"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thompson in the Race

For those of us who consider ourselves social conservatives, Rudy Giuliani’s frontrunner status for the presidential nomination is problematic. As the mainstream media and liberal pundits have been doing for months, they play up the problem this presents to the conservative coalition, and not without a certain amount of glee. They would like to think that this somehow represents some permanent rent in the fabric of the coalition that has dominated Republican politics since Reagan.

They are of course wrong, because where else would conservatives of any stripe go? The Democrat Party? That’s funny. A Third Party? A perfect recipe for irrelevance. Sit out and let Democrats win? Hardly a solution that will show the Republican Party they mean business. Be assured that if Giuliani does get the nomination some, maybe many, will sit out the election. This is what is known as sacrificing the better for the best. How anyone could imagine that Hillary Clinton would be a better choice than Giuliani is beside me.

Of course they wouldn’t actually think that. Rather it would be a “to hell with the Republican Party” move. That’s great. We get Hillary and a Democrat Congress and Senate. This would certainly show the Republican Party that alienating social conservatives is not a good move, but it would be too big a price to pay for proving a point. I would rather put my chips on Giuliani knowing that the acceptance of his social liberalism is an aberration due to our war on Islamic radicalism.

But it looks like we may have another option very soon. Fred Thompson made it known on Monday that he is going to be a candidate for the nomination. I would say that many social conservatives are very happy this will be the case. This gives us another option for a candidate who looks and sounds presidential and who is a solid conservative.

It is going to be very interesting how Thompson plays Giuliani’s social liberalism, whether he attacks it, ignores it or takes pot shots here and there. Social conservatives will be closely attuned to how he handles this. My guess is that he will make the argument against Rudy by playing up his own socially conservative bone fides, with maybe a pot shot here and there. I would further guess, that if Thompson plays his cards right Giuliani is in trouble. His 9/11 credentials are formidable and impressive, as is his standing up to liberal interest groups while he was governor. Yet his social liberalism is a huge liability in Republican primaries. Thompson brings none of the liabilities of McCain or Romney and as many or more strengths. Things are going to get very interesting.

47 comments:

The Mystic said...

What, exactly, makes one a social conservative in your opinion?

Mike D'Virgilio said...

That is a good question. I would say being a religious conservative would help, but there are social conservatives who are not necessarily religious (Tom Wolfe?). But that person needs to do more than pay lip service to religion. Being pro-life has to be a foundation, but there are some pro-life Democrats who are liberals in everything else.

I think it is more than that. It is more a view of human nature and the universe, a worldview that sees individuals and not the state as ultimate arbiters of their own liberty. While not Manichaean, they must believe in right and wrong, good and evil, that man is not ultimately perfectible, but he is ultimately responsible, and I could go on and on, but alas, don't have the time.

Please let me know in your opinion, or anybody else for that matter, what makes one a social conservative.

The Mystic said...

So, social conservativism is a view about the universe in which every human is able to decide what to do with his or her own freedom, I guess. Absolutes, such as good and evil exist, and religion (a specific religion?) plays a part somehow?

Mike D'Virgilio said...

Can't do it justice in a couple paragraphs, especially in the middle of the day when I need to make a living. You choose not to answer your own question?

The Mystic said...

I don't know what it is. That's why I asked.

Kathy Hutchins said...

For me, an essential element of social conservatism is embodied in this idea: the traditions and institutions that arise organically in a society serve essential functions that are not always apparent on the surface, and that a society tinkers with at its peril. This is the idea that unites thinkers as different as FA Hayek and GK Chesterton. A further corollary is that these organic institutions are small-scale, depend on personal interactions and relationships, and are the opposite of the behemoth technobureaucratic institutions that "progressives" from Woodrow Wilson onwards have been touting as the hope of a civilized mankind.

The Mystic said...

Would it then be accurate to postulate the following:

If you support keeping traditions around because of a fear that if they are done away with, society will crumble, then you possess an essential element of what makes one a social conservative.

Is that correct?

