Thursday, February 28, 2019

05 Thomas on the Vices

Question 53: Imprudence

I am not a Thomas scholar. Furthermore, I have had little exposure to the Thomas or Thomism except during schooldays, when I rebelled against it.* I also have limited exposure to Aristotle. Most of my academic study of philosophy was within an analytic that treated him as of historic interest only. When I did my first degree in philosophy 35 years ago the only Aristotle texts I read were De Anima and the Nicomachean Ethics. I did not purposely avoid The Philosopher; it just worked out that way given the course choices that were available to me (there were four courses on Rawls offered for every one on Aristotle when I was an undergrad). As a consequence, this stuff is foreign to me and I am struggling to figure out what is going on as we proceed in this class. It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, this week to find something I had not expected—an argument that is an old friend. 

The argument runs right through Question 53 of the second part of the second part but is perhaps most notable in the response to article 5, wherein Thomas deals with the question, “Whether inconstancy is a vice contained under prudence?” Below I cite a section of the response:
I answer that, Inconstancy denotes withdrawal from a definite good purpose. Now the origin of this withdrawal is in the appetite, for a man does not withdraw from a previous good purpose, except on account of something being inordinately pleasing to him: nor is this withdrawal completed except through a defect of reason, which is deceived in rejecting what before it had rightly accepted. And since it can resist the impulse of the passions, if it fail to do this, it is due to its own weakness in not standing to the good purpose it has conceived; hence inconstancy, as to its completion, is due to a defect in the reason.
I highlight the clause “since it can resist the impulse of the passions” here because this raises a fascinating question about moral psychology. If you put a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in a room full of people trying to stay slim, while there might be a few people who just don’t like chocolate chip cookies, all the others will feel the impulse to eat some. Some will assent to that impulse and others will resist it. How does that happen?

This is a classic problem in philosophy and in our everyday moral life. In everyday moral life we call it "self control”. In philosophy it is called “akrasia”. And it’s a thorny problem: If I believe that X is good for me (or that Y is bad for me) how could I ever act contrary to this belief? Do people sometimes act contrary to reason in full knowledge that they are doing so?

We would expect Thomas to follow Aristotle here for he often follows Aristotle. Aristotle’s argument is that some sort of breakdown in reasoning takes place. The truth is that the chocolate chip cookies are bad for me but I am of the opinion that they are not bad for me. "Opinion" here stands for something that is less than 'truth". That seems to miss the point for the problem is not why do I fail to act according to truth but why do I fail to act according to a good I have chosen according to my beliefs. (I may not do full justice to Aristotle’s argument here for I have never had much sympathy for it.)

There was a famous, some would say “infamous”,  alternative to this Aristotelian argument and that was an assertion that Plato attributes to Socrates in The Protagoras. There, Socrates argues that akrasia simply does not exist, that no one willingly does what they believe to be bad. **

Surprisingly (to me anyway), Thomas argues far closer to Socrates than to Aristotle here. The mistake that reason makes (its defect) is that it assents to the passions. Here is the rest of the response:
Now just as all rectitude of the practical reason belongs in some degree to prudence, so all lack of that rectitude belongs to imprudence. Consequently inconstancy, as to its completion, belongs to imprudence. And just as precipitation is due to a defect in the act of counsel, and thoughtlessness to a defect in the act of judgment, so inconstancy arises from a defect in the act of command. For a man is stated to be inconstant because his reason fails in commanding what has been counselled and judged.
Note the  order of those three: elsewhere in this question, we learn that they correspond to a progression in time. A defect in counsel pertains to the past, thoughtlessness to the present and a defect in the act of command to the future. (This sort of tripartite division has a decided Augustinian ring to it and I suspect that’s not misleading.)

