The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On Rawls

An Intellectual Villain

The name of John Rawls (above) is probably familiar to anyone who ever had to suffer through an introductory college philosophy class. For those of you who were fortunate enough to have escaped such classes, Rawls was the author of a book called A Theory of Justice. It is best described as incomprehensible, but it won the hearts of those academics who were desperate to find a philosophical basis for their leftist beliefs in the wake of the collapse of Marxism as a credible system of thought.

It is impossible to describe Rawls'theory, since he himself was never able to adequately explain exactly what it was. At best it was merely a way of thinking about justice, provided you had no intention of reaching any clear conclusions. Despite its confusing vagueness, the theory did have this virtue in the eyes of the political Left - that it was impossible to use its principles and still embrace capitalism. That was all that was needed to earn Rawls' theory a prominent place in most undergraduate philosophy curriculums. But modern curriculums are full of such nonsense, so why single out Rawls' theory for special censure? What is so bad is that since no one, including Rawls himself, could make clear precisely what the theory intended, the end result was often to simply discourage any thinking at all about the meaning of justice among students. Ayn Rand had this to say about Rawl's theory when it was first published:

Kant originated the technique required to sell irrational notions to the men of a skeptical, cynical age who have formally rejected mysticism without grasping the rudiments of rationality. The technique is as follows: if you want to propagate an outrageously evil idea (based on traditionally accepted doctrines), your conclusion must be brazenly clear, but your proof unintelligible. Your proof must be so tangled a mess that it will paralyze a reader's critical faculty—a mess of evasions, equivocations, obfuscations, circumlocutions, non sequiturs, endless sentences leading nowhere, irrelevant side issues, clauses, sub-clauses and sub-sub-clauses, a meticulously lengthy proving of the obvious, and big chunks of the arbitrary thrown in as self-evident, erudite references to sciences, to pseudo-sciences, to the never-to-be-sciences, to the untraceable and the unprovable—all of it resting on a zero: the absence of definitions. I offer in evidence The Critique of Pure Reason.

Within a few years of the publication of Rawl's book, commentators will begin to fill libraries with works analyzing, "clarifying" and interpreting its mysteries. Their notions will spread all over the academic map.

Within a generation, the number of commentaries will have grown to such proportions that the original book will be accepted as a subject of philosophical specialization, requiring a lifetime of study—and any refutation of the book's theory will be ignored or rejected, if unaccompanied by a full discussion of the theories of all the commentators, a task which no one will be able to undertake.

Rawls' theory made the subject of justice seem so obtuse and the means of seeking it so confusing and abstract, that an unstated notion was also being taught - that the search for justice is an exotic, super-intellectual process which only the most advanced minds can even attempt to understand. In other words, the theory falsely implied that issues of justice were beyond the ability of everyday people to comprehend. Reading Rawls did little to help students to understand the concept of justice, but it could discourage students from ever pursuing the subject on their own, or worse, caused them to concede the issue to elite intellectuals. This sense of the pursuit of justice as something confined to a small elite no doubt contributed to Rawls popularity among the elite intellectuals who taught his theory.

The disillusionment that Rawls theory creates among students hoping to understand one of life's most important subjects is a terrible intellectual crime to commit against young minds, and at exactly that age when most people are the most idealistic and receptive to developing a lifelong dedication to the pursuit of justice. In that sense Rawls was the intellectual equivalent of a killer, only instead of ending lives he wiped out ideals, either by leading those who read him down the dead-end path of socialism, or more often, simply killing their interest in the subject of justice altogether. For that reason I predict that with the passage of time Rawl's reputation will only decline, and in the end history shall damn him.

Dumbness in High Places

More evidence that the Nobel Prize ain't what it used to be.

"You know, this is not a good time to stand on principle and say we shouldn't bail these guys out." - Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate economist.

Oh really? Then what fuckin' good are having principles in the first place? It is during troubled times that sticking to one's principles is most crucial.

Jorma on Michael

There is so much pop trivia clogging the veins and arteries of our everyday life that it is easy for us here in the U.S. to forget how lucky we are and how we must not let our dream die in these troubled times. - Jorma Kaukonen on the death of Michael Jackson.

Hadley Hiatus

Over the weekend I was visiting in Hadley and we sort of shlepped around. These twin willows just past the Calvin Coolidge Bridge are two of the town's elders.

In the 70's and 80's hippie style head shops occupied the space between the willows. I remember smoking joints with friends beneath those trees, whose long leaves flowing to the ground protected us from the view of passerby. By the 90's the place had become the site of a sleazy porn shop. Now the building is completely gone, leaving those willows to reign supreme over an empty field.

That is in contrast to the view of evolution as expressed by R. Crumb. (Definitely click to enlarge)

No, inspite of all the development along Route 9 Hadley is still farm country. For example I took this picture standing directly behind the malls.

How rich is the bounty of our Valley.

Flags and bunting are everywhere, and not just because it's the Fourth of July. 2009 is the 350th birthday of Hadley.

There is a contest underway for who can decorate their house the best for the birthday. Entry Number Ten is located on Route 9.

One of my earliest memories is of my grandparents coming to visit in a car very much like this one sitting in a Hadley car lot. It was the same color and everything.

This Route 9 sign for a swordfighting club reminds us that the students will be returning to the Valley on September 4th. It may seem like a long way off, but that time will pass like a summer cloud.

So enjoy your summer while you still can.

Today's Video

Because America is the center of the cultural universe, we are not always aware that other countries have their own enormously popular stars whom we have never heard of. Andy Madadian is a rock god in Iran, and recently he teamed up with America's Bon Jovi to sing a song in solidarity with the Iranian freedom fighters.

Very well done.


jim said...

Ayn Rand not only summarized rawls book, but the very core of liberal dogma, pure BULLSHIT !No wonder it attracts so many whackos.

Anonymous said...

A Few Random comments:

1. Never confuse theoretical or academic Marxism with applied/political Soviet-style or other Marxist states.

2. Rawls book completely sucks

3. Hard-line orthodoxy of any type, (religious, political, and philosophical) is inherently flawed.

4. Rand’s single minded preoccupation with the (now) former Soviet Union undermined many of her more valid points.

5. Reasonable left and right viewpoints are not inherently bad; they simply represent different views/philosophy/solutions and should be able to co-exist in a rational environment.

6. Highly orthodox views put into political practice inevitably end up with people, (often large numbers of people) dying.

7. Any rational person needs to accept that we are and will be living in a Market Capitalist system for the foreseeable future.

8. Pure Market Capitalism, left uncontrolled, has the ability to produce some very bad and in some cases down right evil side effects.

9 It is the role of government, in a Market Capitalist society to mitigate the bad/evil side effects of the Capitalist system.

Signed - BA Philosophy, (Cum Laude) Umass Amherst 1985

relation said...

Hey Tom. As I was reading your blog about the old car, I suddenly remembered seeing a photo of your grandparents standing next to a 53 or 54 Chevy. I remember seeing it in the Driveway when we went by. Later, I remember a Blue Chevelle. I think your Grandfather always liked Chevys. Uncle Dick liked Fords. He had his 55 T-Bird for a long time. You brought back a bunch of memories.

The mind is a strange thing. While I can't remember what I said to anyone yesterday, I can remember 50years or more ago with ease.

Enjoy Summer. The older you get the faster times goes.

Tim said...

Hey Tom,

One of my sons and some of his friend's were going to eat at La Vera Cruzana until they saw Sotomayer's picture. Turned them off. BTW, Bueno y Sano has a new location in Spfld. I ate there the other day. No political statements, just good food.