People often wonder why there appears to be no progress in philosophy, unlike in natural science, and why it is that after some three millenniums of philosophical activity no dramatic changes seem to have been made to the questions philosophers ask. The reason is because people keep asking the same questions and perplexed by the same difficulties. Wittgenstein puts the point rather directly: “Philosophy hasn’t made any progress? If somebody scratches the spot where he has an itch, do we have to see some progress?” Philosophy scratches at the various itches we have, not in order that we might find some cure for what ails us, but in order to scratch in the right place and begin to understand why we engage in such apparently irritating activity. Philosophy is not Neosporin. It is not some healing balm. It is an irritant, which is why Socrates described himself as a gadfly.
Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be. We weep at what thwarts or exceeds our desires in serious matters; we laugh at what only disappoints our expectations in trifles. We shed tears from sympathy with that which is unreasonable and unnecessary, the absurdity of which provokes our spleen or mirth, rather than any serious reflections on it.
Toleration can best be understood … as not using force or advocating the use of force against those who hold ideas and beliefs or who engage in practices that one thinks are wrong but which do not violate the person, property, or liberty of others. This classical liberal type of toleration shows proper respect for people as reasoning beings able to reach their own conclusions about the nature of the world and the most appropriate way to live and organize their lives. Recognition of another person’s right to his own thoughts and beliefs is also an essential foundation of civil discourse. ¶ So that we do not unwittingly go down the path of soft relativism or the tyranny of political correctness, it is important to recognize that toleration does not mean that we must be indifferent to, respect in a deep way, or be compelled to accept any belief or practice. In a free society, the sphere of ethical and scientific debate should be quite broad as people wrestle with questions about the proper way to live and the nature of justice. This means that — like goods and services in the economic marketplace — ideas and practices have to compete and be subject to robust criticism. If we have the confidence of our convictions, we should be open to vigorous challenge about the best ways of living consistent with our individual and societal flourishing. And we should be able to challenge others as we grope together towards truth.
Certainly for anyone who thinks that Biblical teaching is at least in some ways normative, or that the Bible is in some sense authoritative, or who merely claims to take the Bible seriously, it should be a fundamental principle that the Bible must be allowed to say exactly what it wants to say irrespective of the consequences. We may then freely reject what it says as being foolish, inconvenient, embarrassing, or offensive. But no good is served by acting dishonestly with Biblical texts, that is, turning or twisting or otherwise manipulating and forcing them in the direction of what we want them to say. To be sure, we do not often do this in a deliberate or even conscious way, though this renders the problem even more insidious than it might otherwise be.
Many people today regard 21st-century science as a shining, monolithic spire of truth rising above the landscape of human ignorance and superstition. As a result, I often talk with people who fully apply all their critical thinking skills, and their full Internet-scouring abilities, to see if they can discover a weak link in evidence for the truth of Christian beliefs, but who have a complete, unquestioning faith in science. … As a scientist, I am increasingly appalled and even shocked at what passes for science. It has become a mix of good science, bad science, creative story-telling, science fiction, scientism (atheism dressed up as science), citation-bias, huge media announcements followed by quiet retractions, massaging the data, exaggeration for funding purposes, and outright fraud all rolled up together. In some disciplines, the problem has become so rampant that the “good science” part is drowning in a mess of everything else. ¶ To distinguish between good science and the other rubbish in 21st-century “science,” one must first understand what constitutes good science. Good science, properly practiced, requires very little faith and can be trusted insofar as we can trust anything that human beings try to do well.
The extreme fundamentalists can’t see any difference between living in Egypt, for example, and living under non-Muslim rule, thanks to the all-pervasive influence of the modern state. In the old days the political domain was also worldly and corrupt, but the social domain was still shaped by Islam. Nowadays, however, it is the state that regulates marriage, divorce, inheritance, trade, finance, work, health, childcare, schooling, higher education, and so on, often with attention to what the sharia says, but freely reshaping it to fit modern, secular aims which originate in the infidel and politically dominant west. ¶ So one way or the other, Muslims are ruled by the west wherever they live, not just politically but also socially and culturally. Wherever they look, they are being invaded by so-called western values — in the form of giant billboards advertising self-indulgence, semi-pornographic films, liquor, pop music, fat tourists in indecent clothes and funny hats, and politicians lecturing people about the virtues of democracy. Religion does not actually shape the social realm any more, except rhetorically. All that religion shapes in modern Muslim societies is voluntary associations such as Sufi orders, Muslim brotherhoods, and fundamentalist cells, which fall short of being whole societies, let alone states, and which you can set up in non-Muslim countries too. So in effect, as the fundamentalists see it, all Muslims have become diaspora Muslims.
Like most post-modernist professors of jargon, Caputo isn’t ever clear about anything, but he appears here to be saying that reason itself is “socially constructed,” and therefore subjective or arbitrary, or something. The close corollary is that language is also “socially constructed” and just a tool for power. Whenever I meet such people I have two questions: Why are we having this conversation — if in fact we really can’t talk to each other? Moreover, if language is an arbitrary social construction, then how are we having this conversation? May I answer by interpretive dance instead of sounds from my mouth? Why not?
Multinational studies find “women have higher levels of well-being than men, with a few exceptions in low income countries” and “We conclude that differences in well-being across genders are affected by the same empirical and methodological factors that drive the paradoxes underlying income and well-being debates.” That is, women feel better about their different life choices than men do. The implication is that women’s innate desires to a job that satisfies them drive their choices moreso than men, who appear to make choices less for happiness in the job and more for the wages … Further, as to the attraction to STEM fields of men vs women, the evidence is strong that men prefer “things” and women prefer “people” and social value. Put more scientifically, “The tendency of men to predominate in fields imposing high quantitative demands, high physical risk, and low social demands, and the tendency of women to be drawn to less quantitatively demanding fields, safer jobs, and jobs with a higher social content are, at least in part, artifacts of an evolutionary history that has left the human species with a sexually dimorphic mind. These differences are proximately mediated by sex hormones.
“Achieving disagreement.” That’s a curious phrase. Is disagreement really something to achieve? It’s intriguing because it implies you can’t safely assume that all ideological conflict counts as legitimate disagreement. And it’s provocative because it seems to suggest that disagreement is something to seek after, to embrace. We don’t always achieve disagreement. We often fail. When we don’t truly understand the other — if we can’t articulate their view charitably — we fail genuinely to disagree. So what’s the difference between really, actually disagreeing—entering into a shared conversation—as opposed to a competition of monologues?