Thursday, 17 October 2013

Mark Rowlands and the Moral Right to Believe


There has been a lot of talk recently about the danger of university teachers males in particular seducing their female students, in effect using the leverage of their status and power over academic careers. Personally I feel that agency on the part of these young women is not sufficiently stressed by academic philosophers, mostly males, who seem to take it as a given that they have but to cast their eye and ‘lovely woman stoops to folly’. Syllogism ripping stuff but it is the essay by Mark Rowlands of The Philosopher and the Wolf fame in Aeon magazine that brings to mind another aspect of the inevitable asymmetry of teacher and taught.
right to believe

The first thing to be said about it is the editorial decision I presume, to head the essay with a photo of people protesting the Obama administration’s health mandate relating to contraception, abortion and sterilisation. We are being led to accept that this is a typical issue where rational consideration can prevail over religious irrationality. Irish Catholics will remember the Penal Laws and the perfectly intellectually justifiable concern with the cancer of Popery.

What Rowlands maintains about the duty of teachers to challenge the beliefs of their students is correct. They also ought to present the strongest arguments for the position that they controvert. The difficulty is that there is a divergence of views on the rational defensibility of religion. What is being urged by Rowlands is that any position that cannot be rationlly held ought not to be held. Many philosopher Catholics believe that proofs of the existence of God are quite tenable. Others find that their faith is a self-validating experience, inevitably subjective but having the theological lineaments of their tradition. I have written before on Von Hugel’s description of the stages of spiritual development and the danger of getting stuck in any of the three phases.
law of trine

Rowlands introduces the classic dope trope: She has a valid claim to her belief that Pastafari created the world in the sense that she can defend it, if she so chooses, in the public arena. He has a moral right to be silly I suppose but when he introduces such arguments as arguments we have a right to shrug and move on.

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