September 24, 2007

I'm Through

I've finally lost the steam to continue to pester that git Colin McGinn.

In his latest comments he remarks:

Let me make it clear that I haven't said a word against Rand. In fact, I've never read anything by her. The kind of egoism I was commenting on is the kind espoused by Glaucon in Plato's Republic and Thomas Hobbes. How Rand's views correspond to this I have no idea. However, what has been said here by "Randians" has not inclined me to take the plunge.

And then:

Wrong and confused again. Not Plato, Glaucon--Socrates rejects his egoism. I refuted a vew that is well defined and well established in the philosophical literature. Whether Rand holds exactly this view I don't know. In any case, I didn't have her in mind.

I couldn't resist one bland parting remark:

No one thinks that you did say anything about Rand directly, McGinn. But everyone can clearly see that it was your hope to address ethical egoism at large, a category of ethical arguments under which the Objectivist argument is subsumed.

Your attempt to formulate a system of ethics that balances both egoism and altruism would benefit from researching the topic further.

Those who argued along side McGinn may not realize it, but he has insulted them as well with this juvenile attempt to move the goalposts on his own argument.

I can't really dispute his assertion that he's presented a well-established presentation of ethical egoism. Clearly defined may be a different issue, I wouldn't know, but the Objectivist argument is certainly under-represented in philosophical circles.

I am actually astonished at the obvious foolishness of McGinn's argument, though. Look at it again:

The topic this week was ethical egoism. What a terrible theory it is! An action is right if and only if it's in your own self interest. That means that helping others, with no benefit to self, is immoral. Rubbish. Particularly pathetic is the argument that apparently atruistic actions are really egoistic, since you get pleasure from doing good. This just conflates the object of a want with its consequences. You might as well argue that economic actions, like buying a television, are really altruistic, because someone else benefits, namely the people you buy it from. Motives are of several kinds: egoistic, altruistic, malicious, and self-destructive.

So far this term I've dispatched the three most popular ethical theories in America today--relativism, divine command theory, and egoism. It wasn't difficult work.

Look at it. Seriously, look at it. It's so vapid and presupposing! I really am shocked by it.

The first statement is: an action is right if and only if it's in your own self interest.

The next logical step from there is: helping others, with no benefit to self, is immoral.

I am actually one of these people who holds that all actions are either moral or immoral. I've not really given much thought about what the logical implications are of arguing that some actions may not have any moral value at all, neither good nor bad, so I wouldn't take that tack.

But McGinn responds to statements one and two with his conclusion: Rubbish! There is no explanation why and where you would expect some illucidation, McGinn proceeds to address an argument that we all agree is one of the weakest arguments for egoism presented.

A commenter on this very blog cited a "principle of charity" that I agree with:

There is a principle in informal logic called the Principle of Charity [...] the principle saying that you should interpret an opponent's argument in the strongest way possible, adding extra premises, reworking order and logical structure, fixing up definitions, anything possible without contradiction. Before you refute your enemy, you must try to prove them correct first.

You don't just say something is rubbish and then turn to the weakest argument you can think of to prove your case. Not only does that fail to prove anything, it shouldn't even be regarded as starting to make your case.

Now, I realize that McGinn isn't presenting any extensive philosophical treatises on his blog. (I hope none of your are expecting that of me!) But we do have to expect more substance than this.

We go from observing his not only pitiful representation to his absolutely shameful conduct throughout the discussion.

At first, my address to him and his mob was passionate but in general good humor. When the began insulting me and the other Objectivists, I lost my sense of humor, but remained within the bounds of civility. When my comments started getting deleted, righteous rage is what I felt and I let McGinn know that he was the cause.

People tend to regard emotional responses as being weak or out of control. You may or may not be aware of this but I have a terrible temper and there have been times when it has gotten the better of me. But this time I was actually really impressed with my ability to both experience the fullness of that emotion and retain most of the clarity of thought with fixed attention to the proper cause. Although McGinn's blog fixed my attention for a while, I was also pleased at the lack of transference.

Without getting into too much detail, I'm extremely pleased with the flow of my subconscious throughout. Sadly, I can't claim that the actual debate came to a satisfying conclusion.

His most recent comments are simply cowardly. I don't know any other word for it. Not only is he willing to confront challengers to his own position directly, he even remarks that he is unwilling to challenge his own premises.

I think that was the last straw for me.

Update 1: I just got an email from Mr. McGinn which said simply:

What a pompous fool you are.

I responded, of course.

More name-calling? Really?

Seriously, professor, I'm not sure which is in worse shape: your manners, your logic, or your integrity.

Update 2: It continues.

There are a lot of fools in the world. The internet has given them a voice they wouldn't otherwise have. You are a particularly egregious example of the type. I am simply stating the facts.

So, I responded with a bit more length:

The same could be said of intellectual cowards and their university posts particularly in the case of philosophy departments.

Has it occurred to you that you're engaging a complete stranger -- one you've deemed to be obnoxious junk and a pompous fool -- with petty insults? You seem to do so without any sense of irony about it. Compounding the irony is the fact that you are again hiding your shameful behavior from others. If your conclusion is so factual, why didn't you just post an additional comment to your blog calling me a pompous fool?

I've told you why I think you're a shameful and dishonest, not to mention condescending and rude, but as usual you haven't provided any citations or examples to support your conclusions. No, you've simply ejaculated your opinion into this medium and expected others to slaver over it. To use another's phrase, it's a bukkake of stupid with you.

You disgust me.

I'm starting to wonder what the head of the philosophy department or the dean of humanities at the University of Miami would think about his extracurricular online activities.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at September 24, 2007 09:49 PM | TrackBack

That man is truly the lowest kind of dishonest! After having presided over perhaps the lengthiest debate on his blog, and after all that name-calling and insults, he finally decides that he wasn't even addressing the topic of contention in the debate.
No one is defending Hobbesian egoism. Indeed, Diana began her first comment by pointing out how wrongly egoism has been defined, advocated, and defended traditionally in philosophy.
An honest man would have stepped up at that point in the thread and stated explicitly that the egoism he is referring to is not like what Diana was outlining. He did that with altruism--he was explicit in noting that his use of altruism was different from Comte's.

That man is worse than dishonest, he is corrupt. I would not give him even one more minute of my time.

As an aside, my lengthy comment on his blog made the argument that in a strictly logical sense--using his unrealistic hypothetical situation--an action that results in neither benefit nor sacrifice to the agent is of a morally neutral status and therefore not contradictory to the egoist ethics. However, in that comment I did mention within parentheses that this is not possible in reality. So, I agree with you that there are no conscious and volitional acts which have morally neutral status.

Posted by: Ergo at September 25, 2007 01:18 AM

I posted a few comments on McGinn's blog but realized the discussion was going nowhere fast so I stopped. The problem is that he was never interested in talking about egoism in an Objectivist sense, or in engaging it as a serious topic. He was only interested in mentioning some weak, straw-man version of it (I still don't know what it was) that he could condesendingly reject with a 10-second throwaway criticism. That's not worth my time.

Posted by: Jeff Montgomery at September 25, 2007 02:11 AM

This guy is a real winner.

I've seen worse, however. Check out my little back-and-forth with Scott Erb. Who is also a professor.

Posted by: Inspector at September 25, 2007 08:25 AM

That's in the comments section of that link, I should clarify.

Posted by: Inspector at September 25, 2007 08:26 AM
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