ask him a simple question: How does he know that it was Angel Gabriel talking inside Mohammed's head?

Can Ibrahim show us Angel Gabriel or show us how angels speaks to us mortals? And how different is that from an abnormal psychological condition such as epilepsy or, for that matter an intentional construction by the claimant?

Of course radical Islamists like Ibrahim have no interest in disecting the historical aspects of Islam or the Qur'an. In the Middle East they will just declare you as a blasphemer and shut you up by intimidation and force - and in the West, they shut up themselves or if pressed they divert into mystical linguistic games (you must "see" or "believe" till you understand). Either way, such questions must be avoided at any cost - as the edifice may come crumbling down.

Dialog? No such thing if you want to deal with their sacred cows. Dialog with Islamists means, "do not question their irrational, mystical, or subjective belief system", but that will not stop them to mercilessly indoctrinate innocent and impressionable young minds (obviously because their ideology is the will of this unquestionable and unfathomable god thingy which us rational people are too dull to understand).

May I ask Ibrahim - if we cannot question your Islam, and obviously those little children cannot critically question Islam, you being their authority - then how in all honesty does your conscience and sense of self-respect and self-worth allow you to push your unquestioned belief system onto little impressionable young minds?

Do you not sense a moral responsibility that something undebatable and unquestionable should not be shoved down other people's throats? Obviously you are in a position of POWER and emulation with respect to these young minds. Does your conscience ever bother you when you shove these memes down their throat, and do you ever stare into the mirror after that? Or has your circular and fixed-point belief system of Islam already crushed your conscience and exiled it into oblivion?

Woba said...

It think it is becoming obvious (I believe Stephen or one of the contributors may have already pointed this out) that unless Mr. Lawson or anyone else arguing the theistic point of view is will to admit 'This may not be true' then all dialog and debate is immediately rendered pointless.

Atheiests do not believe that God exists and have reasons based on the available evidence why this is so, however, if sufficent evidence were to arise that God does indeed exist then atheists would become believers on the basis of the evidence.

Possibly the greatest mystery to atheists is why thiests believe that ancient cryptic books are the word of God. Thiests are in general aware that some people are crazy and that some people lie. When it comes to books written in times of extreme superstition they are willing to swallow anything hook,line and sinker.

If I told Ibrahim the following story and really believed it was true:
"I went to Heaven on a flying horse, had a chat with God(Allah, who told me to pray 50 times a day. I then bumped into moses who thought that 50 times was really overdoing it and told me to go back to God and argue the point. Upon doing so, God agrees that he had been a little over-zelous at first and we haggled it down to 5 times."

I'm willing to bet that he would think I was insane. Why not Muhammed?

Because the story is old and written in an ancient book?

I do not mean this as disrespectful but I suggest because Ibrahim was not happy with reality as he found it and wants to believe something more comforting. Life after death etc.

Red said...

Woba – if Mr Lawson were willing to admit that his theistic belief ‘might not be true’ then there would be nothing to discuss, no argument. I take his point to be that he cannot reconcile this with his Islamic beliefs; he has more or less said as much, I believe. Does this mean there is no point in debate? Not if what we are debating is his position on this issue, rather than, say, the truth or otherwise of Islam. I think the main point that he has raised is that theism is not ‘rationally justifiable’ (is reason itself ‘rationally justifiable’?) but has something going for it in another sense – it may be ‘warranted’ in some other way. If we can make some sense of this idea of ‘warrantability’ then we can maybe judge between religion, rationality, astrology, the flying spaghetti monster etc.
If you insist on judging religious discourse by the standards of rational discourse then there are bound to be anomalies. One that has not been mentioned yet is the story of Abraham, who was ready to kill his own son because Allah told him to. Who would get away with that in a court of law today? Yet millions of Muslims are currently celebrating this story on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Are they all that silly? Or is this story being interpreted in some different way (playing in a different language game) than if it had been an item in the newspaper?

Muslim-apostate

You too are demanding that Ibrahim explain his beliefs according to criteria that do not apply. The ‘how do you know?’ question is different when it comes to religious belief. I think he has already explained that he does not believe on the basis of evidence and argument. From a purely materialist point of view, maybe religious believers ARE mad. I don’t think he is avoiding the question though, as you say. Neither does he seem to be saying that we cannot question his Islam. I will leave it to him to reply to the moral issues you have brought up.

dd said...

