Rationalist Morality

"The morality of the Rationalist is the morality of the self-conscious pursuit of moral ideals, and the appropriate form of moral education is by precept, by the presentation and explanation of moral principles. This is presented as a higher morality (the morality of the free man: there is no end to the clap-trap) than that of habit, the unselfconscious following of a tradition of moral behaviour; but, in fact, it is merely morality reduced to a technique, to be acquired by training in an ideology rather than an education in behaviour. In morality, as in everything else, the Rationalist aims to begin by getting rid of inherited nescience and then to fill the blank nothingness of an open mind with the items of certain knowledge which he abstracts from his personal experience, and which he believes to be approved by the common ‘reason’ of mankind." -- Michael Oakeshott

What I find very amusing is that, almost every time you point out to a rationalist that the above describes a misunderstanding of morality, they respond, "Well, then, if my technique is no good, what technique do you suggest?" It is almost impossible for them to believe that you are not suggesting that they have simply gotten the wrong self-conscious moral ideals, and that you have a better set to put in their place, but that they fundamentally have misconceived morality.


  1. Oakeshott reads, as always, like a refreshing antidote.

    By the way, Gene, what is this Silas-free thing? I vaguely remember Silas from ASC and from a couple Bob Murphy comment threads, has he been around? Is he the reason I can't see my comments posted right away?

  2. It's really just a joke, John -- he has haunted this site for some time, tormented Bob for months, and has been banned from many other sites. Since I turned on comment moderation he mostly leaves CL alone -- thus the little joke in the banner.

    Comment moderation has been a God-send for me. I don't seem to be able to resist responding to trolls once their comment is up, but now it never goes up! Much more enjoyable blogging.

  3. Ban people for disagreeing with you in comments if you want, but putting a personal attack on someone in your page header is clearly out of line. SilasBarta's response on his own blog seems to indicate that he's taken it personally and is angry. From my outside perspective, that seems justified.

  4. Jimrandy, no one has been "banned" for "disagreeing" with me. Bob Murphy disagrees with me all the time, and all his comments get posted. Do you know why? Because he's not a jerk.

    In any case, I knew Silas was annoying, but I did not know he was a marone as well. But I don't want him to burst a blood vessel, so, header changed.


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