Thursday, December 12, 2013

End of Semester

Thank you all for a lively semester and some good conversations. I will post grades to Banner in a few days, when I have finished calculating the scores. When you retrieve them, let me know if you think they might be in error by sending me a polite query via email. Doing so within thirty days preserves your right to challenge the grade administratively, in case you find my reply unsatisfactory.

I wish you all a pleasant and intellectually stimulating semester break.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

(LE) Rawls and Toleration

I take Sebastian's point about the reasons for Rawls's emphasis on toleration over justice and equality in the short term. And it is perfectly credible that Lincoln's own Whiggish gradualism inspired that particular balance. Remember that Rawls used to team-teach a seminar on Lincoln with David Herbert Donald at Harvard. Bad as he knew slavery was, Lincoln was willing to tolerate it so long as it could be contained and eventually die a natural death, in the interest of preventing war and preserving constitutional legality (which he may have thought were demonstrably greater evils). Without necessarily agreeing, we can well understand such a choice, harsh as it is on millions of human beings who must suffer infinite indignity in the meantime.

Kant would have a very hard time accepting such a choice. Mill might agree to it, with considerable reluctance, if the numbers worked out overwhelmingly in its favor (remember, he's a rule Utilitarian, so slavery is out prima facie). Aristotle (updated with a bit of Kantian egalitarianism to acknowledge owning other people as a vice) might be more willing than the others to support the extreme tolerant approach, especially if we conceive it (a Lincoln did) in terms of culture and community. Both A. and L. understand how resistant ways of life (and their operating systems) are to dramatic change, and both accept the critical importance of polis for the formation of personhood.

It would be helpful, however, as we contemplate the moral acceptability of such a compromise, to have historical examples showing how and whether it works. When has the tolerance and containment of a great, soul-crushing evil actually led to its demise?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Krugman Joke

Has anyone else noticed how much the G.O.P. position on Obamacare resembles the classic borscht belt joke about the two ladies at a Catskills resort?

Lady No. 1: "The food here is so terrible, it's inedible!"
Lady No. 2: "And the portions are so small!"

Republican No. 1: "Obamacare is slavery!"
Republican No. 2: "And it's so hard to sign up!"

Monday, December 2, 2013

(LE) Language and Values

We have talked about Lincoln's moral operating system, and how it differs in its fundamental commitments from those of both his Southern and Northern adversaries. The attached article by philosopher and cognitive scientist George Lakoff summarizes the relationship between values and political language that he has been working on for many years (specifically in light of the health-care debate). It is fairly long, but I would like you all to read it, so that we can discuss how we might analyze Lincoln's speeches in light of it.