"Dialog? No such thing if you want to deal with their sacred cows. "

Or sacred stone cubes or one sacred man and sacred cities...

and they call themselves monotheistic worshippers of Allah, because they respect a stone, a man and a city as sacred.

anticant said...

What is "materialist" about questioning the sanity of religious believers? They don't merely admit to being irrational - they proudly boast of it as if it gives them some moral superiority. This effectively rules out rational argument and the application of logic to their position, which is why I find a great deal of the philosophical pirouetting around their unsupported assertions pointless.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Stephen,

It is good that you have raised the issue of ethics and morality as this brings us closer to the live issues we began with. It was useful to thrash out a few metaphysical matters, albeit superficially, and I fear we must return to this ground sooner or later, even though, in view of recent events in Algeria for example, it sometimes feels as though we are indulging in intellectual speculation as ‘the luxury of the weak’

However, by shifting the focus in this way, we introduce a new element: that of ‘authority’, and associated concepts such as ‘power’ and ‘will’.

We can rephrase the non-question “why be rational?” as an inquiry into why we should feel obliged to be rational; what authority does or should rationality have over us? Why? How?

And similarly, ‘why be moral?’- and ‘why be religious?’- become: ‘what authority does morality have over me?’- or God? Or indeed any discourse or text?

It seems to me helpful to distinguish three elements: the authority, in the sense of that which has to power to command us (the authoritor?); the submitter to authority, i.e. the one who accepts that command (the authoritee?); and the relation of authority itself, the sense in which it is a power to command.

In ethics, there are two commonly held explanations: the deontological and the teleological. There are also some unsuccessful attempts to dissolve the problem, such as Ayers ‘emotive’ theory that ‘X is good’ is merely a way o saying ‘I like or approve of X’ which merely shifts the burden of explanation onto the purported ‘objective correlative’ of the emotion: what exactly is it that I approve of?

I think Kant’s deontological view, that if we act from any motive of desire for a specific end (i.e. teleologically) then we are not acting ‘morally’, is correct. This seems to entail, however, that the ‘moral law’ (‘do the right thing’) is necessarily empty, since any substantive justification of a moral action provides extrinsic, practical grounds for its desirability. Thus, someone who gives to charity ‘because it is the right thing to do’ cannot say “it is right because etc etc” since what ever might complete the sentence would give reasons for doing the act which would describe the outcomes of the action and make those the justification instead. For example: … it benefits those less fortunate than myself; …. I feel guilty if I don’t; ….society is a better place thereby; … it makes me/them happy; etc. Desire is not a moral power.

The question also then arises as to what is ‘good’, in the specific moral sense, about the intended outcomes, and then what is good about that, and so on until we arrive at some foundation for ‘good’ which is not justifiable by referring to the concept of ‘good’; is ‘good’ without explanation; simply IS good. And this doesn’t answer the question about what it is we know when we know something is ‘good’.

This probably seems much too convoluted to many people; but the relevant point is that unless we have a viable theory of morality, we cannot explain our moral judgements, even to ourselves; i.e. we don’t understand them and cannot use them in an argument against people who we disagree with on ethical grounds. Call it general scepticism about morality.

Then we re-assert the principle you invoked before in reference to rationality: that ‘unjustified’ or ‘unexplained’ does not equal ‘immune to critical review’. Then I ask again, where do we go from here? If we cannot without circularity use rationality to justify reason, or ‘good’ to justify moral judgements, to what criteria can we resort for the, shall we say, ‘warrantability’ of rational, or ethical, or, moreover, religious judgements? Whatever we use will be no more ‘rational’, ‘moral’ or ‘religious’ than the definition of ‘true’ can be true.

And I don’t see that such scepticism condemns us to nihilism, that we cannot be true, good or reasonable. I just resist the idea that we have to define these things so narrowly, so ‘technologically’ I want to say, as to create problems for ourselves.

Returning to the issue of authority, wherein lies the prescriptive power of morality? From where do we get the sense that we should not steal, or example? Is it simply that we would not like it if someone stole from us? If so, what is moral about that? No, I think there is a ‘naked’ sense of duty, of obligation, but what is that? Ethics has no answer, which is why many, orthodox, Muslim theologians refuse to engage with the matter.