That all sounds very good but there is room for objection. That is to say, while Thomas seems to push a very clear Socratic argument here and while I have found other sources who argue this based on a far broader and deeper knowledge of Thomas than anything I am capable of,*** Thomas is not as clear cut as I might hope just yet. In Article 6, he quotes Aristotle in response to an objection. The objection is:
Objection 1: It would seem that the aforesaid vices do not arise from lust. For inconstancy arises from envy, as stated above (A [5], ad 2). But envy is a distinct vice from lust.
And the reply is:
Reply to Objection 1: Envy and anger cause inconstancy by drawing away the reason to something else; whereas lust causes inconstancy by destroying the judgment of reason entirely. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 6) that "the man who is incontinent through anger listens to reason, yet not perfectly, whereas he who is incontinent through lust does not listen to it at all.”
To not listen to reason at all is hard to square with the more Socratic view that reason itself fails which seems to prevail elsewhere in Question 53. For that view to hold, the culpable person has to choose the passion over a previously chosen good. This choice would happen because reason itself was responsible as opposed to saying it was clouded by the passions and therefore unable to operate correctly.

An example might help. When I am tired and hungry I make poor choices. Why, then, am I morally responsible for moral choices I make in that state?† I am responsible because there is a level at which I can choose to assent to my passions or not. We are all capable of a sort of meta-analysis where I say (either out loud or to myself), “I am tired and hungry and that is affecting me by making me hasty (precipitation), thoughtless or inconstant. That certainly seems plausible to me but it raises another question: When I choose not to assent to my passions, what do I assent to instead? The temptation is to say that we should listen to “reason” and not the passions. I don’t think that works for it is “reason” that makes the mistake; here, in the case on inconstancy, it makes the mistake in refusing to command. Constancy seems to require that reason be aimed at something that acts as an anchor. (This is a congenial notion to me as a theologian but some of my philosopher friends are going to be uncomfortable with it.)

If we look at the response in Article 6, it seems to me that the conflict is evident:
As the Philosopher states (Ethic. vi, 5) "pleasure above all corrupts the estimate of prudence," and chiefly sexual pleasure which absorbs the mind, and draws it to sensible delight. Now the perfection of prudence and of every intellectual virtue consists in abstraction from sensible objects. Wherefore, since the aforesaid vices involve a defect of prudence and of the practical reason, as stated above ([2817] AA [2], 5), it follows that they arise chiefly from lust.
The key line here is, "the perfection of prudence and of every intellectual virtue consists in abstraction from sensible objects.” What happens when I abstract from the plate of chocolate chip cookies to reach the lustful conclusion, “Eat that cookie!”? Is that conclusion somehow irrational, a sign that I am not listening to reason at all in my lustful passion for chocolate chip cookies? I don’t think that can be sustained. I can always step back make some sort of meta-analysis and refuse to assent to my passions. It was my reason that assented to my passion when it told me that chocolate chip cookies are good. (And chocolate chip cookies are good. Like sex, they are part of God’s creation. As a consequence, the distinction between morally good and morally bad with regard to passions in the Aristotelean tends to devolve into a discussion of strength of the enjoyment; can you love chocolate chip cookies too much?)

And there is the hint of another possibility in the Thomas text. That suggestion is that I am divided, or loose integrity, when I am swayed from a previously chosen good by assenting to my passions. Prudence keeps me true to my greater purpose and that would keep me unified. Imprudence, on the other hand, would tend to damage my integrity. 

* I did not rebel in any profound way. I found myself educated by nuns and priests who had a deep well of predetermined answers to every moral question I could think of. I preferred to find my own answers through experience and chose that option because it was my preference and for no orher reason.
** As always in such cases, we can reasonably ask whether this is a Socratic argument or a Platonic argument. I know of no way to answer that question. We can say that many in the antique world attributed it to Socrates and that seems important in my opinion.
*** See Denis J.M. Bradley, “Thomas Aquinas on Weakness of Will” in Weakness of Will from Plato to the Present Tobias Hoffman ed. (Catholic University of America Press 2008) 
† That is distinct from an argument that would say I am not morally culpable for what I do in particular state so much as I am morally culpable for allowing myself to get into that state in the first place.