Tom Van Dyke said...

What do you mean by "fear"? It tends to be a pejorative implying irrationality, since we seldom if ever speak of rational fear.

I'm sure you didn't mean to beg the question.

Prudence is considered a virtue my almost every philosophical system. Is virtue born of fear? (Well, Thomas Hobbes might think so.) If that means we look both ways before we cross the street because we fear getting run over, then sure, use "fear."

To extend the metaphor, besides prudence, if we're to drag our society across the highway, we should be reasonably certain that the grass is greener over there. It will be difficult if not impossible to get back.

Nice to see you again, Mr. Mystic. You'll find nice people here willing to engage you, although you'll find striving for a neutrality of language serves the spirit of honest inquiry. If you'd like to dig below mere sophistries, Ms. Hutchins' use of "organic" is key here. She uses the term quite purposefully.

Mike D'Virgilio said...

I've been thinking about this question, and came up with a simple answer. A social conservative is a conservative who is pro-life! I think Ms. Hutchins gets at the larger picture of what a conservative is or what conservatism is, of whatever stripe that may be.

George Will today gets at the larger question in an article titled, "The Case for Conservatism" in The Washington Post. When we append the word "social" to conservative I believe the religious question is an integral part of it.

The Mystic said...

All you gotta say is that you don't like the word "fear", Tom.

Would it be better rephrased thusly, then:

If you support keeping traditions around because you believe that if they are done away with, society will crumble, then you possess an essential element of what makes one a social conservative.


Also, that's not "begging the question". If you "beg the question", you assume the result of your argument in one of the premises. For instance, if you want to prove that the Bible is correct, you would say "Well it says God wrote it, and God is always correct." - you presume the Bible's correctness in its assertion that God wrote it.

I didn't beg the question, but perhaps I used a term that describes the situation poorly, so I modified it.

Is what I said better, then?



To Mike: Do you mean "pro-life" in the anti-abortion sense, or in a more general sense?

To Kathy: Is my rephrased definition correct, then?

To Tom: I changed the definition for you.

The Mystic said...

Sidebar: I know the Bible doesn't say God wrote it - the example was only for demonstrative purposes and doesn't have any bearing on reality other than correctly showing what "begging the question" is.

Matt Huisman said...

If TVD won’t mind me stealing from his Chesterton, here goes:

“Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father.”

The reason social conservatives support traditions is because they have “earned” their place. Over time. Which means that most of the tradeoffs involved have already been worked out. Your “definition” rankles because it sets up social conservatism as a set of superstitions unthinkingly clung to by those nostalgic for the good old days.

While it may be true that the good old days weren’t always good, the inability of progressives to recognize (or respect) the thought that lies behind tradition makes one wonder how well their new methods have been considered.

The Mystic said...

So then you'd assert that every tradition in place in a stable country has been worked out to the point that the most problematic tradeoffs have been eradicated?

Interesting - it seems to me that that very concept entails the idea that tradition isn't clung to, but rather evolves over time in order to work out the tradeoffs.

Do you think, maybe, that we've reached a point in our country's evolution that the traditions in place need no further evolution and should stand as they are due to the fact that they stabilize society?

Would that be an accurate definition of a social conservative, then?

Mike D'Virgilio said...

Actually, Mr. Mystic (assuming you are a Mr., my apologies if not)actually the Bible says "all Scripture is God-breathed" which is as close as you can get to saying God wrote it. We do not call it the Word of God for nothing.

I do mean pro-life in the anti-abortion sense, but as a Christian that respect for life extends further than just abortion. Rudy could not be considered a social conservative precisely because he believes abortion should be legal. He's a solid conservative in so many ways, but misses the boat in my opinion here.

Matt, some great thoughts and put well. Thanks.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Do you think, maybe, that we've reached a point in our country's evolution that the traditions in place need no further evolution and should stand as they are due to the fact that they stabilize society?

The philosophical godfather of conservatism is the late 18th English (actually Irish) Edmund Burke, who acknowledged that societies must grow or die. We must never stop asking if x should be changed, but proceed prudently in changing it.

