September 19, 2007

It's Like Picking a Scab

I just can't pull myself away from this altruism/egoism debate that is going on over at Colin McGinn's.

The altruists' energy seems to be flagging, but they do not seem to understand what it means to beg the question. To challenge them to reveal their underlying philosophical prejudice, I asked them to answer the following:

Why is a drowning baby is a bad thing?
Why is giving a dollar to a beggar a good thing?

Update: hahahahaaaaa... It's official! I've had comments deleted from the McGinn blog. He said, "I am now deleting all comments on this subject I judge to be offensive, ill-considered or hopelessly confused."

I wish I had saved my earlier, longer comment that explained what lead to the questions above.

Even still, I replied to McGinn's comment with this:

By what standard are you using to make that determination?

If you consider yourself any sort of thinker, it should not offend you to consider honest questions that lie squarely within your field of expertise.

What standard are you using to decide that things like giving to beggars is good or saving babies from drowning? Given the clear implication that this is the case, what is the answer?

Update 2: It looks like McGinn is trying to close the discussion. I just wrote to him:

I don't think you deleted those comments with regret at all. The comments that you've deleted have been documented on the respective blogs of those who posted them and they have not been "irresponsible" or "offensive, ill-considered or hopelessly confused."

The worst part of this is that you've been fueling the "unruliness" of the discussion with your patronizing comments about cults and ideologues.

Instead of addressing the calmly presented arguments of your opponents with reason and clarity, you've responded repeatedly with insults and bullying. If you honestly hope that anyone has profited from this discussion after the way you've been leading it, I would suggest that your hope is absurdly misplaced.

Update 3: Users have been posting comments for and against his deleting comments and about ending the discussion. I commented:

It would be uncharitable to assume that McGinn is completely irrational, so we assume that it was out of self-interest that he started this blog and propagated the "ranting and raving."

I definitely support McGinn's right to delete comments from his blog for any reason at all, but don't let's all buy into his dishonesty about the nature of the comments he deleted. As some say in the south, "Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining."

I wonder if "piss" is as offensive to him as reading from the dictionary.

Update 4: Colin McGinn responded to my comment:

I deleted them for one simple reason: so that my site would not be overrun with junk. I used the same criterion I use when I grade student papers--intellectual quality. After thirty years as a philosophy professor, I'm well able to distinguish views I disagree with from shoddy work. Those were D postings. What I regret is having to deal with and eliminate drivel. And yes, if it seems to me like I cult I'll call it one. Scientology anyone?

And I continue to berate him:

One of the comments you deleted and implied was "irresponsible" and you now characterize as "shoddy" was a simple, civil, and direct challenge to your assertion about the consensus on a definition of philosophical terms. It cited the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy and clearly laid out one of the essential terms for this discussion. It even provided a common philosophical example of the term as an illustration.

The other two comments of mine you deleted were direct rebuttals to two of the examples that have been repeated throughout. Strangely, you deleted them even though I accepted the arbitrary stipulation you yourself placed on that argument, only I pointed out why it was an arbitrary stipulation that contradicted the accepted meaning of the other philosophical term we've been debating. I then pressed again for a clarification of your standard to which you and others on your side of the discussion were making -- something you have yet to do. The only apparent difference is that I was willing to allow you all to be as grotesque as you cared to be. Had you answered my question, it would have illustrated that your argument does beg the question.

If redefining terms to suit you and lacing the discussion with insults isn't the mark of low intellectual quality and shoddy work, I think you should consult the meaning of the word "junk" in order to reassess the character of this blog. You disappoint the expectations 30 years of experience sets for you.

Update 5: I just posted two more comments. Let's see what happens to them.


Judging from your own conduct, I couldn't tell that you appreciated civility. But your appreciation of the remark is telling.

Dave's comment is very nice, but it doesn't really debate any of the issues, but glosses lightly over the top of this particular topic. I doubt anyone really agrees with him whole cloth, but I think few would find the points of disagreement compelling enough to engage. What is most striking is the flattery he deals to you.

By contrast, in my comments, I ignored your specious jabs and condescension and made few to no remarks about the quality of your character or intellectual capacity until you started deleting comments.

and then:

By the way, you've shifted the definition of altruism AGAIN, but this time you're getting closer to answering the question I've been asking of you. What standard are you using? You said that in part, you are using the interests of others "FOR THEIR OWN SAKE," but you haven't said why.