Monday, February 25, 2019

"Prep is a dangerous word"

That may be the most implausible claim I've read this year. It was said by a guy named Jack Carlson, who is the founder of a menswear brand called "Rowing Blazers". Here is a little more context,
“Prep is a dangerous word and when I first started the brand I was very skittish about it. It comes with a lot of baggage. A lot of people think of the 80s country clubs attended by an elitist buttoned-up clientele, exclusively white. That’s a problem in 2019. So it’s important to look at the original heritage behind it.”
It would be difficult to pack more ignorance into a paragraph. Buttoned-up?

The prep revival in the 1980s had little to do with "country clubs attended by an elitist buttoned-up clientele, exclusively white". It was spurred by a parody publication called The Preppy Handbook. That parody was brilliantly executed by Lisa Birnbach. She even played the part of preppy girl in her interviews, never slipping out of character. The book was very inside baseball. At the time it was published, preppy dressing was a minority thing even in country clubs and elite schools. The book was one group of elite insiders making fun of a smaller set of elite insiders. That it turned out to be a national best seller was a surprise to everyone.

The unintended consequence of the parody was that it democratized preppy. In order to mock a lifestyle that very few people knew anything about it was necessary to explain what was involved at some length. A whole lot of people took the parody as a guide book.

That suggests an interesting question: Given that parody necessarily involves intentional distortion, usually exaggeration, of the thing being parodied, was the style so many of us learned from this book in the 1980s actually a thing before the book was published? I'm not sure it was. During the Baroque period, there was an attempt to recreate Greek tragedy. No historian thinks the end result is much like the original. That hardly matters, however, because a new art form, opera, was created in the process. 1980s prep may be like that. It would be too much to say it had nothing to do with the culture that we were trying to recreate but it might be more accurate to say it was mostly something new. Imagine how opera might have turned out if the only source material on Greek tragedy they'd had was a parody of it.

My own experience might bear on the matter. I was a yacht club kid in the 1970s and very few of the kids I knew in those days dressed in the preppy style. None would have known that name for it. We would have called it the "Ivy-League look" if we called it anything at all.

You saw older guys who dressed and acted that way. I was once in the same room as Dennis Conner, the America's Cup skipper and Olympic medalist in sailing. He's about 17 years older than me. He impressed me deeply not so much by his blue blazer and grey flannels but because he quietly deferred to a janitor and respectfully called the man "sir" because he was older than Conner was. But he was a rarity among his generation. You saw more guys like that among the still older 2nd World War generation but the look and the manners were rapidly disappearing even there.

My mother's family, dirt-poor Irish who had earned their way into the upper-middle class between 1920 and 1960, had adopted the Ivy-League style and the manners that went with it in the 1960s because they believed it to be a marker for success. That gave me a huge step up when the prep craze took off; all I had to do to get a complete prep wardrobe was to open my closet and start wearing clothes my mother had bought me in the 1970s and that had languished there while I'd worn jeans and workboots instead. But I would not have recognized that these clothes constituted a style without the book to guide me. They were just uncool things my mother wanted me to wear. (Ironically, when I did finally adopt the look during my first year at university my mother was embarrassed by it.)

In 1980 "Prep" was a way of dressing and acting that pretty much everyone had an idea about in the same way that everyone today has an idea about the Hell's Angels. That is to say, we could conjure up an image, big, hairy guys wearing leather vests with club patches who own Harley Davidson motorcycles. We know enough about the stereotypes to put together a Halloween costume but not enough to do any more than that. Real Hell's Angels would spot us as impostors in two seconds, and probably stomp on our heads to teach us a lesson. Authentic preps, assuming you could find such persons in 1980, would have been much less brutal but there was still a fear of not knowing how to do it. That was the "problem" The Preppy Handbook solved. It gave a more filled-out picture of how to do it. Although Birnbach never intended for it to be a real handbook there was enough there that you could take it as one and a lot of us did.

I put the word "problem" in scare quotes because it was a problem we didn't know we had. Consider, for example, the movie Animal House, released two years before The Preppy Handbook. It deals with fraternity kids in 1962. The prestigious fraternities are portrayed as populated by "an elitist buttoned-down clientele, exclusively white". And they are cruelly mocked for being that way. This was a style that was rarely mentioned in the culture of the time and then only to mock. None of us wanted to be like that. And then the book came out and we did. For some it was just a style of dress but for a few of us it was a way of living we'd never hoped could actually be possible that suddenly was.

