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Scruton mania [UPDATED]

Roger Scruton is without a doubt the greatest living philosopher of conservatism. Apart from political philosophy and current affairs, he has also written important works on ethics, culture, religion, the history of philosophy, and, above all, aesthetics. In addition, he has written several novels, and a couple of operas. To give you a sense of how prolific he is, Scruton’s works take up slightly more than an entire three-foot shelf in my library – and even then I’m missing a volume or two. Nor does that include his many newspaper and magazine pieces. And absolutely everything he writes is worth reading, even when one disagrees with it. (He is a bit more reactionary than I am vis-à-vis contemporary popular culture – though I agree with him that most of it is pernicious trash, and one sometimes suspects that his über-snobbery is meant to be provocative. And he is, for my money, not reactionary enough vis-à-vis religion and modern philosophy, including modern political philosophy. Too little metaphysics, too much Kant. Which, of course, means any Kant…)

If contemporary academic moral and political philosophy were something more than a clubby chat society for people with broadly left-liberal assumptions and sensibilities, Scruton would be as widely read and assigned as Rawls, Nozick, Gauthier, Cohen, Thomson, Parfit, and the rest of the usual suspects. But it isn’t, so he’s not.

Anyway. This year has seen not only two new works from Scruton – Beauty and Understanding Music – but also two important works about Scruton from Mark Dooley: his study of Scruton’s work, Roger Scruton: The Philosopher on Dover Beach, which appeared this summer; and his edited volume The Roger Scruton Reader, which comes out next month. These are long overdue, and we are in Dooley’s debt. Perhaps we’re seeing the beginnings of a Scruton boom – sculptor Alexander Stoddart is selling a bust of Scruton, which is available to adorn your private study in either a bronze, marble, or plaster version.

In any event, The Roger Scruton Reader promises to make Scruton’s writings more easily available, and will surely be widely assigned by liberal professors of ethics and of political philosophy to their students, so that they might at long last get an idea of what the best representatives of the other side are saying.

Or maybe not.

UPDATE: My esteemed co-blogger Lydia McGrew has reminded me of something about which I had completely forgotten: that Scruton, while he opposes creating a legal right to assisted suicide, has taken the view that there are cases where a doctor who intentionally hastens a terminal patient’s death (e.g. via an overdose of morphine) should not be prosecuted and – Scruton seems to think – has even done something admirable. (See chapter 4 of his book A Political Philosophy.) Says Lydia: “I do think that pro-life, contemporary, Christian conservative writers should moderate their raptures about Scruton somewhat in light of such views.” And she is absolutely right. Such views are – in my judgment no less than Lydia’s – gravely immoral, and I regret having overlooked this unhappy side of Scruton’s work.

Comments (50)

"If contemporary academic moral and political philosophy were something more than a clubby chat society for people with broadly left-liberal assumptions and sensibilities, Scruton would be as widely read and assigned as Rawls, Nozick, Gauthier, Cohen, Thomson, Parfit, and the rest of the usual suspects. But it isn’t, so he’s not."

badum-CHING!

All too true. It's been my privilege to work with Roger on the technical end of a couple of his musical presentations - and not only does the guy know *everything*, but he's a gentleman's gentleman.

Even if he does have a certain weakness for Kant. And, sometimes, even, Hegel.

Yeah, I thought about mentioning Hegel too, except that I probably have a little more sympathy for Hegel than for Kant. Please don't tell anyone about this, though...

Kant is my favorite philosopher, and the person on whom I do the most work. What do you think is so wrong with him? He's a natural lawyer and a classical liberal, after all. From reading TLS, I take it you think he's a nominalist and someone who's categorical imperative is purely formal. I don't know enough about nominalism to know whether the nominalism charge is true, but I think there's more going on with Kant's ethics than just the categorical imperative, and I think there's a bit more to be said in favor of the CI. Have you read _Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason_, _The Metaphysics of Morals_, or the Vigilantius notes on Kant's lectures on ethics? You may find at least parts of these more to your liking.

As for the chummy club, they _do_ assign Alasdair MacIntyre, who's conservative in _some_ sense.

As for Scruton's prolific output, I have enjoyed his wine column ... at least until recently ... when he stopped writing them.

