The Special Standing of Moral Skepticism

The Electric Agora

by Daniel A. Kaufman

I want to describe a kind of moral skepticism that I believe enjoys special standing.  It is skeptical, insofar as it denies that there are good reasons for believing in moral properties.   It has special standing, because unlike general skepticism – by which I mean, skepticism about the external world – the doubts it describes are real, not hypothetical, and derive not from the exploitation of formal gaps in the logic of justification or the mere contemplation of human fallibility, but from reflection upon the substance of actual moral practice.

This does not mean that I myself am a moral skeptic.  The jury’s still out on that one, though I do seem to vacillate between a moral intuitionism and moral skepticism that might very well be two sides of the same coin.  Certainly, there are moral experiences and moral performances, or at least, there are experiences…

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Lessons Better Learned

Counter-Narratives Regarding the 2016 Election

In the wake of the recent election, people have been trying to figure out why Democrats lost what looked like a sure thing. Dan Kaufman at Electric Agora took a more or less historical approach, showing the relatively poor track record Democrats have had for winning the White House (back to Nixon). [1] He used this to construct a narrative about social forces present within the US (a silent majority) that liberals (in general) and Democrats (in specific) fail to work with, or openly antagonize and so lose. Using this concept, the recent Democratic blunder was blamed on the behavior of liberals and progressives, in particular their increased emphasis on identity-politics that acted to alienate important elements of US society and set up a counter reaction. Dan pointed to Bill Clinton as a positive role model for Democrats to consider, someone who understood the social forces they have to work with, if they want to regain the White House. My intention is to challenge much of Dan’s position, offering counter narratives and alternative take-away lessons.

But let me start by saying it’s not that Dan’s position is clearly wrong. If anything, the reason I feel the need to respond is that it is both plausible and compelling, particularly to those who were not happy with certain elements/activities emerging among the left in recent years. What’s more, others are coming up with similar narratives.[2]

The problem is that I do not see this narrative addressing any of the major factors that decided this election or perhaps any other election. We don’t need to accept the hypothesis of Bill Clinton being wise to the needs of some silent majority to reach the important, pragmatic conclusions Dan makes (which I happen to agree with). Most stand on their own merits. On the other hand, embracing this narrative potentially blinds Democrats to more important factors in play during the election. My hope is to convince readers (and Dan) that understanding and in some ways mastering these other factors are crucial for the success of future liberal campaigns (whether Democrat or third party).

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On Philosophy and Its Progress (a response — of sorts — to Massimo Pigliucci)

The Electric Agora

by Daniel A. Kaufman

Massimo Pigliucci has just finished publishing his book, The Nature of Philosophy: How Philosophy Makes Progress and Why It Matters, in serial form over at his blog, Plato’s Footnote. (1)  Just the other day, the first of three video-dialogues on the book aired on the Sophia program, over at MeaningofLife.TV.  (2)  Needless to say, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the nature of our subject, and thought it might be a good time to share some of my own views, here at the Electric Agora.

My typical response, when asked to give any sort of definitive characterization of philosophy, is to say that it can’t be done and that what I will do instead is list a number of representative philosophical questions.  The list typically looks something like this:

What are good reasons for believing something?

How do sounds, marks, gestures, and…

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Ethical Eating, Virtue, and Obligation

A discussion that leads from the ethics of eating meat to the different flavors of Virtue Ethics.

The Electric Agora

by Daniel A. Kaufman

My conversation with Massimo Pigliucci on ethical eating and on the difference between virtue-theoretical and modern moral philosophical conceptions of obligation and duty.

Originally aired May 1, 2016, as part of the Sophia Program, for MeaningofLife.TV, a channel of the BloggingHeads.TV network.

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