There is much more to say on this subject and I may even say some of it someday.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Lagerfeld's "curvy girls" scandal

Ten years ago he said, "“No one wants to see curvy women.” Vox goes on to tell us, " This was not an outlier in the world of misogynistic and fatphobic Lagerfeld quotes."

First, we have to acknowledge that we're dealing with a level of euphemism you rarely see outside a pharmacy. "Curvy" as Vox implicitly acknowledges means "fat" in this context. In truth, no one minds seeing curvy women, quite the opposite. Later in the post I will use Gal Gadot and Melissa Benoist as examples of thin women both have curves to spare.

He is also quoted talking about public health issues related to weight by Vox, "The hole in social security, it’s also [due to] all the diseases caught by people who are too fat. There are less than one percent of anorexic girls. But there are — in France, I don’t know in England — over 30 percent of girls [who are] big, big, overweight. And that is much more dangerous and very bad for the health." Read literally, the last sentence is wrong. Being overweight is not more dangerous than anorexia. That said, it's clear from the context that he means that being overweight is a greater public health problem and he is very much correct on that point. More than half of the European population and more than 70 percent of Americans are overweight.

In North America the average height for a woman is roughly* 5' 4". Healthy BMI is classified as 18.5 to 24.9. For a woman at 5' 4" that translates into 108 to 145 pounds. There is no breakdown by height but the average weight of a North American woman is 170 lbs. You can, and lots of people have, thrown doubt on the usefulness of BMI.

On the other hand, "The average prevalence rates for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa among young females are 0.3 and 1%, respectively."

Lagerfeld had his facts right.

Are female models on average thinner than most women? Yes. The same is true of male models. They are also better looking than most people and, can we be honest and admit that thinner people are better looking. Gal Gadot's BMI is 18.7, which is to say at the very bottom of the healthy range. Melissa Benoist's BMI is 18.4, which is borderline. I picked these two women because they play characters that have been much praised as representing positive role models for girls and women. Neither could have the career they do if they weren't that thin.

* American women are a fraction of an inch shorter on average.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

04 Thomas on the vices

Edited and updated 2019/02/14

… it is due to its [Reason’s] own weakness in not standing to the good purpose it has conceived …

For Jane Austen, sincerity is not a virtue. It it is only a simulacrum of a virtue. The real virtue behind sincerity is constancy. By way of example, she tells us the story of John Willoughby who is guilty of inconstancy.

In the story, Willoughby is involved in an intense courtship with Marianne Dashwood. He has not proposed marriage yet but it seems to Marianne that he will. Before she has a chance to find out, Willoughby’s past catches up with him. In the past he seduced the teenage ward of a neighbour and got her pregnant. His aunt, whose fortune he was counting on inheriting, finds out about his behaviour and insists that he do right by the girl. Although this would guarantee his inheritance, it would ruin him socially as this marriage would not be acceptable in the circles he travels in. Instead, he successfully woos a rich heiress, thus freeing himself from dependency on his aunt. Alas, this also necessitates his abruptly breaking off his courtship with Marianne, which has devastating consequences on her.

Marianne is also imprudent. She is constant but she tends to be precipitous. As her sister, Elinor says of her, "what Marianne and her mother conjectured one moment, they believed the next—that with them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect.” She spins wildly out of control. During her breakdown, she catches a fever and seems on death’s bed. Willoughby, learning of this, comes rushing to inquire, thereby revealing that he really does love her. This reassurance is important for Marianne (and, oddly enough, for her sister Elinor) for it confirms that her sensibility, what we would call her feelings that Willoughby cared for her, were indeed reliable even if  she did not show much sense in the way she responded. She is able to go on with her life now, understanding that sensibility must be balanced with sense, which is what the ancient Greeks would have called phronesis.

