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Friday, May 10, 2013


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I think it patently false that metaphysics is rarely useful in politics. We often treat like cases in like manners. So the Civil Rights movement was definitely a situation in which metaphysics played a powerful part. We understand that African-Americans are humans in the same way as white people are humans. The latter are afforded certain dignities and rights, and therefore the former should as well.

Hi Kevin,

We agree, but to be fair to Spencer, his point may have been that it is easier to persuade someone of something the fewer contentious premises one employs, premises from metaphysics being contentious.

My response is that there is no way to make any real progress without delving into metaphysics. Shifting the burden of proof onto the same-sexer won't get us anywhere.

If I am right, BOP considerations are out of place in philosophy. But that too is contentious!

But we are fallen beings, so we can expect plenty of ignorance, foolishness, contention, and murk.

Hello Bill,

I said metaphysics is rarely USEFUL in politics, not that politics rarely involves metaphysical implications. I agree that the abortion debate gets one into metaphysical issues. But that's probably one of the reasons it appears so intractable. Metaphysical debates are rarely settled, even among experts. This is not the battleground I would choose to fight on. It makes it easy for our opponents, who can use metaphysical skepticism to their advantage. Let's not forget that politics is about action, not truth. How are you going to persuade the masses talking about accidental and essential properties like that?

Second, I don't want you to think that this is the whole of the case I'd make in favor of traditional marriage. But to begin the debate, I want to make my opponent AWARE of how much of his case depends on burden-shifting strategies, and how much easier the acceptance of the burden-shifting strategy has made it for the defenders of same sex marriage. Can reformist definitions meet the exacting standards that the traditional definition is held to? I don't believe so, and this is a point that has fueled my skepticism of the gay rights marriage agenda from very early on. The same-sex marriage proponents seem to have forgotten that they, too, have a positive agenda they are arguing for, not just overturning some "ban."

Look, I agree that just digging in on tradition is not very satisfactory, but like I said before in a previous debate, I think the way to persuade people is non-coercively. Just show them that the conservative position is tenable, that a non-crazy, non-evil person could be unpersuaded by the arguments for same-sex marriage. Given the kind of sway those arguments have over people, I'm opting for this modest dialectical goal, while fully acknowledging it is not the final destination.


Point taken. I apologize for being a bit unfair to you by way of an *ignoratio elenchi.*

It is easy to be skeptical about metaphysical claims, but our opponents are not merely skeptical, they have their own metaphysical agenda, e.g. the POMO same-sexers that James Anderson discusses.

>>Just show them that the conservative position is tenable, that a non-crazy, non-evil person could be unpersuaded by the arguments for same-sex marriage.<<

But that is exactly what I have been doing! Or so it seems to me. What I am trying to show our opponents is that what drives us is not bigotry or some thoughtless attachment to the past just because it is the past, but reasonable considerations. Note, however, that among our opponents are some intelligent and morally decent people. So it is not enough simply to shift the burden of proof back onto them; you have to give positive reasons why SS unions ought not be recognized by the state as marriages. But you can't do that without getting into contentious metaphysical questions.

By the way, showing our opponents that we have a "tenable position" as you put it won't be enough to persuade them, not even non-coercively (whatever exactly you mean by that). For they could reply: "OK, I now grant you are not just a hate-driven bigot from fly-over country and that you have some arguments, but I choose not to accept them."

"Non-coercive argument" is a strategy I've been developing for personal use: I mean I argue by making my position look more attractive, demonstrating the intuitive "pull" I feel, and showing them how I can be consistent with my principles, moral and thoughtful while disagreeing. That opposed to trying to undermining my opponents' principles dialectically. Success in this doesn't entail I'm right, but I maintain that this is the way to persuade people, especially when you're being targeted by a campaign that insists you must be evil, hate-mongers, slobbering idiots.

I supplement the argument here with a version of the significance of fatherhood argument. If fatherhood is a significant and important institution in society, then it's a bad thing when the government steps in to say it is completely irrelevant. It is an important institution. Yet it is one of the implications that it is not. This is a more assertive argument that again doesn't rely on metaphysics.


I think that basic moral principles like "treating like cases in like manners" and principles like "black people are human beings" are not quite claims that rise to the level of metaphysics, though metaphysical truths underlie them. You can believe in treating like cases in like manners without being any kind of a moral realist, for instance (not that I would recommend it!) And the second one is a basic scientific truth. You have to have a certain kind of world metaphysically for there to be science, but I don't know that statements like "there is a dog here" and "human beings come in more than one color" are themselves metaphysical. But I'm open to persuasion.


I like your fatherhood argument. (In a violent place like Chi Town it is not the presence of guns but the absence of fathers that is the main problem.) But why do we need fathers? Two females can raise a boy, right? If you say no, that boys need male role models, then presumably you believe that gender differences are not socially constituted as POMO types would have it. Looks like we are drifting towards metaphysics.

Sociology is short of metaphysics, I think.

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