Friday, October 30, 2020

“Pastoral” and other weasel words

If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.  If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.

Analects of Confucius, Book XIII

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’  For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. 

Matthew 5:37

“Weasel words,” as that expression is usually understood, are words that are deliberately used in a vague or ambiguous way so as to allow the speaker to avoid saying what he really thinks.  The phrase is inspired by the way a weasel can suck out the contents of an egg in a manner that leaves the shell largely intact.  A weasel word is like a hollowed-out egg, one that seems on the surface to have content but which is in fact empty.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Dupré on the ideologizing of science

Philosopher of science John Dupré, like Nancy Cartwright, Paul Feyerabend, and others, has developed powerful and influential criticisms of reductionism.  Whereas Cartwright is best known for her criticisms of reductionism in the context of physics, Dupré has tended to focus instead on biology (though both have addressed the other sciences as well).  Like Cartwright, his style is less mischievous and polemical than Feyerabend’s was.  Dupré’s essay “The Miracle of Monism” is a useful overview of his approach, and contains lessons especially relevant at a time when science (or at least the use to which it is put in public policy) has become ideologized.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Lockdowns versus social justice

The phrase “social justice” has a long and honorable history in Catholic social thought going back to the nineteenth century, but is now typically deployed in defense of policies that are diametrically opposed to social justice as the Church and its thinkers have always understood it.  And unfortunately, this is true even in the case of many Catholics, who lazily adopt various leftist attitudes and policies simply because they are falsely but relentlessly presented as concomitants of “social justice.” 

Last April, Fr. John Naugle argued in an important article at Rorate Caeli that indefinite lockdowns violate the natural human right to labor in order to provide for oneself and one’s family, and thus are deeply contrary to social justice.  He revisits the issue in a follow-up article.  Some Catholic defenders of the lockdowns are people who, in other contexts, claim to stand up for the rights of workers and to oppose consequentialist thinking.  But as Fr. Naugle points out, their rationalizations for the lockdowns are precisely consequentialist in character – pitting the alleged benefits of lockdowns against inviolable natural rights – and harm workers far more than any other segment of society.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Church embraces Columbus

We saw in a recent post how the Scholastic theologian Bartolomé de Las Casas vigorously defended the rights and dignity of the American Indians against the cruelty of Spanish conquistadors.  Las Casas in no way minimized the extent of this cruelty.  On the contrary, he is commonly accused of exaggeration and overzealousness.  So what did Las Casas think of Columbus?  Did he condemn him as an initiator of oppression?

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Joe Biden versus “democratic norms”

No one who claims to favor Biden over Trump on the grounds of protecting “democratic norms” can, at this point, be speaking in good faith.  They are either culpably deceiving themselves or cynically trying to deceive others.  Packing the Supreme Court would be as radical a violation of “democratic norms” as any president has ever attempted.  It would destroy the independence of the judiciary, making of the court a dictatorship for the party in power.  Yet Biden and Harris persistently refuse to say whether they favor court-packing.  Biden has now said that voters “don’t deserve” to know his position on this absolutely crucial issue before the election – even though he acknowledges that “it’s a great question” and says he doesn’t blame people for asking it!  Can you imagine the hysteria that would ensue if Trump gave such a lunatic answer to a question that momentous?  This is reason enough not to vote for Biden, whether or not you vote for Trump. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Weigel’s terrible arguments

In his article “Truman’s Terrible Choice” at First Things, George Weigel defends the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I respond at Catholic Herald.