Several philosophers, most famously Alasdair MacIntyre, have identified Jane Austen as perhaps the last great figure in the virtue ethics tradition before the current revival. Let us consider, then, the case of Willoughby’s inconstancy in contrast to the analysis of this state we find in Thomas’s Question 53, article five, Secunda Secundae.

Now it’s interesting that in Austen’s story Willoughby has not made a vow of any sort to Marianne. Would we still say he was inconstant if he had declared his love to her? In the culture of the late 18th century declaring his love would have been a vow to marry. Marianne, we are told, was acting in a way that led others to believe that he had spoken as if he were about to and that the only thing that remained to do was to make it official and public. But what difference would it have made as regards inconstancy? The case would seem even clearer if he had made an offer to marry and then withdrawn it. Both such cases would no doubt be inconstancy on his part but it seems to me that we would be more inclined to condemn him for lying rather than inconstancy if a private promise had been made and then withdrawn. Could we imagine inconstancy to be making private promises to oneself and then failing to live up to them? That is, the sin we would accuse him of is of making an implicit promise and failing to live up to it. But, you may object, even if that is what happens, the vice of inconstancy is something other than breaking promises but rather something that goes on in the background. (If it is, what is the greater fault, the promises that are broken or the vice that makes us tend to break them? We can't say the vice causes us to break them for we can overcome our vices sometimes.)

The difference here, it seems to me, is that breaking a vow or leading someone on are both sins that directly afflict another person. Willoughby’s inconstancy leads him to act badly towards Marianne but his bad behaviour is not the inconstancy itself but rather a product of it; otherwise, why name the vice when you can name a sin? And Marianne is far from faultless herself. If her feelings about how he felt about her had been wrong, and they easily could have been, there would have been no fault at all on his part. The story concerns itself largely with the inner lives of these characters and it is in Willoughby’s inner life that he stands accused of inconstancy and not his outward behaviour, even though that outward behaviour is appalling by other standards.

Turning to Thomas, here is how he explains inconstancy in article 5:
Inconstancy denotes withdrawal from a definite good purpose. Now the origin of this withdrawal is in the appetite, for a man does not withdraw from a previous good purpose, except on account of something being inordinately pleasing to him: nor is this withdrawal completed except through a defect of reason, which is deceived in rejecting what before it had rightly accepted. And since it can resist the impulse of the passions, if it fail to do this, it is due to its own weakness in not standing to the good purpose it has conceived; hence inconstancy, as to its completion, is due to a defect in the reason. Now just as all rectitude of the practical reason belongs in some degree to prudence, so all lack of that rectitude belongs to imprudence. Consequently inconstancy, as to its completion, belongs to imprudence. And just as precipitation is due to a defect in the act of counsel, and thoughtlessness to a defect in the act of judgment, so inconstancy arises from a defect in the act of command. For a man is stated to be inconstant because his reason fails in commanding what has been counselled and judged.
Everything that happens here can be described in the terms Thomas sets out. “Inconstancy demotes withdrawal from a definite good purpose.” Willoughby has withdrawn from proposing marriage. “… man does not withdraw from a previous good purpose, except on account of something being inordinately pleasing to him.” Again, Willoughby is not prevented from marrying Marianne, he withdraws because he finds being wealthy inordinately pleasing. And the mere fact that he can stifle his love for Marianne in order to capture a rich heiress tells us that his reason “can resist the impulse of the passions.” We could say then that "his reason fails in commanding what has been counseled and judged.”

Logically, that seems sound but it doesn’t seem adequate psychologically speaking. For starters, we don’t typically speak of reason failing to do things. Nor, for that matter, do we speak of the will failing to do things. We might say someone didn’t have the rational ability to figure something out or that he didn’t have the will to stick to it. Blame attaches to the person and not their “faculties".

I suspect Thomas talks this way for he sees reason as a defining characteristic of what it is to be human. To fail to be reasonable is to act like an animal and thus to fail to live up to our nature. I haven’t looked up his argument but I suspect it would go something like that. I don’t see anything wrong with that line of thought. That said, to speak of reason as if it had agency strikes me as wrong.