Again, why do we feel obliged to accept the dictates of reason? Why do I feel I have to accept the truth of the conclusion of a deductive argument whose validity I have accepted along with the truth of its premises? (I’m not saying I don’t feel I have to, just asking what the authority is here).

And why do I feel that I have to accept the authority of Allah and His Messenger?

It may be that the nature of the authority relation in each case, moral, rational and religious, is different, as is the nature of the authoritor.

Now, Stephen, it seems to me that we return to the issue of freedom which you appear to invoke in a previous posting. Does ‘I am free’ mean ‘I am my own authority’? (This seems preferable to other explanations, which have their own problems).

If so, how could we explain that? Is it true in all cases? In moral issues you claim it is. Would it hold true for rationality?- and religion? Or are we left with mere assertion, hence your own difficulty in supplying a supporting argument?

In moral issues, I do not see that we can explicate the prescriptivity of moral propositions in terms of some external agency, but only in some sense such as ‘I will (in an active, not modal sense) that I do good’. Indeed, Kant says that the only thing that can be morally good is the will and I think I agree with him. Inasmuch as we have free will, we are able to act morally, but there is no rational explanation of this freedom according to him. (His ‘Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals’ contains the arguments). Was Kant therefore not a moral person?

Of course he was; he was also religious, and famously said “I will that there be a God.”

Since the enlightenment owed much to philosophers like Kant, perhaps we should not dismiss his words lightly but try to understand what he meant by this.

Having rehearsed these preliminary ideas, and arrived at the Enlightenment, I would like to turn to your recent postings, and in particular the idea of liberalism.

Much of what you recount strikes me as revealing of the almost na├»ve utopianism of liberal thought, which is characteristic of much similar ‘technological’ thinking. By this I mean the kind of thinking that sets up an idealised, theoretical description of some human situation which it then finds impossible to justify or to implement in practice.

John Rawls provides an example in his proposal of the ‘veil of ignorance’ in his attempt to justify our intuitions concerning justice and fairness. The bare, rational intellect which he posits as the essence of the human being behind the procedural veil of ignorance – neither male nor female, young nor old, black nor white, straight nor gay, rich nor poor, Muslim nor Christian etc – and therefore able, indeed obliged, to judge impartially and fairly, exists only as a theoretical construct. Moreover, the perfect society we might imagine such intellects, once embodied, would then go on to form is a lovely idea, but frankly, isn’t going to happen. Most people are never going to be able to be their own authorities, however much we might like that to happen.

And, paradoxically, total personal autonomy, or authenticity (Eigentlichkeit in German; Heidegger has an interesting and pertinent discussion of this in Being and Time) leads, I believe, to a kind of reflexive annihilation which I prefer to understand as ‘submission to the will of Allah’, but that is another story.

I can already hear the cries of ‘Islamo-fascist!’, so to attempt to divert this knee-jerk reaction, I must say that I do not subscribe to the view that it is right to withhold moral responsibility from children; I do believe we should teach them to think and to question; we must equip them with the skills necessary to assume moral responsibility to the extent that they are capable and to resist tyranny and all the other noble qualities of character that Stephen refers to as the fruits of a liberal education. But I do also accept that there is one absolute, benign and eternal authority: Allah. We just have to understand better what that means and what our relationship is to Him.

Now I realise that some readers will now be thinking that they have no idea what I am talking about and that, in any case, whatever it is has nothing to do with the attitudes and behaviour of ‘normal’ Muslims. I can’t help that, it’s normal; as Nietzsche said: life is tragic - only death is perfect.

Finally to your question: “Perhaps Ibrahim could now summarize his case for saying Islamic schools should present Islam as a "given" that is "never challenged"? Why, exactly, is this a good idea?”

I agreed with this comment ‘off the cuff’ so to speak during a radio program, and I stand by it. Islam is a ‘given’ for Muslims in the sense that it is where we start from. Why? Well I hope I have gone at least some way towards explaining that, though the nature of that ‘givenness’ has taken some unpacking and may not have been entirely successful in your eyes. Islam is ‘never challenged’ (again not my formulation of words) in the sense, not that it is not interrogated, but in that Muslims do not imagine that there is a viable alternative, which there isn’t.

