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Austin Dacey - The Secular Conscience (merged)
Posted: 01 June 2008 07:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 61 ]
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mckenzievmd - 01 June 2008 11:35 AM

I’m afraid I am missing the point since I don’t know what you and entity are talking about. My reluctance to engage in a prolonged debate about moral relativism is simply that I’ve written dozens of posts on the topic here which are available for others to read and I don’t feel like re-writing them all.
HERE and HERE are two threads in which I have explained my position at length and in detail.

If there are specific points you want to explore in more detail, I’m happy to do that. Otherwise, what point exactly have I missed or have I proven? I have to say that despite the kind caveat you open with, there is a certain patronizing tone to the remark , though I know you well enough to understand you did not intend to be provocative. But since you initiated the thread and put forward the theory for discussion, I’m inclined to think that you bear the burden of promoting and defending the position you seem to favor. I did include in my response a couple of opening for further discussion, in the form of gaps I have seen in Dacey’s and others’ arguments, so perhaps responding to that would be more productive in moving this discussion forward?

I think the few lines I quoted from Austin’s first two pages state the thesis succinctly and well.

I’m not interested in another one of the usual pointless and adversarial debates either. So consider this: If we’re not about something, then why are we here (at CFI forums)?

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Posted: 02 June 2008 04:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 62 ]
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PLaClair - 01 June 2008 05:56 AM

Here’s how it goes bad. Matters of conscience are up to us, so they can amount to no more than subjective preferences. As such, they cannot be critically discussed by others who do not share them. Conscience is personal, so politeness and civility forbid bringing it up in public. Call this the Privacy Fallacy.

Conscience is free, so it must be liberated from shared objective standards of rightness and truth. Call this the Liberty Fallacy. The result of these misconceptions about privacy and freedom is a culture unwilling or unable to sustain a real public conversation about religion, ethics, and values. What culture can survive without that conversation?
(http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1591026040/ref=sib_dp_pt#reader-link, emphasis added)

I think there is a fallacy of reasoning here.
[Encylopedia of Fallacies]

The fallacy is that although some deference is paid to personal conscience, there is plenty of room for discussion in civil society. The argument as PLaClair phrases it suggests that all discussion defers to privacy-politeness and freedom-liberty, and that we need to change this. At the very least he (or Austin Dacey, if he’s quoting him accurately) needs to acknowledge that there is a spectrum and he’s asking to shift along that spectrum.  I also think the argument can be turned on its tail and we could say “What culture can survive” is there is no recognition of privacy or liberty.

I also actually question whether the problem PLaClair and Austin Dacey point to really exists—

The fallacy from the list seems to be “Black-or-White” (excluded middle)

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Posted: 02 June 2008 04:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 63 ]
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Jackson - 02 June 2008 04:20 AM
PLaClair - 01 June 2008 05:56 AM

Here’s how it goes bad. Matters of conscience are up to us, so they can amount to no more than subjective preferences. As such, they cannot be critically discussed by others who do not share them. Conscience is personal, so politeness and civility forbid bringing it up in public. Call this the Privacy Fallacy.

Conscience is free, so it must be liberated from shared objective standards of rightness and truth. Call this the Liberty Fallacy. The result of these misconceptions about privacy and freedom is a culture unwilling or unable to sustain a real public conversation about religion, ethics, and values. What culture can survive without that conversation?
(http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1591026040/ref=sib_dp_pt#reader-link, emphasis added)

I think there is a fallacy of reasoning here.
[Encylopedia of Fallacies]

The fallacy is that although some deference is paid to personal conscience, there is plenty of room for discussion in civil society. The argument as PLaClair phrases it suggests that all discussion defers to privacy-politeness and freedom-liberty, and that we need to change this. At the very least he (or Austin Dacey, if he’s quoting him accurately) needs to acknowledge that there is a spectrum and he’s asking to shift along that spectrum.  I also think the argument can be turned on its tail and we could say “What culture can survive” is there is no recognition of privacy or liberty.

I also actually question whether the problem PLaClair and Austin Dacey point to really exists—

The fallacy from the list seems to be “Black-or-White” (excluded middle)

Jackson,

Dacey’s argument is not fallacious. The argument you suggest turning on its head is not an argument he is making. He’s not saying that a culture should not recognize privacy and liberty. He’s saying that privacy and liberty are not appropriately applied to suppress the analysis and critique of ideas.

