Friday, April 04, 2008

Product Description
"McGinn's latest brings together moral philosophy and literary analysis in a way that illuminates both. Setting out to enrich the domain of moral reflection by showing the value of literary texts as sources of moral illumination, McGinn starts by setting out an uncompromisingly realist ethical theory, arguing that morality is an area of objective truth and genuine knowledge[!!]
So I took a not so wild guess and lo and behold...
He's a fucking Catholic. What would I expect from the author of The Mysterious Flame? He might as well be discussing the Trinity. The experience of consciousness is irreducible, you idiot, not the mechanics.

The Enlightenment didn't give us a legacy of atheism it gave as a return to certainty more ideological and inflexible than that of the Church, replacing a textual God with the logical machine. God is a story and stories are subject to interpretations and reinterpretations. It's the interpretations that define us, the stories are only the means; and though some want those stories to have foundations, others don't care. For the latter the thought that constant self-definition and redefinition is all there is outside of eating, sex and death, is a truism. But that simple assumption, the ancient legacy of village atheists, horrifies religious intellectuals.
McGinn replaces the ambiguities of experience, of the theater of man and man-made laws with Mystery. Priests are one thing and mostly harmless, theologians are another: they're philosophers.
What a lying jackass.
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McGinn:
I am struck by this passage from Tocqueville: "I have previously stated that the principle of the sovereignty of the people hovers over the whole political system of the Anglo-Americans. Every page of this book will reflect certain fresh instances of this doctrine. In nations were it exists, every individual takes an equal share in sovereign power and participates equally in the government of the state. Thus he is considered as enlightened, virtuous, strong as any of his fellow men." Toqueville's point is that democracy presupposes that each person is as competent and virtuous as any other. But of course this is false: people differ widely in intelligence and virtue. Note that he says "considered" not "really". So democracy rests on a lie. How, then, to defend democracy? Well, if truth, reason, virtue, etc are not objective qualities that people exemplify to varying degrees, but are rather relative to each person, we have a way out: everyone is as smart and good as anyone else to himself. Then democracy rests on no lie, since everyone really is cognitively and morally equal. Relativism steps in to save democracy from its noble lie. Thus relativism finds a foothold. But relativism is rubbish; so where does that leave democracy?
The question is whether absolutism can be defended without relying on theology.

The rules of civil society are no more absolute or universal than the rules of tennis. Democracy is a system of rules and more than that (though most students of political liberalism don't get the point) of multiple reciprocal and conflicting obligations. The law of non-contradiction does not apply to lived experience. So to choose "truth" over rules is to be a lawbreaker, while to choose "truth" over obligations is to be an eccentric. Like Shakespeare, I'm more interested in games and plays than truth. Like Shakespeare apparently, I'm an atheist. But then maybe plays are a form of truth. Maybe the game, and the description of the game, is the thing. And who is a better describer of humanity than Shakespeare? The search for facts is called the search for truth, but is driven mostly by a theology of mystery: the mystery of unknown facts (of mountains not yet climbed.)

Science is asocial and amoral, and it needs to be. I'm not a defender of Lysenkoism but knowledge is not wisdom. History is the interpretation of the past in light of the values of the present. Without historical knowledge there would be no way to discover the "truth" of the relation of McGinn's philosophy to his Catholic upbringing. As it is McGinn supplies no argument for the moral superiority of civility over barbarism that does not come down to faith. He's a factmonger as metaphysician.
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The experience of consciousness is irreducible as experience. Science explains sense/experience but cannot be it; sense/experience can not be science. The mechanics of illusion is not illusion. If sense/ experience is epiphenomenal, that's a problem, but not one to solve.

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