This is a good idea because anything else leads to literally endless confusion as we search for the justification of our imaginary explanations and authorities (false gods). Meanwhile, people are dying.

anticant said...

"Meanwhile, people are dying." And why? Because they are filled with greed, hatred, anger, and the irresistible itch to be "right".

The fondness you religious and philosophical types have for abstract argument, 99 per cent. of which totally misses the point, never ceases to amaze me. Talk of fiddling while Rome burns! It is sheer mind-fucking, if you'll excuse the vulgarity.

There is no religious or philosophical mystery about ethics. Ethics is about behaviour - not ideas. Some people behave kindly, peaceably, justly, and honestly because they instinctively know it is right to do so, and that is the only choice with which they feel comfortable. Other people - the majority, these days, it would seem, alas! - behave cruelly, violently, unfairly, and treacherously because that is how they perceive the world and feel about it and themselves.

I take it that both Stephen and Ibrahim would agree that the latter sort of people are educational failures, and that whoever was responsible for their upbringing is a failure. Is it not as simple as that? Does it really matter what religious or philosophical tradition children are brought up in if they turn out to be wicked people?

The acid test of any educational system is the type of people it turns out, and the only relevant question in this whole debate, to my mind, is whether children who are indoctrinated to unquestioning belief in a faith instead of being encouraged to think enquiringly for themselves from an early age are more likely to be good people and good neighbours.

The Barefoot Bum said...

We can rephrase the non-question “why be rational?” as an inquiry into why we should feel obliged to be rational; what authority does or should rationality have over us? Why? How?

It is physical reality that gives rationality authority over us. Rationality is just the best understood description of physical reality.

Ayers ‘emotive’ theory that ‘X is good’ is merely a way o saying ‘I like or approve of X’ which merely shifts the burden of explanation onto the purported ‘objective correlative’ of the emotion: what exactly is it that I approve of?

Why is this a difficulty? That's precisely where we want to shift the burden of explanation, since we can explain the "what is" by ordinary, scientific means.

Such a shift also avoids the problem you note in Kant's moral philosophy, which I'm persuaded (indirectly, since I must admit a complete inability to understand him) is not just apparent but fundamental. Human minds act to fulfill intrinsic desires: At some level, every action is done in one's self-interest, broadly construed; Kant appears to be construing self-interest as broadly as possible.

So, yes, I think it's legitimate to say that we have a conflict of will and opinion: Westerners and secularists do not approve of exempting any idea from critical scrutiny, and Islamists do not approve of subjecting Islam to critical scrutiny.

The problem is that the well being of all children is a matter of serious import to all members of society. As much as I prefer to mind my own business, how you raise your children will inevitably affect me. This does not seem a controversial attitude: Surely you do not approve of parents violently or sexually abusing their children, and you're willing (with my enthusiastic support) to express your disapproval in legally coercive ways.

You, like me and everyone else in a society, must justify your treatment of children to the satisfaction of the rest of society.

The sincerity of your beliefs — and I am convinced you are sincere — is not by itself persuasive. As an analogy, it makes no difference to me that a man sincerely believes that whipping his child is necessary to produce a moral, upstanding member of society: I am still going to vote for and support coercing that man into prison.

There are two viable defenses:

Convince me* that how you educate children in this manner is indeed, despite my argument above, none of my business. Keep in mind that asking for taxpayer support makes the issue immediately and directly the business of all taxpayers. You must also convince me that you are at least doing no harm to the children under your care.

Alternatively, you must convince me that it is to my own good, either directly or indirectly by empathy, to permit you to educate children in the manner you suggest.


*As a U.S., not British citizen, I am speaking metaphorically. You don't have to convince me personally, you have to convince the other members of British society.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Islam has, at the very least, real ethical content: Islam entails that one should do some things and should refrain from doing other things.

It is either the case that the content of ethical statements are objectively truth-apt, or they are statements of subjective preference.

If it is the case that ethical statements (specifically the content of ethical statements) are objectively truth-apt, then they should be determinable by the scientific method, which absolutely requires critical scrutiny. On issues where objective truth can be independently ascertained, Muhammad has shown himself no more reliable than any other ordinary person of his culture and time, and thus deserves no scientific privilege.

