Posts tagged Francois Tremblay

Re: Howard Zinn R.I.P.


I don’t do polemical definitions of “revisionist.” I’m using it in a neutral sense: revisionists are historians who critically re-examine common received wisdom and authoritative accounts about history, and criticize or rejecting the “official” or authoritative understanding of the events.

Whether or not this project is really worthwhile depends on what’s being rejected and what the evidence for the rejecting is. Since I tend to think that official/governmental accounts of history tend to be a pack of distortions, fudging, and self-serving lies, I tend be pretty positive on revisionism, so long as the revisionist in question is herself serious and honest. Zinn’s a good example; I’d also consider somebody like J.R. Hummel or Bob Higgs an example of good honest revisionism. Of course, there are other revisionists out there who are ignorant, stupid or dishonest — take David Irving (please!). But the problem with them isn’t that they’re revisionists. It’s that they’re idiots or charlatans.

Re: Howard Zinn R.I.P.


Well, don’t look so surprised. It’s not exactly unusual for Lew Rockwell to say kind things about anti-war revisionist historians, including those on the populist Left. He’ll typically say kind things about almost anyone who he thinks is on the right side of the war issue.

Re: “Natural”

In other words, “right but I want to quibble”.

“Right” about what? It’s true that Micha was using the term “naturalistic fallacy” in a sense other than the sense in which Moore used it. (Specifically, he used it to refer to arguments that infer something about the moral status of something from its naturalness.) But I don’t have any basic problem with that kind of loose usage as long as it doesn’t interfere with accurately understanding what Moore meant by the term when he used it. The “quibble,” such as it is, is aimed to clarify how Moore himself used the term. Which is not an issue that Micha raised, or one that’s particularly important to assessing his argument; it’s an issue that you raised in the course of a reply to him.

It’s certainly true that the issue of what Moore coined the term “naturalistic fallacy” to mean is tangential to this conversation. But misrepresentations of his view, especially those that are very common and very misleading, are worth correcting anyway, in the interest of accuracy.

I read him right without the benefit of seeing his later explanation

Well, no; what he said is that by “natural” he means those things which arise from a “spontaneous order.” But that explanation is itself ambiguous, depending on whether he means strictly a “voluntary order” (which may very well be designed), or instead an “undesigned order” (which may very well be involuntary), or both. Libertarian writers have often used the term “spontaneous order” to refer to either, or both, or have simply equivocated between the two different meanings from one use to the next.

If he means the former, you read him right; but then the claim is unresponsive to what it was supposed to respond to. And, since that interpretation is unresponsive, it made sense for Micha to suggest, out of motives of charity, a more responsive reading.

If he means the latter, you read him wrongly, and the claim is somewhat more responsive to Francois; but then it is underargued and almost surely false.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think that your reading of him is “off the wall;” I’m not even claiming that it’s wrong. My point is that whether you read his claim rightly or read it wrongly, the claim doesn’t get Arthur very far either way vis-a-vis his interlocutors.

Nature and Moore

And anyway, G. E. Moore invented the term “naturalist fallacy” to label philosophers who disagreed with him about morality.

No, he didn’t.

Moore coined the term “naturalistic fallacy” to describe a particular kind of move in ethical argument, which Moore believed to be fallacious. (Specifically, an attempt to establish a substantial ethical conclusion by equivocating between a statement of the form “Everything that is X, Y, and Z is good” and a definition of the form “‘Good’ means being X, Y, and Z.”) His issue with the naturalistic fallacy is meta-ethical, not normative; it’s not that he disapproves of the conclusions drawn from it, but rather that he disagrees with the way they are drawn. (He argues that this kind of maneuver tries to resolve substantive ethical disagreements on the cheap, by changing the subject from ethics to semantics, which fails to offer an ethically serious inquiry, i.e. one which might possibly result in reasons for action.) He did not accuse all philosophers who disagreed with his own ethical views of committing the naturalistic fallacy. In particular, he specifically argues that Henry Sidgwick did not commit the naturalistic fallacy in his ethical arguments, although Moore disagrees with, and spends half a chapter arguing against, Sidgwick’s hedonistic view.

Thus, while I don’t know what Arthur meant (and I see he has replied but I’ll take a gamble and submit this without reading his reply), as I understand him what he writes is not only true but trivially true. If something is natural in the sense of natural law, i.e., if it occurs in the absence of a state, then it is trivially true that in order for it to stop occurring, a state is necessary.

If that’s what Arthur means (I think it’s still not especially clear from his response), then he is either walloping a strawman or asserting a strong claim without evidence. If the argument started out about whether gender roles are or are “socially constructed” or “natural,” then the latter presumably refers to those things which aren’t derived from social construction (which may be a coercive process, a non-coercive process, or an admixture of both), rather than to those things which emerge spontaneously in the absence of coercion. If his claim is the trivial claim you attribute to him (that things that emerge spontaneously in the absence of coercion will emerge spontaneously unless coercion is applied), then he’s not successfully responding to Francois’s expressed concern. If, on the other hand, his claim is the substantive claim that things that aren’t socially constructed cannot be limited or eliminated without the use of coercion, then what he’s saying is responsive, but it’s also not as yet supported by argument. (And in fact is pretty obviously wrong, if it’s intended as a universal claim.)