Why should we respect the interests of others for their own sake as opposed to respecting our own interests. I see that you expect a person to sometimes choose between one standard and the other, but you haven't given a reason why or how one should do that.

What do you suppose is the purpose of having ethics at all?

Update 6 He deleted those comments, too. I'm going to try one last parting shot:

Now you're just deleting all comments from people who rankle you?

Again, I support your right to do that, but it is telling.

Update 7: One of Colin's other readers, Dave, has engaged me. I responded with this:

I don't doubt your sincerity, I question McGinn's character based upon his observed behavior. His ego apparently cannot stand direct critique but he has no problems casting aspersions on others. I will have to decline your invitation to study any of his other work, on the same in addition to the quality of his discourse here.

I'm not sure why you think I'm missing the broader issue. As I mentioned in one of my deleted comments, I've minded my manners and conducted this discussion in general good humor in spite of the insults. It is only now that my comments are all being categorically deleted that I've allowed good humor to fall by the wayside. The reason being that I do think the world can benefit from a steady progression toward reason instead of away from it.

It does seem unlikely that a majority of people will become Objectivist any time soon, but there's no reason they couldn't.

I'll take your word for it that McGinn is "moving somewhat in an 'Objectivist' direction," but this discussion reveals him to be quite far away from Objectivism, rational thought, and his manners

Update 8: I got an email from McGinn himself!

I'm deleting all comments from you in particular--exercising my right to expunge what I regard as obnoxious junk.

I responded:

That is your business.

Your conduct has been absolutely shameful. You should not be surprised when insulted persons respond to you with hostility. At least I have the honesty to be open and direct about it.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at September 19, 2007 01:43 PM | TrackBack

Looks like, according to McGinn, you are offensive and/or hopelessly confused. I'd count that as a victory.

What an intellectually sloppy asshat.

McGinn, of course. Not you.

Posted by: Justin at September 19, 2007 02:31 PM

yep! I'm hoping I will get blocked completely soon. That would be the real fiet bien!

Posted by: Flibbert at September 19, 2007 02:39 PM

I already had a comment deleted. I think it was less about "confusion" and more about a play on words that compared his ilk to feces.

In reference to his "whiff of a cult" comment, I had posted "The only thing that stinks around here is all the pooh-poohing from the altruist camp."

Posted by: Justin at September 19, 2007 02:52 PM

I can see the point of giving someone the benefit of the doubt, e.g. participating in such debates. However, once you've clearly established his (and other participants') basic hostility to reason, then wherefore lies the value in continuing?

Or is it simply the joy of antagonizing fools? And would you agree that that's more of an optional value?

Posted by: Rachel at September 19, 2007 02:59 PM

yeah, pretty much. I suppose I could say that I hope to enlighten anyone who might be on the fence about it, but really baiting them into revealing themselves as the bullies they are is for my own amusement.

Posted by: Flibbert at September 19, 2007 03:11 PM

He deleted your update 4 as well.

He also deleted mine:

If I were a philosophy professor, I would also give the following a "D" grade:

For ad hominem:
"Scientology anyone? "

For poisoning the well:
"There is the whiff of the cult about it."

For begging the question:
"Suppose person A performs action x as a result of which person B benefits, but A DOES NOT BENEFIT FROM X, EITHER THEN OR AT ANY FUTURE TIME. Then, according to ethical egoism, x is IMMORAL. That is plainly absurd."

For dismissing the argument:

For straw men:
"altruism requires only that one gives some weight to the interests of others, as opposed to oneself; its opposite is egoism, which takes account only of one's own interests in decision-making."

Anyways, I feel like I'm starting to spam your comments, so I'll stop now.

Posted by: Justin at September 19, 2007 05:35 PM

Oh, don't sweat it! I love comments. Especially juicy ones like that! Good job!

Posted by: Flibbert at September 19, 2007 06:01 PM

Indeed, Flib!

Anyone who deletes a comment like that, Justin, deserves nothing better than ridicule.

Posted by: Rachel at September 20, 2007 12:41 AM

That guy's really a teacher? He's really been shaping minds for 30 years?

Posted by: Matt Chancellor at September 20, 2007 01:18 AM
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