Posted by: L | June 5, 2007

Pete Singer on Martha Nussbaum..

Here’s philosopher Pete Singer calling Nussbaum out in a different context (not so different really) on just what I was talking about, her value-laden approach (meaning, biased in favor of what she thinks is good) — which she disguises as neutrality:

“For the substantial proportion of natural law theorists who work within the Roman Catholic tradition, the assumption of a divine creator poses no problem. But to the others, and indeed to anyone who has accepts a modern scientific view of our origins, the problem is insoluble, for evolutionary theory breaks the link between what is natural and what is good. Nature, understood in evolutionary terms, carries no moral value.”

Translated, that means the only way you can justify believing ‘x’ or ‘y’ is a “good thing” that everyone ought to have more of, is if you have a belief that can’t actually be explained by science…at least, not science as it is now.

Since it’s only your own belief, that leaves in you in a bit of a bind as to how to convince other people of it. Which means that when Ms. Nussbaum tells you that the law needs to achieve “x” social good, she’s really telling you her belief, not stating some immutable truth. Sigh.

Of course, we should struggle for what we consider “good.” On our own time and money (I am big on being scrupulous with OPM…Other People’s Money, whether that other person is a worker or a CEO).

But, we shouldn’t force people (through the state) to buy our theories of the good. They might have their own opinions. Beyond certain minimal things like life, liberty and property, people should be free to pursue what they want and do it whichever way they want, with the abilities they have. If that ends up leading to inequalities, so be it. (Here – I am not talking about current inequities caused by war, fraud, and force — that’s a corruption of the process and the inequality that comes out of that is wrong).

But absent fraud or force, I am OK with differences. Quotas don’t fit that minimal approach. They’re someone’s idea of what proportion of men and women, or ethnic groups, or whatever else needs to be represented in some activity.

Singer goes on:

“Though Nussbaum explicitly rejects the view that what is natural is good, she nevertheless comes perilously close to it when she speaks of the value of animals “flourishing.” This is a term often used by advocates of the natural law tradition [Elizabeth Anscombe is a notable example], because it combines a biological idea with evaluative overtones. If we define “flourishing” in a biological sense, than a man who has the means to acquire and maintain a harem of women who proceed to bear him dozens of children, is as flourishing as anyone can be. So, for that matter, are the women fortunate enough to be selected for the pampered and secure life child-bearing that membership of a strong, wealthy man’s harem involves. If we deny that such men and women are flourishing, we are introducing evaluations that need to be explained….”

Atta boy, Pete….Well said.
By the way, that doesn’t mean Singer is some kind of hard-hearted brute…he gives away 20% of his money to third-world children – but note, it’s his money…)

More here in “A Response to Martha Nussbaum”


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