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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Aah! A Twitterstorm of Fools!

Matt Yglesias has twittered the following: "Woman who have sex are the new serial killers, apparently: "

This has sent a flood of people my way who are all taunting me for thinking consensual sex is the same as serial killing.

Well, I don't know Yglesias's writings well, but hopefully he wrote this while on the verge of passing out drunk in some Adams Morgan dive bar at three AM, because it is written by someone seemingly oblivious to the use of reductio ad absurdum. The person I was critiquing had claimed that "Everyone gets to define their own morality." She likes this idea when it comes to consensual sex. What I sought to do was show her that, if she applied this idea consistently, she really wouldn't like all of the consequences. So I deliberately sought out a case that was quite unlike consensual sex, but one where, if she applied her principle consistently, she would be repulsed by the consequences.

The point is this: as I see it, if Carmon wants to defend the right of women to freely choose sexual partners when, how, why, where they want to do, she should claim, "It is objectively, morally correct that women should be able to do this."

But her claim that "Each person has a right to define their own morality" has disastrous consequences, which she herself won't like, as I have shown.

Get it, Matt?

18 comments:

  1. Your reductio ad absurdum was a miserable, wretched failure (and I mean that in the nicest way possible, as you know). But it didn't demonstrate any logical incoherence on your part. Just an uncharacteristically bad argument.

    Matt Yglesias's post, however, was a complete mangling of your point. A terribly incoherent point for a guy that's so celebrate. For his sake, I hope that's uncharacteristic as well.

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    1. "Your reductio ad absurdum was a miserable, wretched failure"

      Please demonstrate.

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    2. It's relying on the view that if someone thinks that there may be social construction of certain moral norms, that somehow implies that all moral norms are in the eyes of the beholder. I don't see how one follows from the other, and you certainly haven't demonstrated why one follows from the other.

      Ironically, you're almost making the same claim about Cameron that Yglesias made about you - that Cameron does not distinguish between the sexually prolific and serial killers.

      Yours was a cheap shot - not an argument - along the lines of "if we let gays marry, next thing you know they'll want to marry their dogs". You could do better than that - in fact you could simply say "I don't think sexual norms can change so easily" without even bringing in the serial killer non sequitor into it.

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    3. I'm actually personally willing to entertain the idea that society could in theory redefine the moral implications (the moral reality - as you put it) of serial killing. I don't think it ever would, but I'm willing to entertain that possibility.

      But I'm guessing I'm rare in that regard, and that certainly doesn't follow from the assumption of a more fluid sexual morality, the way you've suggested it follows.

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    4. "It's relying on the view that if someone thinks that there may be social construction of certain moral norms, that somehow implies that all moral norms are in the eyes of the beholder."

      We have a word for norms that are merely socially constructed: they are called conventions. If Carmon had argued, "There is no such thing as sexual morality: what we call such is merely a matter of conventions," my reductio would have failed.

      And perhaps that's really what she meant. But I think I'm only obliged to address what she actually wrote.

      "Yours was a cheap shot..."

      So it's not enough to try to show I was mistaken? I'm intellectually dishonest as well?

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    5. "I'm actually personally willing to entertain the idea that society could in theory redefine the moral implications (the moral reality - as you put it) of serial killing. I don't think it ever would, but I'm willing to entertain that possibility."

      OK, imagine this: Let's say a society "redefined" the moral implications of slavery, and decided it was fine to enslave, say, people of another race. Now, I'm not saying this is ever likely to happen... oh, wait, I just described the American South in 1840!

      So, would you say that slavery was perfectly fine there and then, since that was the way they defined it?

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    6. I never said you were intellectually dishonest - I said it was a cheap shot. I've never known you to be dishonest.

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    7. On slavery and serial killers and all that.

      No, of course I wouldn't say it's "perfectly fine". But then, you didn't just describe the American South in 1840. What you described was white people in the American South in 1840. I can think of other members of that society - namely black Southerners - that would tell you that they had not redefined morality in such a way.

      I'm no ethicist, which is why I only said I'd be willing to entertain the width and breadth of social construction. But I can't see how any viable theory of the social construction of morality would ever validate slavery or serial killing. I can see how a social construction of morality would validate sexual promiscuity.

      I'm no ethicist, but the social construction of reality makes at least as much sense as some kind of externally predetermined moral law.

      Now an externally predetermined moral law could EASILY validate slavery or serial killing. A socially constructed morality - not so much.

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    8. 'No, of course I wouldn't say it's "perfectly fine".'

      I know. In fact, I think, if you were really honest with yourself, you would see that you think it was OBJECTIVELY wrong.

      "What you described was white people in the American South in 1840. I can think of other members of that society - namely black Southerners - that would tell you that they had not redefined morality in such a way."

      And so what? Of course, there will always be some people outside the moral consensus. The moral consensus held that those blacks were sub-human: on that view, why should their opinion count? (I, of course, believe that view was OBJECTIVELY wrong.)

      "Now an externally predetermined moral law could EASILY validate slavery or serial killing."

      Huh? Sure, and the laws of physics COULD have had gravity as a repulsive force. But they don't, and objective morality in fact doesn't validate slavery or serial killing.

      "A socially constructed morality - not so much."

      Well, I've just given you an example of one that very definitely did do so. Similarly, the "socially constructed morality" of much of Europe circa 1880-1945 sanctioned anti-Semitism. Of course, the Jews didn't agree, but again, so what? There will always be deviants from any "socially constructed morality."

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. I keep forgetting I just added this nifty "reply" feature, so I post my comment once, notice it should be a reply, delete it, and re-post it.

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    1. What if we just deleted laws against murder when we thought they were redundant? I bet you'd change your principle then.

      (BTW Yglesias was a philosophy major I'm pretty sure, which means (a) he probably knows what a reductio is and decided to rip you just because, and (b) he obviously is qualified to discuss NGDP targeting as he so often does.)

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    2. I thought he was a philosophy major, which is why I painted the Adams Morgan scenario.

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  4. I think the reaction that post is getting is a good example of the perils of thinking like a philosopher.

    To me your post was a mildly amusing illustration (although I'd skip the serial killer example for a variety of reasons) of that specific brand of moral relativism taken to its logical conclusion. For many (and apparently to Yglesias who has a PhD in Philosophy according to Wikipedia!) it apparently was you saying that woman should do exactly as Rush says they should. Of course this is nonsense, one could endorse the post you made and still think its objectively correct that women should be able to make that choice for themselves! In fact that more or less describes my position.

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    1. Right you are, Warren. In fact, in my next post I try to show that Carmon probably wouldn't like the consequences of her position even in regards to sex, if she really thought it through.

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    2. Warren, magna cum laude doesn't mean doctorate. I could have missed something, but my quick scan of his Wikipedia entry tells me Yglesias has an undergraduate major in Philosophy (from a rather famous school, to be sure).

      Also, I should be clear that someone could be a good economist even without formal schooling. I just don't think Matt Yglesias is that person.

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    3. Bob, You caught me; I'm lazy so I was going off a hazy memory of Yglesias' Wikipedia page rather than the page itself.

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  5. Matthew Yglesias reads your blog? It really must be getting popular.

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