This is where "organic" comes in.

Will society "crumble" if we tear out its foundations? Depends what you mean by "crumble." People killing each other in the streets, the family demolished and the children condemned to a near-inextricable cycle of ignorance and poverty?

Oh, wait, we're describing Washington D.C.

The pendulum does seem to be swinging back the other way, but millions have suffered in between, and there is no guarantee that the pendulum will fully right itself.

Burke was quite progressive in his way: he opposed slavery and supported home rule for Ireland and the American revolution.

But he was an early critic of the French Revolution and correctly predicted that its attempt to completely reinvent man, his nature, and his history would lead to disaster.

(And sorry, Mike, that the Bible is God's word because it says it is is tautological.)

(And Matt, quoting Chesterton is surely encouraged. He's certainly not "mine"---he belongs to the ages. Which is sorta your point..)

The Mystic said...

So..

You believe that the tradtions that exist in society today are perfected in that they stabilize society without having any real down sides. You believe that if they are done away with, society will suffer instability and the society will be much worse off than before when they had the traditions to stabilize it.

Is that right?

Tom Van Dyke said...

No.

The Mystic said...

So then what is it?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Who said anything about perfection? There are always downsides.

But sometimes, and often, the cure is worse than the affliction. Life, and society itself, is fragile. You don't reach for the high colonic everytime you feel a twinge.

The Mystic said...

Ok, so this then:

If you are a social conservative, you believe that the tradtions that exist in society today provide stabilization to society that outweighs their downsides. You believe that if they are done away with, society will suffer instability and the society will be much worse off than before when it had the traditions to stabilize it.


Is that right? I bolded that one part because it seems to me that an essential part of what you're saying is that you have strong support not just for any tradition but for the ones that specifically exist in (I'm presuming) America currently. You seem to have strong support for Christian tradition.

So, maybe to make it more specific to our case at hand, would this be better:

If you are a social conservative, you believe that the Christian tradtions that exist in American society today provide stabilization to society that outweighs their downsides. You believe that if they are done away with, society will suffer instability and the society will be much worse off than before when it had the traditions to stabilize it.


How's that?

Mike D'Virgilio said...

Tom, tautological or not, the witness of Scripture is a very big reason we protestants believe it is the word of God. To discount what Scripture itself says is to discount what Scripture itself says. Is that tautological enough for you? I'm not sure what a Catholic would say in this case, so tell me. Is there some external source to Scripture that somehow "proves" it is the word of God? What is your point?

Tom Van Dyke said...

If you are a social conservative, you believe that the tradtions that exist in society today provide stabilization to society that outweighs their downsides. You believe that if they are done away with, society will suffer instability and the society will be much worse off than before when it had the traditions to stabilize it.

Nope.

outweighs their downsides

society will suffer instability

society will be much worse off



Nobody said any of that, although each is a real possibility. But not a certainty. You've glossed over the Burke part. And the "organic" part.

You have continually rephrased (and badly) what has been stated quite plainly, perhaps to get the ducks to sit still so they are more easily shot.

It's been 20-odd posts now, and you've yet to make a point. Anyone else would accuse you of trolling. You've been shown an awful lot of good will by the folks around here; please don't make them feel foolish for doing so.

Tom Van Dyke said...

To discount what Scripture itself says is to discount what Scripture itself says. Is that tautological enough for you?

Yes.

I'm not sure what a Catholic would say in this case, so tell me.

Oh, we were all one church until 1500 or so. We still are, by me, altho I dunno about the Mormons.

Is there some external source to Scripture that somehow "proves" it is the word of God?

Something about how biblical prophecies have been fulfilled. Unfortunately, they were either about Jesus or Israel. There was something about the city of Tyre being destroyed, but I think it just changed its name.

What is your point?

Just that those who don't believe in the Bible (and some downright hate it) aren't going to be swayed by its self proof. In fact, they go into an about-face.