If it is the case that ethical statements are statements of subjective preference, then it is always legitimate to ask, "What's in it for me?" Which is itself an element of critical inquiry. Note that secular ethics can (or at least should) withstand this question: I concur, for example, with the prohibition of stealing because I want to protect my own property, to my own benefit.

Melpomene said...

Interlude: A Greek Tragedy

[The curtain rises on a scene of confusion]

Liberal (pompously) – I prefer to cling to uncertainty until my knowledge can be proved (with the single exception of my knowledge of this principle, which cannot be questioned).

Muslim (doggedly) – I prefer to cling to certainty until ignorance can be proved. I think you’re cheating

Liberal (superciliously) – Unlike you, I can think for myself and, inasmuch as I am my own authority, I am right about everything I think. Since you Muslims disagree with me, you must be wrong.

Muslim (resignedly) – I can think about a lot of things for myself, but I cannot know everything, that is why I rely on revelation, both general and personal. This gives me the certainty I prefer, and that we collectively actually need, while avoiding your hubris (I am not God). And that makes you wrong.

Liberal (irritated) – Yeah, well anyway, just shut up and let us run things. You lot are barbarians.

Muslim (frustrated) – what have your lot ever done to inspire confidence? For every Chomsky there’s a Bush, and who ends up running things? It sure ain’t the perfessor (or any disempowered, Californian ex-hippy).

Liberal (angrily) – F**k you and the horse you rode in on!

Muslim (provocatively) – we’ll see about that mate!

Politician (ex machina) – Thoughtcrime! Lock ‘em up!

Philosophy professor (off stage, right) – I read the Telegraph. Can I keep my job please?

Poet (hopefully) – the rest is silence

[Curtain]

Stephen Law said...

Hello Melpomene

I think you are muddling up my sort of liberal with a relativist. Shame on you! E.g. You say:

Liberal: "Unlike you, I can think for myself and, inasmuch as I am my own authority, I am right about everything I think."

This is crude relativism. In fact, anyone who, like me, thinks there's some point to think critically, in terms of getting nearer to the truth, rejects this sort of relativism (if whatever you believe is true, there's no point thinking, as the position you end up after thinking will be no more "true" than the one you started with).

You also say:

Liberal: "I prefer to cling to uncertainty until my knowledge can be proved (with the single exception of my knowledge of this principle, which cannot be questioned)."

Actually, I think that even the principle that everything should be questioned - should be questioned! No hypocrisy there, then.

Also, to question is not to reject. You can still think critically about things you nevertheless believe proved beyond all reasonable doubt are true.

Philosophers do it all the time.

These two charges(relativism, and hypocrisy) are standard U.S. right-wing charges made against "liberals". The criticisms may indeed apply to some U.S. relativist "liberals", but not to the sort of liberalism advocated here.

Check out my entries on relativism.

Melpomene said...

OK Mr Law, you can keep your job. But you're not the only 'liberal' on this blog and theiy're not all philosophers like you.Check out Anticant's website, to name but one.

anticant said...

Thanks for the plug, Melpomene! As a barefoot philosopher, I keep on trying to inject some realism and common sense into this too abstract debate. As a businessman of my acquaintance once memorably said, "let's cut out all the piss and wind, and get on with the job".

Surely all sensible and decent people, of all religions or none, wish to live in a society where they are not attacked, either verbally or physically - and much less killed - by those who disagree with them. The alternative is a totalitarian regime in which one opinion mercilessly rules the roost. Having spent much blood and treasure during the last century ridding ourselves of such regimes, non-Muslim Europeans are not prepared to have another foisted on them in the name of 'Allah' or anyone else.

It would seem - though I am subject to correction - that by teaching the children in his care that the 'truth' of Islam is not to be questioned, Ibrahim Lawson is preparing the way for such a totalitarian, intolerant regime.

Early on in these threads, he asked whether non-Muslims perceived Islam as a threat to British society. In response, I asked him whether he thought that Islam is incompatible with an open, pluralistic, tolerant democracy; and what he teaches his children about tolerance and 'infidels'.

So far, he has not answered. If he wishes to continue to be taken seriously by non-Muslims, it is now time for him to do so.