There is also reason and its subject matter. In mathematics there is usually a right answer and only one right answer. Many of life’s moral choices, however, involve choosing an acceptable moral choice from a number of right answers. In a post-Nietzschean world we speak of “values”. Values are not like virtues in that there is less judgment involved. I can choose to value French music of the late Romantic era, Bourbon, Japanese gardens, marriage and Proust. There is a moral component in all these things and yet it is easily imaginable that someone might not value some or all these things and still be a good person. Jesus taught us to love one another but my spouse expects me to love her in an exclusive way. I didn’t have to choose to value her in this special way but, once I did, there is a reasonable moral expectation that I keep it up.

Willoughby's reason didn’t have to counsel and judge that he love Marianne. Yes, choosing her was a good choice but it was far from the only choice. Her sister Elinor would have been a better choice. That said, there is no rational obligation to take the best possible choice. And Willoughby is not a man who suffers from a shortage of people willing to fall in love with him. (There is no point in resisting the plausibility of this: there are people who have the sort of sexual power that Willoughby has and it is only a foolish spite to try to deny this.) No matter how we try to explain this all in terms of reason, the inescapable truth is that voluntarism enters the equation. Willoughby could have reasonably decided that while he might easily fall in love with Marianne, it would be better not to do so.

It seems to me that there were a series of judgments that he might have made about Marianne. He could have decided that she was a lovable person but that judgment does not require any action. His reason might have also told him that it would be good for him to fall in love with her and still not have required action. What is needed from reason is a judgment to the effect that he should fall in love with her so go and do it. But even then, he must assent to that judgment. 

We don’t have to imagine that the decision making process will literally consist in Willoughby literally making those mental judgments. Most people, even people who act prudently, rarely slow down and deliberately go through such a process. At one point in our lives we may have done so but we rely on habits of thought and behaviour on a  day-to-day basis. I think we can say that he made the judgment implicitly and that he implicitly consented to it.

Why do I think we can say such things? Because it is possible to pass moral judgment on Willoughby. That is the uniquely valuable perspective Austen gives us. Willoughby commits no clear sin towards Marianne, all that is exposed is his vice.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Another article on Catholicism's masculinity crisis

This one was shared with me by a friend. It's by William Kilpatrick and appeared in Crisis Magazine. I was underwhelmed.

Here is what I wrote back to my friend:
This is a subject near and dear to my heart. That said, the linked article is really about politics in general with only tangential reference to the Catholic Church. Indeed, the author seems chiefly interested in having a more masculine church as a way of influencing the larger culture. He isn’t so much intent on improving matters in the Catholic Church as in encouraging the Catholic Church to fight the culture war more effectively.

I regularly attend sessions organized by Catholic men who are also worried about the Church’s man crisis. Unfortunately, while these men recognize there is a problem, they don’t seem to have any notion of what a masculine expression of the faith should look like. I saw a video series a while ago where a prominent Catholic speaker talked about the lack of manly Catholics for two videos and then suggested Mother Theresa as a role model for men. When I ask Catholic men what sort of manly things they do as Catholics they often tell me they say the rosary. To which I reply that while the rosary is a great prayer there is nothing specifically masculine about it. At which point they look at me with vaguely hurt and frightened expressions. They have nothing and they know it.

Every time I ask Catholic men about what it is to be a Catholic man, their answer is just another variation on being a good and obedient little boy. It’s as if Catholic men are so feminized, they can’t remember how to be men.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

03 Thomas on the Vices

If we look at Question 67, article 3 "Whether faith remains after this life", Thomas says that knowledge can be "imperfect" in three respects: "first, on the part of the knowable object; secondly, on the part of the medium; thirdly on the part of the subject."

What does Thomas mean by subject? "Object" seems to be the thing that is potentially knowable. "Medium" Thomas divides into knowing by "demonstrative" or "probable" mediums. By "subject" he appears to mean the knower.

