Friday, April 07, 2006

If a tree falls on a postmodernist in the forest, does the forest exist?

Leo Strauss, in his classic book "Natural Right and History," answers the relativists and postmodernists who hold that a profusion of different moralities throughout history disproves the notion of an objective morality:
Some of the greatest natural right teachers have argued that, precisely if natural right is rational, its discovery presupposes the cultivation of reason, and therefore natural right will not be known universally: one ought not even to expect any real knowledge of natural right among savages. In other words, by proving that there is no principle of justice that has not been denied somewhere or at some time, one has not yet proved that any given denial was justified or reasonable. [emphasis added]

That's right, he called 'em savages. Y'know, that's what you call people who's morality includes human sacrifice, cannibalism, and a host of other crazy rituals. Just because some group of people believed they were right in doing things that we would think contrary to morality does not prove that they were justified in this belief. Obviously, if a people live a life steeped in ritualism, superstition and ignorance, skittering naked across the savannahs/plains/forests/jungles/etc, it's not like they've developed the body of philosophical thought necessary to undergo a thorough examination of their views from the perspective of universal human rationality.

When a postmodernists and diversiphiles say that since not all cultures have Western-type liberal democratic values then these values must therefore not be objectively right or of potential universality, they are engaging in the logical fallacy of assuming that since people believe different things there must not be one among the various different beliefs that is right.

Believing this doesn't make these people "intellectuals," it doesn't make them subtle, nuanced thinkers, it doesn't mean they possess a sophistication lacking in us cretins that believe in objective right and wrong--it simply means they're idiots (apologies for the brusque choice of words, but I think I'm entitled to at least two raw, personal insults per blog post--consider both of them expended, dumbass).

Postmodernists believe that they have a privileged vantage point in history, that, since anthropology has shown them so many morally diverse cultures, they alone amongst all the philosophers throughout time, now realize that values are historically contingent. They don't think previous philosophers, say Socrates, knew about such profusion of values, and so naively believed in a universal human nature and in universal reason. But Strauss easily deflates this arrogant notion:
Furthermore, it has always been known that different notions of justice obtain at different times and in different nations. It is absurd to claim that the discovery of a still greater number of such notions by modern students has in any way affected the fundamental issue. Above all, knowledge of the indefinitely large variety of notions of right and wrong is so far from being incompatible with the idea of natural right that it is the essential condition for the emergence of that idea: realization of the variety of notions of right is the incentive for the quest for natural right.

The smug relativism of self-proclaimed intellectuals has always bothered me. They wear their intellectual vanity proudly, as if it were a suit of armor capable of deflecting "ignorant" views of universal right based on human nature. But such vanity is not the product of thought or rational consideration of all competing views. Rather, it is a surrender, a throwing up of the hands, a descent into a sort of nihilism at the prospect of actually having to judge between the legitimacy of so many different views. I mean, wouldn't that hurt someone's feelings? Can't we all just be right? Or, better yet, none of us? Best just to retreat into unquestioned socialist utilitarianism and grab-yer-ankles multiculturalist tolerance.

Okay, I need three. Morons.


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