But I see you were just clearing up a textual point, so I'm sorry for jumping in, although that clarification doesn't really further the cause.

The Mystic said...

Well damn, fine, you give me a clear definition, then. I don't care who gives it, I was just asking what it meant.

The Mystic said...

Also, for your reference, Mike said:

Which means that most of the tradeoffs involved have already been worked out.

That's where the "outweighs their downsides" came from. He seems to be implying that.

I took Mike's quote:

"the traditions and institutions that arise organically in a society serve essential functions that are not always apparent on the surface, and that a society tinkers with at its peril"

combined with your

"Will society "crumble" if we tear out its foundations? Depends what you mean by "crumble." People killing each other in the streets, the family demolished and the children condemned to a near-inextricable cycle of ignorance and poverty?

Oh, wait, we're describing Washington D.C."


to mean that society will become unstable if traditions are removed. That does seem to be what you're indicating.

and finally, Mike's:

"that a society tinkers with at its peril"

Made me consider that he believes that if traditions are tinkered with, it will destabilize society. That seems like what he was saying.


I'm not trying to say I'm right, I just want a definition - that was all I asked for. No one's given one, so I've made various attempts to give one based on their claims - I'm not making up the definition, I'm using what has been said. If you've got one, by all means, let me know.

mjwatson said...

Any chance for a discussion on the actual content of the post?

I'd be interested in what the other Reform Clubbers think of FT.

(might be time for TVD to repost the original stuff about how the RC got started, Chesterton and all that. ).

Mike D'Virgilio said...

I didn't say this in my post, but when FT gets in the race he's my guy. We all like Rudy because he doesn't take crap from liberals, as he proved in NYC, but I think FT doesn't suffer fools gladly either (witness his reply to Michael Moore re: Cuba).

Going through all this stuff about what a social conservative is doesn't get us anywhere, because we all know what a social conservative is. Rudy isn't, FT is. So the latter would get my vote before the former. If Rudy ends up winning the nomination, then he will get my vote and support for the reasons I state in my post. Go Fred!

The Mystic said...

I still don't know what a social conservative is. Can anyone give a nice one-post definition?

Winston Smith said...

The Mystic directed me to this discussion...I'm not getting into this, but I do just want to say:

I think you're wrong, Tom. The Mystic's paraphrases are clear and apparently offered in the spirit of honest inquiry. In fact, his formulations are clearer and more precise than any of the others offered here. Giving a clear formulation of conservatism is hard. The Mystic's just honestly acknowledging HOW hard, and trying to elicit some clarification.

Incidentally, the Mystic didn't ask me to write that. He just directed me to this discussion saying that I might find it interesting. I don't always agree with him, but I think he's right on target here.

I'll take a whack at my own formulation before I vanish:

Conservatives and liberals lie on a continuum. On one end of this continuum lies the claim that the fact that something is traditional is very, very important. On the other end lies the claim that such facts are not important at all. Conservatives lie farther toward the former end, whereas liberals lie farther toward the latter.

IMHO liberals tend to undervalue tradition just a bit, and conservatives radically over-value it...but then I'm mostly a liberal, so make of that what you will.

So far as I can tell, the fact that something is traditional is only very weak evidence in its favor. Slavery was traditional, as was the subjegation of women, monarchy, state-sponsored religion, etc., etc..

All we find out when we find out that x is traditional is that it hasn't yet killed off its practitioners. And that ain't much.

Actually, FWIW, I'm not really sure that views about tradition really get to the heart of the liberalism/conservatism dispute...but I'm not sure what does.

The Mystic said...

I have a feeling that when a definition is given, it will be something like this:

"Traditions are good in that they stabilize society, and therefore, if they are tinkered with, we risk destabilizing society. Should we decide to modify traditions, then, we should be sure that the modification will be worthwhile in that the destabilizing aspects will be outweighed by the freedoms that are introduced as a result of the modification."