Moving on, Thomas says this:
On the part of the subject the difference of perfect and imperfect knowledge applies to opinion, faith and science. For it is essential to opinion that we assent to one of two opposite assertions with fear of the other, so that our adhesion is not firm: to science it is essential to have firm adhesion with intellectual vision, for science possesses certitude which results from the understanding of principles: while faith holds a middle place, for it surpasses opinion in so far as its adhesion is firm, but falls short of science in so far as it lacks vision.
What he says of opinion is interesting, and psychologically astute in the sense that "fear of the other" is sometimes a key feature of our opinions. That said, it doesn't hold up. Would we say, for example, that old theories about continents being stable were just opinions and that the global plate tectonics theory that is now dominant is not? Once upon a time, most scientists assented to the first and now most (meaning virtually all) assent to global plate tectonics. The temptation is bang the table and say, "We know that global plate tectonics is right!" The problem with saying that, though, is that as recently as the 1950s most scientists would have banged the table and said they knew it was wrong. 

We must grant that Thomas means something different when he uses the word science than we do but his definition is broader rather than narrower so the objection applies. He did not have the historic awareness of physical science that we have. He was, of course, aware that mistakes could be made but the notion of a change of paradigms was not available to him. To charge him with a mistake in this regard would be like criticizing Hannibal for using elephants instead of tanks against the Romans. That said, we do have a greater historical awareness and we cannot make the sort of distinctions Thomas makes between opinion and science above.

For us, what is admirable about science is the lack of adhesion. It is precisely because science is always open to challenge that we are willing to assent. Some opinions, on the other hand, are not falsifiable. Someone can call my opinion that Verdi is greater than Wagner stupid, they can assert that it is contrary to critical consensus but they can't prove it wrong. A musicologist with such an opinion could get hired by a university and, while others might decry this, it would be a very different matter if a physicist who did not believe in gravity was hired by a university.

Consider this example: every morning I get out of my bed and walk across the floor. I don't know that the floor won't collapse. Indeed, I know that floors sometimes do collapse. I don't worry about it though. You might say that I have a firm faith that it will not happen. I don't need to go downstairs and check that the floor joists haven't rotted although I know that can happen.

The same is true if you ask me if I know that evolution is right. I will say that I do because it seems to me that that particular foundation will fall out from under me.

I have beliefs and beliefs have consequences. I tend to call my beliefs "knowledge" when I am more certain about them and opinion when I am less so. Faith is what I assent to firmly, with adhesion, even when I have little grounds to claim certainty. And that, it seems to me, is all we can say.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

#MeToo and the new puritanism

Time again to over analyze something that isn't worth discussing in the first place. I'd rather not but we're being forced into doing it by a generation of puritans of whom the Boston Herald's Jessica Heslam is today's example.

Let's begin by quoting an excerpt:
Pats quarterback Tom Brady had said there’s a “zero” chance Sunday’s Super Bowl would be his last game, so a reporter asked Gronk what number he’d use to describe the chance of this being his last season, according to the New York Post.

You guys know my favorite number. You know what I’m talking about. She knows what number I’m talking about,” Gronkowski said, pointing to the female reporter. “Ask her. That’s the answer.”

“I’ll give you a math problem,” Gronkowski said, according to the Post. “What’s six times nine plus six plus nine?”

Make that joke among friends? Funny.

Make that joke in front of TV cameras to a woman reporter doing her job? #MeToo.
Let's start with what gets this started: "...a reporter asked Gronk what number he’d use to describe the chance of this being his last season... ." Why ask? Could it be because Gronkowski has a long history of making 69 jokes? Well, yes, it just might be. So the reporter is encouraging him to make the sort of remark that everyone knows he is famous for making.

Indeed, Gronkowski acknowledges that. "You guys know my favourite number. You know what I'm talking about." And then he singles out the female reporter to underline the fact that he likes to talk about 60, to say that even she knows and not just you guys.

Is the point of #MeToo that men can't make sexual remarks in the presence of women? That merely alluding to sex acts and the fact that you enjoy them is somehow too much for sensitive little flowers to deal with? There is more going on with #MeToo than controlling exploiting like Harvey Weinstein; there is a very deliberate attempt to roll back freedom of expression too. And progressives and social conservatives are lining up on this one.