Friday, July 7, 2017

Quote of the day

Well, more of a passage than a quote, but FLG liked it nonetheless.  

Ross Douthat:
Schemes for a “Darwinian ethics” generally have a brazen artificiality to them when they aren’t leaping merrily toward tooth-and-claw, might-makes-right conclusions; in the genealogy of modern morals the Christian worldview is a progenitor of rights-based liberalism in a fairly straightforward and logically-consistent way; and the alternative syntheses are a bit more forced, a bit dodgier, and a bit prone to suddenly giving way, as the major 20th century attempts at genuinely post-Christian and post-liberal societies conspicuously did, to screaming hellscapes that everyone these days considers simply evil.
I concede that a worldview’s coherence doesn’t prove anything definitive about its truth. You can certainly preserve a preference for human rights or any other feature of the contemporary consensus on non-theological grounds. But in the quest for truth, coherence still seems like a useful signpost, and looking for its presence still seems like a decent-enough place to start.


Andrew Stevens said...

This is a matter of some controversy, but I think it's clear that the Stoics laid the groundwork for rights-based liberalism long before the Christians did and in an even more straightforward and logically consistent way. Most of the nitpicking of this view that I've seen doesn't convince me.

Andrew Stevens said...

Thinking about it some more and throwing out some wildly irresponsible speculation...

It occurred to me that the problem in the West is disentangling the Greco-Roman tradition with the hopelessly intertwined Judeo-Christian tradition. I don't think we have a single example of a Greco-Roman civilization which was not also Judeo-Christian. However, we do have an example of a Judeo-Christian civilization which was not Greco-Roman. That is Islam, which is of course simply the most widespread and successful Christian heresy. So I would probably argue that the developments of the West which did not occur in Islamic civilization are probably results of Greco-Roman culture rather than Judeo-Christian culture.

Andrew Stevens said...

Following on, I think there is something to this. The great Muslim commentator on Aristotle was Averroes who was Andalusian, born in Cordoba. He pushed within Islam for the view that things happened because of laws handed down by God, but was soundly defeated by the Arab philosophical tradition which said things happened because of God's will. Spain, of course, had been part of the Roman Empire while Arabia never was.

One can see this as two choices in the Euthyphro dilemma (bringing it back to Plato just for you): Judeo-Christian philosophy, triumphant in Islam, is insisting that something is good because God commands it and Greco-Roman philosophy, triumphant in the West, insists that God commands something because it is good.

FLG said...

Funny you mention the Stoics. I've just been reading up on the cross-influence between Platonism and Stoicism.

FLG said...


I'm not so sure that " the developments of the West which did not occur in Islamic civilization are probably results of Greco-Roman culture rather than Judeo-Christian culture." From my History of the Middle East courses, which admittedly I took a decade ago, I remember that there were influential, educated Greek-speaking populations, left over from the Byzantines and even some from Hellenistic period. I wanna say that that Umayyads, in particular, had influential medical doctors who spoke Greek as their first language. Granted, that was from the middle 600 to 700s, so there was a long time afterward for the Greek influence to be pushed aside. And maybe that's when the divergence occurred with the Abbasids, after which it's Judeo-Christian, not not Greco-Roman.

Andrew Stevens said...

Oh sure. As I said, Averroes was a Muslim, but from the Greco-Roman culture in Spain. The same would be true for Muslims in North Africa and Anatolia, both of which were ruled by Rome for hundreds of years. But the heart of Islamic philosophy, theology, governance, etc. was Arabia (the Umayyads) and Persia (the Abbasids), which were never Greco-Roman.

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