Which, of course, is a completely uninteresting assertion that anyone would agree with. Obviously, when you're analyzing something for potential modification - anything, not just traditions - you're going to be sure that the benefits of the modification outweigh the risks. That's claim doesn't help to define wahat a social conservative is because it's a claim that both liberals and conservatives would agree with, since it breaks down to the basic formulation:

"If you are going to modify x, be sure that the modifications will provide benefits that outweigh the penalties."



Clearly, any rational person would agree with this.



However, given that social conservatives seem so staunch about keeping and protecting traditions, I'm forced to believe that the true position is something like this:

"The traditions that currently exist in society are very close to being perfected in that they have very few drawbacks to their implementation when it comes to sacrificing freedom for stability. The very, very few freedoms that are being unnecessarily restricted by the traditions do need to be addressed and fixed, but overall, the freedoms they restrict are necesary for the stability of society."

I have a feeling that's what is really being said here. Since you support tradition so strongly, surely you believe something along these lines - namely, that traditions currently in place are very good ones that serve very good functions in that they stabilize society and the freedoms that are restricted are restricted because it is necessary to do so. It's not that the traditions must never be modified, but it is the case, seemingly, that you believe that the current traditions are in need of very little modification.

I'm not criticizing this view in this post - I just want to know what the view is. I think I've given it a fair portrayal.

Is that not correct?

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Traditions are good in that they stabilize society, and therefore, if they are tinkered with, we risk destabilizing society. Should we decide to modify traditions, then, we should be sure that the modification will be worthwhile in that the destabilizing aspects will be outweighed by the freedoms that are introduced as a result of the modification."

Which, of course, is a completely uninteresting assertion that anyone would agree with.



You'd think, but that is not so in practice.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is always in play, which is why the burden of proof relies on the "reformers."

Prove to me gay marriage will hurt the American family, they say. In the meantime we'll use the power of the courts to alter society by fiat, in the name of "fairness."

Nuh-uh.

First you have to prove, or let's say persuade, a majority of folks that all sexualities are created equal. However, last time I checked, only one produces children, and the continuity of a society rests with the next generations, not the current one.

Prove to me that a fetus is a human being, they say. In the meantime, we'll use the power of the courts to declare that it is not.

Nuh-uh. Not taking that one lying down,

Good to see Mr. Smith. There is a certain tautology in saying traditions are good because they are old and they're what got us here from the primordial ooze. However, slavery is a fine example of how a blind defense of tradition doesn't pass the smell test.

Remember, Burke was a "progressive" in his way, too. It's often true, and a failing, that conservatism isn't progressive enough and is prone to a knee-jerk defense of the status quo. However, that's not at its philosophical root.

And it's often true that liberalism is the font of positive change, however, it's also the font of unintended consequences.

Prudence, which is a virtue after all, lies on the side of the conservatives, which is why I lean that way. Without prudence, all is lost.

Now, our system provides for federalism, which allows the individual states to experiment with social change without tossing the babies (literally, sometimes) out with the bathwater. This was the pre-Roe v. Wade condition until the Supreme Court short-circuited it with an ideological pronouncement, and destroyed the "organic" method of societal change.

There is much to be said here, as it's emblematic of the whole left/right devide, especially what we mean by freedom, liberty, and rights, which I've learned through discussions like these we share no common definitions, let alone understanding.

Thanks for a budding good exchange, all.

Tom Van Dyke said...

MJ Watson, I would like to take up your idea. Please do email me at tomlosangeles at yahoo dot com.

The Mystic said...

All I'm looking for is a definition. You quoted my definition, and then..talked about specific issues. I'm not really looking to debate specific issues, I'm just trying to figure out what the definition of "social conservativism" is so I can figure out where you're coming from.

I'm not talking about gay marriage or whether or not a fetus is a person - I don't really even know why you brought either up.

I'm not trying to debate specific issues with you, but are you saying, then, that social conservativism means simply that you are prudent in choosing when to modify tradition?

It seems like you want to say liberals are not prudent in their decision making, and that is the difference between liberals and social conservatives. But then, why call yourself a social conservative if it only means that you are prudent?

