Jonah Goldberg Asks A Question

by John Holbo on March 20, 2009

When the Bush administration advocated abstinence and the like on the international stage, it was seen as an example of Bush pushing a parochial agenda. But when Western cosmopolitanism is championed on the world stage, it’s progress. What am I missing? (link)

Goldberg is missing the possibility that liberals might believe that Bush was pushing a parochial agenda while at the same time believing that their own proposals would constitute progress. In short, liberals believe Bush was heading in the wrong direction, whereas a liberal proposal would head us in a better direction. In shorter: liberals think Bush was wrong, they are right. In shortest: liberals believe their beliefs. This is what Goldberg is missing.

To put it another way, when he says “it just seems to me that there’s no real standard here,” he’s missing the possibility of classical liberalism, broadly speaking. (Given that Goldberg claims to believe in classical liberalism, his failure to consider that any standard could possibly occupy the intellectual space occupied by the standards of classical liberalism is … an impressive feat of doxastic auto-evacuation. It doesn’t occur to him to believe what he believes, apparently.)

Goldberg is missing that it is possible to believe things without necessarily wanting to impose those beliefs on others (for reasons of prudence, or principle, or a bit of both). He also misses that one can take tolerance (non-coercion) to be a virtue (in principle, and as pragmatically warranted by circumstances) without believing that, in fact, no beliefs are better, more warranted than others. Finally, he seems to be missing the possibility that one might believe that coercion is warranted in some cases, but impermissible (or imprudent) in other sorts of cases.

If Goldberg is not missing absolutely all of this, then I fail to see what other thing he could be missing, leading to his sincere puzzlement. I am at a total and complete loss. Really. I’m drawing a blank.

Wife Swap

by Kieran Healy on March 20, 2009

Excerpts from an email forwarded from a philosopher of my acquaintance:

I hope you are doing well! I am a casting producer for ABC Television’s hit reality show, Wife Swap. I am currently trying to cast families that promote philosophy as a discipline for a special episode of our show and thought perhaps you might know some scholars that would be interested in such an opportunity. An ideal family would have 2 parents that are both philosophers and children that also believe in the discipline.

Requirements: Each family must consist of two parents (you don’t have to be married) and must have at least one child between the ages of 7 and 17 living at home full time … This is a very unique experience that can be life changing for everyone. In addition, each family that tapes an episode of Wife Swap receives a $20,000 honorarium for their time. Anyone who refers a family that appears on our program receives $1000 as a ‘thank you” from us. Please feel free to forward this email on to anyone that you feel might be interested.

In case you are unfamiliar with the show, the premise of Wife Swap is to take two different families and have the moms switch place to experience how another family lives. Half of the week, Mom lives the life of the family she is staying with. Then she introduces a “rule change” where she implements rules and activities that her family has. It’s a positive experience for people to not only learn but teach about other families and other ways of life.

Wife Swap airs on Disney owned ABC television on Fridays at 8 pm- the family hour! There is another show that copies ours. We focus on having fun, learning and teaching. They focus on conflict. I just want to make sure our show doesn’t get confused with theirs! I appreciate you taking the time to read this. If you have any questions, please email me at the address below. Thank you for your time!

If Freddie Ayer were still with us he’d probably be up for taking the show at its word. But failing this, I want to know what sort of occupation they have in mind for the other half of the swap. Do they think of philosophy as being about, say, atheism, and want some fundamentalists in the mix? Maybe not for 8pm family hour on ABC. Alternatively, is it supposed to be airy-fairy life of the mind vs huntin’ shootin’ fishin’? Logic-choppers vs Used Car Salesmen? I honestly have no idea.

An tempting alternative (though clearly one with no viable TV market at all) is to recruit families comprised of different sorts of philosophers. If they got a Wittgensteinian there could be endless arguments about the rule change and its relationship to the family’s way of life. Philosophical Metaphysics vs Barnes & Noble Metaphysics might be good, though would probably turn violent. Modal Realists vs Phenomenologists. (“I thought you said all the beer was in the effing fridge.”) Rawlsians vs Libertarians. John Emerson goes to live with John Hawthorne. That sort of thing.