They are archived at http://www.newstatesman.com/writers/roger_scruton.

Whoops, sorry Bobcat. Well, I did give Kant half a cheer in TLS for his views on sexual morality and capital punishment. ;-)

He's a natural lawyer

Not by my lights, he isn't. Like other moderns, he rejects the whole family of classical metaphysical positions -- Platonic/Aristotelian/Augustinian/Thomistic -- and without something like one of these views you can't have any natural law worthy of the name, because without them you can't ground morality in nature. The ice of pure practical reason is too thin to skate on, moral-theoretically speaking. (I know there are people who call their own barely-40-years-old ideas "natural law theory" who think otherwise, but they're wrong, and they have certainly done serious damage to the public understanding of what Aquinas et al. were really all about.)

and a classical liberal

Indeed he was. But I'm not, not these days anyway.

I take it you think he's a nominalist

More a conceptualist of sorts. Anyway, his whole metaphysics/epistemology presupposes a rejection of classical, and especially Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic, metaphysics. As does his ethics. 'Nuff said.

I think there's more going on with Kant's ethics than just the categorical imperative

There is, and I can't stand any of it. Lots of people think all the stuff about autonomy vs. heteronomy, persons as "ends in themselves" and self-legislators, etc. is the noblest height to which moral theory has ever reached. I think it is in fact a blasphemous apotheosis of man. In practice, when uttered by a man like Kant himself, whose own moral sensibilities were (given the times he lived in) relatively traditional, the immediate consequences were not so radical -- hence his sensible views on sex, the death penalty, etc. But once all the supporting Kantian metaphysical hoo-hah is rejected, naturalism takes its place, and liberalism has had two centuries to eat away at our natural moral sensibilities, the result is... pretty much whatever contemporary Kantians find their "considered intuitions" are telling them it is this week.

Unfortunately and probably inevitably, Kant's categorical imperative has declined from "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law" to "My will should be enacted as universal law." Apparently Kant could not forsee a day in which each (liberal) human being would regard their own judgment as infallible.

I have never been impressed by what I have read by Scruton. I can never forget his laughable attempt at Right Reason to do a Hegelian take on, heaven help us, home schooling. Apparently a fondness for German philosophy makes an actual factual knowledge unnecessary in areas of public policy.

But all of that that is nothing by comparison with something else. Originally excerpted at RR, now available via Google Books on-line, is "Dying Quietly," Chapter 4 of his book _A Political Philosophy_.

http://books.google.com/books?id=JTK_iPOozq0C&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=%22pain+and+incapacity+are+no+longer+to+be+endured%22+Scruton&source=bl&ots=2dyUhoLMkj&sig=xXjxhUANdTmK--1-xpWz6xXjGXo&hl=en&ei=ITrbSqObINrk8Aad__G2BQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CA4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=&f=false

In it, surrounded by a great deal of unnecessary and would-be-profound verbiage, which does not quite serve to disguise his factual ignorance even of the state of the law and of end-of-life issues at the time of writing, Scruton advocates a "return to the days" (which I strongly suspect never existed) when assisted suicide via deliberate morphine overdose was in effect legalized by a refusal to prosecute.

The issue is even more timely now than it was when I was horrified by Right Reason's publishing the pro-death excerpt sans criticism. Within the past few weeks the United Kingdom has taken exactly the approach Scruton recommends, as I reported here.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2009/09/assisted_suicide_legalized_in.html

Of course, Scruton makes no claim to be any sort of Christian (AFAIK), and suicide has had a certain popularity among pagans for thousands of years. But given especially the present urgency of such matters, I do think that pro-life, contemporary, Christian conservative writers should moderate their raptures about Scruton somewhat in light of such views, even if for whatever reason they believe him to be a great and profound philosopher. Whatever else he may be, he is no "conservative's answer" to other philosophers on the live issues of our time.

Re: "he is no "conservative's answer" to other philosophers on the live issues of our time."

A somewhat close reading of his works over the years, especially contrasted with the last two, reveals a gradual change in his way of thinking. The last couple years have revealed a more sympathetic view to a Catholic way of thinking. If you read his autobiography, especially the chapters where he deals with his religious experiences (and sometimes lack thereof) you can see the beginnings or "continuings" of a religious conversion or a deepening of the religious experience.