In addition, Dacey’s argument is not that “all discussion defers” to the Privacy and Liberty fallacies, but that the practice of not criticizing other people’s opinions - especially on matters like religion and to a lesser extent politics - is widespread, including within the secular community. As a result, we have become powerless bystanders to whatever discussions might are going on, ceding the entire field to people who don’t mind criticizing ideas like secularism and non-theism - which many people don’t hesitate to do, right wing radio talk show hosts, for example. Dacey’s argument is that there’s nothing wrong with criticizing ideas; on the contrary, it is a necessary foundation for a reasoned and democratic society. He would like for us to get in the game so that there’s more going on than just the slander being slung at us.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this problem exists. I’ve seen too many examples of deference, where people will not criticize another person’s religious beliefs, unless, of course, he’s an atheist or non-theist or non-Christian - take your pick, depending on the community where the non-discussion is taking place. We’ve bought into it, I suspect because we in the secular community have become so sensitive to religious persecution that we’ve become unreasoning absolutists about the content of any thought that someone might call religious. The fallacy in that approach is that we make ourselves safer by rejecting any content criticism of religion. We don’t. Even if we play by those rules and even if the majority enforces the taboo to insulate itself from any criticism, we’re still going to be hammered. Not to mention that any idea that is expressed is fair game for criticism.

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Posted: 02 June 2008 06:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 64 ]
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Well, I’ve read the FI article, but there’s noting new there that didn’t come up in the podcast. I tend to agree that Dacey overstates the problem. I consider myself a secular liberal, yet I regularly criticise religious precepts, and I consider myself a cultural relativist yet I consider all ideas and perspectives fair game for critique. The academic left may be guilty of the sort of extreme postmodernism and deference to personal belief/faith that Dacey is worried about, but there are plenty of us on the left and in the secular community who are not. So I am not convinced by his diagnosis, and I still see his prescription as vague. If all he is saying is that we should feel free to debate any and all ideas, well I certainly agree and I don’t think that’s likely to be a very controversial idea here. On the other hand, if he’s saying, as he often seems to, that conscience and moral intuition constitute a sound basis or hard evidence for a particular moral position, and that we should invoke conscience in public policy debates the way the religious invoke god’s law, well than I think he’s dead wrong.

SO I’m not sure, Paul, that we disagree in terms of the importance of public debate and criticism of all ideas, including the religious. But I suspct we disagree on why such debate is currently inadequate (I atribute it to the overwhelming ominance of religious thinking, not the influence of relativism or postmodernism) and the relevance of conscience to polticl an policy debates (I think policies need to be justified by logic and external evidence, and while based on one’s intuitions about right and wrong, perhaps, these intuition are not a meaningful selling point or argument for the rightness of a particular position).

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Posted: 02 June 2008 05:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 65 ]
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PLaClair - 02 June 2008 04:51 AM

In addition, Dacey’s argument is .... that the practice of not criticizing other people’s opinions - especially on matters like religion and to a lesser extent politics - is widespread, including within the secular community.

I listened to the podcast again and read the Free Inquiry article.  I think what he is criticizing is the “political correctness” flaw in liberalism which is where the tolerance for intolerance has its roots—the “every opinion deserves to be heard” and the emphasis on self-esteem rather than achievement.  There is a pendulum which swings in these ideas, and I think it has been swinging back from post-modernism for some time.  Although Dacey is right—the criticism of the reaction to the Dutch-cartoons was much too muted, I think this is not a flaw in secularism but a flaw in liberalism.

I basically agree with your statement above—but I don’t think it’s a “privacy fallacy” or a “freedom fallacy”, but rather that it’s a “post-modern liberal fallacy” that tries to not be judgmental about ANYTHING.

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Posted: 02 June 2008 06:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 66 ]
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Jackson - 02 June 2008 05:27 PM

Although Dacey is right—the criticism of the reaction to the Dutch-cartoons was much too muted, I think this is not a flaw in secularism but a flaw in liberalism.
I basically agree with your statement above—but I don’t think it’s a “privacy fallacy” or a “freedom fallacy”, but rather that it’s a “post-modern liberal fallacy” that tries to not be judgmental about ANYTHING.

Some people don’t attack in hopes of not being attacked. Others attack but cannot take a defensive front. I on the other hand encamp hoping for an attack. Some have taken my attitude as simplistic or harsh and for that, I apologize but for me less is best. I understand Dacey as attempting to explain the environment surrounding the person that looks at disagreements as a personal attack on their individual thought process and as a result shut down dialogue. I on the other hand, dream of the day when I can have a “argument” with someone who does not start out the conversation accusing me of stupidity or as being a hateful skeptic.

