I just finished the first week of the new semester. I’m teaching a course on ethics that I’ve never taught before, starting with ethical relativism. To my surprise, the students put up no resistance to the criticisms I made of relativism–despite the fact that students always tend to be relativists. I like to think they saw the force of reason and quietly abandoned their earlier beliefs. Maybe I’ve created a group of sensible moral universalists who can spread the message far and wide. Relativism is dead! Next is divine command theory, the attempt to base right and wrong in God’s will. Surely some of them believe that view, as so many people do. I wonder how they will respond when god-based ethics also collapses in front of them. I’m looking forward to the demolition. I’m sure God will approve–since he is at least not confused. If God did exist, wouldn’t he doubt his own existence?
I’ve been reading The Age of Fallibility by George Soros. It’s nice to see that a big-shot financier and philanthropist has such a genuine interest in philosophy, and recognizes its importance. The faults in his philosophy stem mainly from his adherence to Karl Popper’s concept of the open society. It’s quite wrong to think that an open (i.e. good) society is defined as one that acknowledges the limits of human knowledge. We are perfectly justified in the confidence we place in science and indeed in our basic political values (freedom, tolerance, equality, etc); and this confidence does nothing to diminish our openness. By contrast, medieval Europe stressed the unknowability of God’s nature and the limits of the human intellect, yet was as closed and repressive as can be. The difference between open and closed societies cannot be defined in a value-neutral way–as in the Popperian criterion of acknowledged fallibility. It must be defined by the specific values held, not by the way they are held–tentatively or confidently.
I’ve done a good bit of paddle-boarding this week, venturing into waves while standing. Altogether I’ve put in about twenty hours of practice and can now stay upright in rough water. I’ve even surfed some small waves here in Miami. People stare at me as if I’m walking on water. “Is that hard?” they ask. Yeah, I reply–takes a bit of practice. No one ever asks me if they can have a go. They just can’t bear the thought of falling embarrassingly over–as I have quite a few times. Consequently, they never learn anything.
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