He is a great thinker and writer. I don't always agree with him but I know he challenges me to think more deeply and clearly. In time, I pray, if it has not happened already, we will be united with him in all key aspects of the unity of truth.

Lydia,

You are absolutely right to criticize him harshly for that. For some reason -- and to my great embarrassment -- that whole episode had slipped my mind when I wrote this up yesterday, otherwise I would certainly have mentioned it.

It does not detract from the great value of his work on areas like general conservative philosophy and aesthetics, as well as the courage he's shown in his writing on issues like traditional sexual morality. So I do think you are being unfair to that extent.

BUT the awful stuff on assisted suicide is no small thing; nor is the stuff on home schooling. You are right to criticize it, and right to advise moderation.

Yes, well, meanwhile, as long as he is writing (as he does in that chapter of a _very recent_ book) about old people who live too long and how they should be encouraged to refuse end-of-life care so they don't persist in a "loveless" existence and in keeping their worldly goods from the next generation, I think we should be cautious about attributing greatness to him or about adopting him as any sort of standard-bearer. "Conservative" nowadays has certain connotations on the issues that are dividing society.

Don't get me wrong: There are philosophers and writers for which I have much admiration in their own fields who have not been conservative. Even Bertrand Russell was a great logician. As an analytic philosopher, I love as much as anyone setting politics aside for other matters. I'm not such an ideologue that I think everything is political. However, what bothers me is the way that Scruton is thought of as, specifically, and right now, a _conservative_ philosopher and someone who should be read as a "conservative" corrective, etc., to more popular writers in the political and ethical realm. I think caution is advisable just there.

It's possible that I'm also biased by the fact that the pieces of his I read several years ago seemed to me like so much smoke and mirrors. Therefore, I don't find it easy to sympathize with all the enthusiasm for him anyway. But there is something more specific and concrete to my concern here than just that my analytic style-o-meter is offended by Scruton's more, shall we say, diffuse approach to philosophical writing and thinking.

Oops, Ed, we were posting at the same moment. My comment was addressed to W's comment, not to yours.

On home schooling, I shd. clarify that Scruton was not exactly hostile. He's a fan of vouchers. What I was ridiculing was his attempt to get to, "Vouchers are the best approach to education policy, and private schools are better than home schooling" without even addressing the criticisms that have been leveled against vouchers and without knowing much of anything about home schooling by applying a purely a priori philosophical approach. It was amusing, but minor in the grand scheme of things, I suppose.

Ed,

There is nothing to be embarrassed about! Scruton is a fine, conservative philosopher. The fact that he some non-traditional views should not distract from the fact that he has produced some of the most philosophically challenging conservative literature in the 20 years.

If Dr. Feser is going to be embarrassed, it should be for admitting any sympathy for Hegel, especially over Kant. Hegel was a pedantic scribbler who gave Marx his blueprint, Kant was the bridge over the abyss conjured by Hume.

The fact that he some non-traditional views should not distract

Tony, let me be clear: I think that what I posted should be known and should indeed moderate conservative raptures about Scruton. But I apologize to Ed if it appeared that I was trying to embarrass _him_. I wasn't, and I appreciate his updating and clarifying very much. One can't read and keep in mind every word that every person one admires has ever said, and I wasn't implying that Ed had to have done so or needed to apologize or anything.

But your reference to "having some non-traditional views" and "not distracting" should perhaps come after you have read the chapter in question and after you have reflected on the present legal state of affairs in Britain and elsewhere. But here, let me give you a taste:

A world in which increasingly many human beings are without affectionate relations with their kind, persisting as burdens to be carried rather than companions to be enjoyed, will be a world in which human life seems far less precious than it seems to us today....Moreover, because their [old people's] numbers will be growing and their legal rights will be in no way diminished by their decrepitude, they will soon be majority shareholders in all private and most public goods. They will be sitting on the collective assets of mankind, preventing the young from owning them, and maybe waving their wills in the face of their heirs, in the hope of attracting attention.

Is any comment necessary? Okay, I can't resist pointing out that the people thus described as living "without affectionate relations"...there's a word for people like that: lonely. Bears thinking about.