[ Edited: 02 June 2008 06:43 PM by Entity ]
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Posted: 02 June 2008 07:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 67 ]
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Entity - 02 June 2008 06:29 PM
Jackson - 02 June 2008 05:27 PM

Although Dacey is right—the criticism of the reaction to the Dutch-cartoons was much too muted, I think this is not a flaw in secularism but a flaw in liberalism.
I basically agree with your statement above—but I don’t think it’s a “privacy fallacy” or a “freedom fallacy”, but rather that it’s a “post-modern liberal fallacy” that tries to not be judgmental about ANYTHING.

Some people don’t attack in hopes of not being attacked. Others attack but cannot take a defensive front. I on the other hand encamp hoping for an attack. Some have taken my attitude as simplistic or harsh and for that, I apologize but for me less is best. I understand Dacey as attempting to explain the environment surrounding the person that looks at disagreements as a personal attack on their individual thought process and as a result shut down dialogue. I on the other hand, dream of the day when I can have a “argument” with someone who does not start out the conversation accusing me of stupidity or as being a hateful skeptic.

I’m not following you…are you saying this is how you feel treated in this forum or in daily life?

I like the point Dacey makes that a having a “conscience” precedes being religious, rather than the other way around, just as Spinoza, Madison etc. felt that you could not compell someone to believer.

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Posted: 03 June 2008 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 68 ]
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Jackson - 02 June 2008 05:27 PM
PLaClair - 02 June 2008 04:51 AM

In addition, Dacey’s argument is .... that the practice of not criticizing other people’s opinions - especially on matters like religion and to a lesser extent politics - is widespread, including within the secular community.

I listened to the podcast again and read the Free Inquiry article.  I think what he is criticizing is the “political correctness” flaw in liberalism which is where the tolerance for intolerance has its roots—the “every opinion deserves to be heard” and the emphasis on self-esteem rather than achievement.  There is a pendulum which swings in these ideas, and I think it has been swinging back from post-modernism for some time.  Although Dacey is right—the criticism of the reaction to the Dutch-cartoons was much too muted, I think this is not a flaw in secularism but a flaw in liberalism.

I basically agree with your statement above—but I don’t think it’s a “privacy fallacy” or a “freedom fallacy”, but rather that it’s a “post-modern liberal fallacy” that tries to not be judgmental about ANYTHING.

The value in identifying the Privacy Fallacy (PF) and the Liberty Fallacy (LF) is that Dacey is offering a more specific, and I think a more useful, critique than merely saying “political correctness” (PC) or “post-modernism” (PM). In fact, political correctness is a different animal, which proceeds from the assumption that there is a content that ought not to be challenged - as opposed to the dogma of PF and LF, which is that we ought not to challenge. PF and LF are more along the lines of post-modernism, but these two fallacies offer a more specific insight than just saying post-modernism.

The two views (PC is a problem and PF/LF is a problem) are compatible with each other. There are many strains of thought out there, and many problems in the way people think about things. I think Austin makes an important point about two influential elements.

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Posted: 03 June 2008 04:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 69 ]
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mckenzievmd - 02 June 2008 06:52 AM

Well, I’ve read the FI article, but there’s noting new there that didn’t come up in the podcast. I tend to agree that Dacey overstates the problem. I consider myself a secular liberal, yet I regularly criticise religious precepts, and I consider myself a cultural relativist yet I consider all ideas and perspectives fair game for critique. The academic left may be guilty of the sort of extreme postmodernism and deference to personal belief/faith that Dacey is worried about, but there are plenty of us on the left and in the secular community who are not. So I am not convinced by his diagnosis, and I still see his prescription as vague. If all he is saying is that we should feel free to debate any and all ideas, well I certainly agree and I don’t think that’s likely to be a very controversial idea here. On the other hand, if he’s saying, as he often seems to, that conscience and moral intuition constitute a sound basis or hard evidence for a particular moral position, and that we should invoke conscience in public policy debates the way the religious invoke god’s law, well than I think he’s dead wrong.

SO I’m not sure, Paul, that we disagree in terms of the importance of public debate and criticism of all ideas, including the religious. But I suspct we disagree on why such debate is currently inadequate (I atribute it to the overwhelming ominance of religious thinking, not the influence of relativism or postmodernism) and the relevance of conscience to polticl an policy debates (I think policies need to be justified by logic and external evidence, and while based on one’s intuitions about right and wrong, perhaps, these intuition are not a meaningful selling point or argument for the rightness of a particular position).

Brennen, it’s true that some of us are quite outspoken, but most people are not, in my view. I have noticed a taboo against criticizing other people’s religions.

We see the same world in two different ways. I’ll keep on keeping my eyes open as best I can.