I don't know what you're trying to say - could you be more clear? Was my definition correct or incorrect? All I want to know is what someone means when he or she claims to be a "social conservative", as you guys here at the reform club see it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What can I say? I'm not very into definitions---they depend on the skill of the definer, and can rise and fall on his skill and not anything resembling truth or understanding.

It's been my experience on the internet that as soon as definitions are insisted upon (and god forbid somebody starts cutting and pasting the dictionary), useful discussion is at an end. It is an invitation to sophistry, not philosophy.

How many grains make a heap?

Perhaps you'll see why those here in attendance haven't risen to the bait. They know exactly what your asking, and have declined the gambit. Mr D'Virgilio already answered you:

Going through all this stuff about what a social conservative is doesn't get us anywhere, because we all know what a social conservative is.

He knows you know the answer to your own question, and after the initial courtesy of reply, has declined to play out this script any further.

We all know what someone means when they call themselves "progressive," or a "free-thinker," haha.

We have touched on a few worthwhile things such as tradition isn't respected because it's tradition, but because it's been road-tested. There is much to discuss, like whether government should serve society or the other way around---which is more "organic"?

Is "organic" good? Is ideology superior? Inferior? What are rights? Are they organic or just a convention of social contract? Is society purely conventional or does it have its roots in man's nature?

The history of political philosophy cannot be distilled to a single post in a comments section. I wish it could.

The Mystic said...

Soo..requesting a definition "is an invitation to sophistry, not philosophy".

Probably the weirdest claim I've ever heard.


This is so strange - if everyone apparently knows what social conservativism is (aside from me), why is it so difficult to give a definition? How could you possibly think that definitions are not a part of philosophy? If you aren't clear about what you're saying, how could anyone ever really agree or disagree? That doesn't make any sense.

Also - why do you presume I know what it means? I wouldn't have asked if I knew what it meant.

The only possible way I can see that you think requesting a definition is "bait" and a "gambit" is if you think nothing can be defined - which means, I suppose, that you think no one can ever really understand one another, which would be a strange opinion to have. Why communicate if it's pointless?


Seriously, no one can give a definition? That doesn't bother anyone that there appears to be a total inability to define the term you use to describe yourself (and yourselves, I presume)?

That's pretty weird.

I want to know what you mean, and I have no idea why you think I would know what you mean if you don't even appear to know what you mean.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Are you kidding? How many grains make a pile? If you read that splendid muddle by Rorty, the Great Minds can't even define what a definition is.

Get off it, and say what you're thinking. If you screw up the words a little bit, I'll keep the sophists off your back. Promise. I invited you here, so it's a sacred honor thing.

I dig dissent. I encourage it. I live for it. I protect it. Go for it, but keep in mind George Bernard Shaw was pretty damn good. Bring your "A" game.

Matt Huisman said...

I've been away awhile, but I thought Kathy provided a pretty solid riff on how social conservatism operates - which you then butchered with notions of "fear" and "stability". Conservatism does not value stability for its own sake; rather, it desires what is good (as any -ism should).

Conservative economic principles bear this out, where stability takes a definite back seat to the good (read: growth) and are willing to take an amazingly dynamic road to get there.

The point you seem to continually miss - which Kathy implied but did not explicity state - is that conservatism (at least here in America) starts from a (Western/Judeo-Christian) foundation that it believes is good. And so tinkering should be done judiciously.

John H. Watson said...

The search for the perfect definition is one that has a very healthy pedigree. Plato always wanted a definition that worked for every time and instance. See how he pushes for such a definition for piety in the Euthyphro (or does he? perhaps he's showing how some things can be so defined).

So, ironically, the Western "tradition" affords the Mystic with about as big a name as you can get for his pursuit of a perfect definition of "social conservative."

But there were footnotes to Plato, and Aristotle provided one in noting that you can't exact more precision than the subject allows. Plato's favorite subject was geometry, Aristotle's was biology. Biology is messier, not as exact. Aristotle's quip comes in the Nicomachean ethics. Ethics can be messy. Social conservatism, whatever else it is about, is about ethics and morality.

