May. 14th, 2010

maradydd: (Default)
Please, for your own sake as well as the rest of ours, shut up with the damn tone argument already.

Yes, yes, Dawkins and Hitchens and Myers (oh my!) are caustic. Allow me to point out something that you seem to have failed to notice: They know that.

I point this out because, as a frequent Pharyngula reader, I enjoy reading PZ Myers' discussions of ethics from an atheist perspective. More generally, I enjoy reading discussions of ethics from a wide variety of philosophical and religious perspectives. Every metaphysical system has its own set of axioms, and it is interesting to see how different approaches to epistemology, ethics, &c. can be derived from these axioms. Myers, for example, has a debate going on with Sam Harris about whether there can be a scientific foundation for morality. (Harris says yes; Myers disagrees, and the reasons why are interesting, so go read it yourself.)

"What principles can we validly derive from the following assumptions?" is a rewarding avenue of inquiry. It is a rewarding avenue of inquiry even if one does not agree with the assumptions in question. Or the derived principles, for that matter. As just one example, Fred Clark's grueling exegesis of the Left Behind novels is fascinating stuff because it delves relentlessly into the moral fabric that underpins the books' (and authors') worldview, and provides real perspective into the Avengelical (h/t Making Light) mindset. This turns out to be an approach that has far more staying power (coming up seven years now) and promotes far more cogent discussion than mere fisking or snarking would. Picking apart how premillennial dispensationalists' principles lead them to their conclusions actually serves to make both the principles and the conclusions even more horrifying, but I hold that this is a good thing; getting a person to examine his principles -- which is probably the most effective way to get him to examine his conclusions -- generally requires, as Atticus Finch had it, standing in his shoes and walking around in them for a while. Even if you need to bleach your feet afterward.

But concern-trolling over the tone argument is boring. It's boring in discussions of racism, it's boring in discussions of feminism, and it's boring in discussions of religion or the lack thereof. Sure, it'll draw hits to your blog, but it's the search-engine optimization of debate: you might pick up some more AdSense dollars (trolling, concern- or otherwise, is certainly an effective tactic for this), but you're not adding anything new to the discussion. You could reply to the substance of your opponents' conclusions -- bonus points for tracing the logic back to an actually held position and not a strawman -- but, no, those pearls won't clutch themselves.

So, ask yourselves: do you want the hits, or do you want to add something to the substance of the ethics debate? Because you can do both at the same time, but it requires real research and real effort. Taking the time to understand someone's underlying axioms is serious work, but it is also the only way to address the substance of any philosophical perspective. Otherwise, you're just tilting at strawmen, and it's getting dull.

tl,dr: silly internets, put more work into entertaining me, kthxbai.

Your friend,


maradydd: (Default)

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