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Posted: 03 June 2008 07:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 70 ]
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Once again, some really filthy politics are being passed off under the cover of ‘liberal tolerance’, and being given a free pass by the ‘secular humanist’ left. I refer not to the phoney scandal around the Danish cartoons, but Austin Dacey’s own services as an ideological handmaiden to the neocons.

In this interview Dacey is asked about what he actually does at the UN. Openly expressing his admiration for War Party stalwart (and Washington’s former UN ambassador) John Bolton, Dacey describes his own role as what I would call nothing other than a proxy for US foreign policy initiatives for ‘freedom of expression’ (enforced by cruise missiles and depleted uranium munitions).

This is of a piece with Dacey’s ideological campaigning among secular leftists to support christian conservative efforts to bring down the wall church/state separation under a falsified ‘freedom of conscience’ argument (on which I have commented before).

The fact that there are sufficient numbers of ‘leftist’ rubes out there who are ready to buy into Dacey’s game is a real testament to the wholesale retrogression of political consciousness that has characterised the Clinton/Bush New World Order.

The point is that no credible claim can be made to defending the struggle for secular values in the Muslim world by those who give active support or passive acquiescence to military aggression by the U.S. and allied imperialist forces in the Middle East.

[ Edited: 03 June 2008 08:07 AM by Balak ]
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Posted: 03 June 2008 10:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 71 ]
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Balak - 03 June 2008 07:19 AM

Once again, some really filthy politics are being passed off under the cover of ‘liberal tolerance’, and being given a free pass by the ‘secular humanist’ left. I refer not to the phoney scandal around the Danish cartoons, but Austin Dacey’s own services as an ideological handmaiden to the neocons.

In this interview Dacey is asked about what he actually does at the UN. Openly expressing his admiration for War Party stalwart (and Washington’s former UN ambassador) John Bolton, Dacey describes his own role as what I would call nothing other than a proxy for US foreign policy initiatives for ‘freedom of expression’ (enforced by cruise missiles and depleted uranium munitions).

This is of a piece with Dacey’s ideological campaigning among secular leftists to support christian conservative efforts to bring down the wall church/state separation under a falsified ‘freedom of conscience’ argument (on which I have commented before).

The fact that there are sufficient numbers of ‘leftist’ rubes out there who are ready to buy into Dacey’s game is a real testament to the wholesale retrogression of political consciousness that has characterised the Clinton/Bush New World Order.

The point is that no credible claim can be made to defending the struggle for secular values in the Muslim world by those who give active support or passive acquiescence to military aggression by the U.S. and allied imperialist forces in the Middle East.

Balak, this sort of abusive post is against the rules of the forum, particularly since Austin is himself a sometime member here. I understand your ideological differences of opinion with some members of this site, even those like Austin who are very much on the left wing. However this sort of political boilerplate has become something of a routine with your posts here. Please avoid this sort of hyperbole in the future. Members with a pattern of violating forum rules are subject to banning. Thanks.

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Posted: 03 June 2008 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 72 ]
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Could you please be specific? The characterizations in the post above are all political, not personal.

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Posted: 03 June 2008 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 73 ]
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They are political, however the hyperbolic nature of the claims makes them personal as well. Rule 2(f).

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Posted: 03 June 2008 11:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 74 ]
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I consider what Dacey is advocating politically is extremely dangerous to the cause of secular humanism, and believe this concern should be stated in clear terms. 

It is certainly ironic though, isn’t it…. while Dacey waves Muslim offense at the anti-Islamic cartoons as his own ‘bloody shirt’ for the cause of ‘freedom of speech’, his would-be defenders can respond to sharp criticism of his politics only with the threat of ...censorship.

[ Edited: 03 June 2008 11:42 AM by Balak ]
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Posted: 03 June 2008 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 75 ]
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PLaClair - 01 June 2008 05:56 AM

Also like Prof. Dacey, I believe that the human person is what merits respect. For us, not discussing a point of disagreement is not respect. Respect is holding each of our fellows to the same standard to which we hold ourselves, and discussing disagreements openly, honestly and as intelligently as our abilities will allow. (Listen to the brief segment from Dr. Dacey’s interview under customer Len Nobs’ customer review at http://www.amazon.com/review/product/1591026040/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?_encoding=UTF8&showViewpoints=1).

What is it that you see Prof. Dacey wants us to do differently?  I think that I see an increase in discussion along the lines Dacey is talking about, but maybe I am becoming more atuned to the topic.

Certainly people are holding clergy publicly accountable for chilid abuse.

I think the Internet is gradually changing communications (my children get their news online rather than the nightly network news).

Anyway, I’m not sure if Dacey is pushing for individual initiative or encouraging a groundswell of collective effort.

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