Social conservatism will not yield to a perfect definition. It's not as bad as Potter Stewart's obscenity, which he couldn't define but knew when he saw it, but it doesn't give a perfect geometric definition either.

So we can ask a question from a more recent philosopher of language and ask how the term is used. Here we get somewhere. As has been said already more or less, a social conservative in our political parlance is one who is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and is either religious himself or has a great respect for religion.

That's it. That's the working definition.

Now an even better question remains about the propriety of approaching a group of basketball players having a game in the park and repeatedly asking them why they aren't playing Parcheesi. That's not unlike approaching a thread about Fred Thompson and insisting repeatedly on changing the subject.

The Mystic said...

Thank you - if everyone agrees with that definition, that was all I wanted. That definition is clear and specific - a good definition by any standards. I don't see what was so hard about that.

The Mystic said...

By the way - I'm presuming, then, that this is the specific definition for this reform club:

"A social conservative in our political parlance is one who is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and is either Christian himself or has a great respect for Christianity."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dr. Watson, of course Plato is illustrating to the sophists the impossibility of making an equation of the human experience. It's more like a painting, with all its imprecision.

The current tension between the social sciences and philosophy (the seeking of good as Mr. D'Virgilio puts it, and indeed answering the first philsophical question, what is good?) was anticipated by the ancients.

The Mystic said...

Also - it probably won't do any good, but just so you don't get away with it -

Just because some people can't define "pile" does not mean that there is no such thing as a definition. In fact, if you think there's no possible way to define anything, as you appear to be alleging, the direct result of that is that no one can ever understand one another because no one will know what any of the words mean, since they will be definitionless - as you think there's no way to make a definition.

If that's so, why talk at all?

John H. Watson said...

I agree TVD, and the "can" in my parenthetical is meant to be a "can't" (I couldn't figure out how to edit my comment), though I do think Plato still looks for the certainty.

The Mystic said...

The Euthyphro pretty clearly is not an attempt at defending the concept of piety but rather a demonstration that the belief in piety and the gods suffered from serious philosophical flaws.

You could defend anything that way, though, I suppose. As soon as you discover internal inconsistencies (such as those demonstrated in the Euthyphro), just lapse into saying "Well I guess it can't be defined then" rather than admitting there are serious problems.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Of course, the height of Socrates' wisdom is "I only know that I do not know." Certainty is not philosophy's end.

And Euthyphro doesn't apply---Zeus was not all-wise, neither was he all-good. The question is one of the good, not of piety.

Definitions are fine, I suppose, for those who need them. I understand most people fine even if I miss a word or two. For example, "social conservative" means something different to Tom Wolfe and Pat Robertson. I understand them both as they understand themselves.

You might have a point with Euthyphro with Robertson, tho, altho the pickins are not so easy in this forum.

Matt Huisman said...

"Many later thinkers have defined it in discrepant ways, but a definition is something short of an understanding."

- Christopher Hitchens*


Is anyone other than me mystic-fied by the fact that a naturalist is demanding nothing less than certainty from supernaturalists?

[FWIW, Euthyphro does little for me. So-so-crates gets away with way too much, and is only useful in highlighting the necessity of an infinite Oneness in order to provide a foundation for meaning.]

* an except from Christopher Hitchens during a recent clock-cleaning by Doug Wilson on whether or not Christianity is Good.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Indeed. I'm pretty easy---if I can get someone to agree we're more than the sum of our atoms, it's a start. Already to Square Two. ;-)

Since Hitchens does not agree, he's useful only at Square One, where I adore him. (I even liked him before he became a warmonger.)

And of course, fine mind that he is, he agrees with this correspondent in that a definition is something short of an understanding.

(And BTW, the careful reader caught Kathy Hutchins' slipping in Woodrow Wilson, as in "making the world safe for democracy." The current Iraq adventure is likewise progressive, not conservative. I was disappointed our most recent gadfly didn't light on that.)