He begins the chapter with a scenario in which a friend helps another friend get access to a lethal dose of a medication which the sick friend is too debilitated to reach for himself. At the end, he expressly advocates that the friend should be permitted a "defence" to a criminal charge, that he acted unwillingly and on the basis of his friend's request, etc. The clear implication is that such a defence should be sufficient to ward off punishment.

This is no small matter. These are very serious issues, and they have never been more urgent than they are today. I beg you not to downplay them, Tony.

But I apologize to Ed if it appeared that I was trying to embarrass _him_. I wasn't,

I know you weren't, Lydia -- no apology necessary.

As my original post indicates, Tony, I agree with your evaluation of Scruton's significance. But as my update indicates, I also agree with Lydia when she says:

This is no small matter. These are very serious issues, and they have never been more urgent than they are today.

Step2, I did say only that I have a "little more sympathy" for Hegel than for Kant -- which isn't saying much. Maybe it's just because Hegel was a better writer. ;-)

On Hegel, I've got to get hold of the exact quotation that I love from C.D. Broad about McTaggart and Hegel. It's so funny (well, to a nerdy philosopher) that I will just whet people's appetite by mentioning it without actually trying to paraphrase it, because I would ruin it.

Bobcat - I once had a big argument with Brian Leiter about who was the greatest modern philosopher.

Well, obviously, Kant, I said. But Brian insisted on Nietzsche. He just couldn't seem to get his mind around the thought that you could disagree with a philosopher about pretty much everything while still thinking he was the greatest in the biz.

Which, by the way, is what I still think. As John Searle remarked in one of his lectures at Berkeley, way back when: you read the transcendental deduction of the categories, in either version, and marvel that any human being could ever have had such thoughts. (I paraphrase - it's been a long time.)

I never had similar thoughts while reading anything by Hegel. Mostly I just kept checking my watch.

Lydia - I'm amazed to hear that there's anybody left alive today (besides me) who has read & enjoyed anything by (the very unfortunately named) C. D. Broad. (Can you imagine what his school-days must have been like?)

Benson Mates, the great Leibniz authority, and one of my favorite professors at Berkeley, had the greatest story about him, long ago, delivering Berkeley's endowed lecture about the immortality of the soul - in the course of which he apparently reduced many of the present seniors to utter despair...

I cannot tell a lie: Tim read this quotation to me--has read it several times. I'm trying to copy it, but as it's only on Google books, it's proving difficult to get so large a chunk. I'll get it eventually. I did not know that Mates had studied with Broad.

Who was it, by the way, who said that someone-or-other should not have referred to Kant as a disaster when that term should be reserved for Hegel? Russell, I think.

Lydia, again:

I really wish that it could have been you, and not me, who interned at the Department of Clinical Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health these few years back. I wish it could have been you, and not me, sitting on ethics boards discussing particular cases. For example: the case of the unfortunate young woman, with no hope whatsoever of survival, whose entire skin, all over her body, had, quite literally, fallen off, leaving her in a state of constant, screaming agony.

I, of all people, was not the one to try to explain why the will of God required that she not be allowed to die as quickly & painlessly as possible.

“I do think that pro-life, contemporary, Christian conservative writers should moderate their raptures about Scruton somewhat in light of such views.” And she is absolutely right. Such views are – in my judgment no less than Lydia’s – gravely immoral, and I regret having overlooked this unhappy side of Scruton’s work.

I am not familiar with is position, but if it is along the lines of doctors who do so at the patient's request should not be prosecuted, then that is a far cry from supporting abortion or the sort of euthanasia which brings chills to most people's spines. That doesn't make it right, but that sort of position is at least defensible on the grounds that the patient made the request of their own free will.

Here it is. C.D. Broad on McTaggart on Hegel. (Not complimentary to Hegel.)


Suppose the following problem in psychology had been propounded. “Take an eighteenth-century Whig. Let him be a mystic. Endow him with the logical subtlety of the great schoolmen and their belief in the powers of human reason, with the business capacity of a successful lawyer, and with the lucidity of the best type of French mathematician. Inspire him (Heaven knows how) in early youth with a passion for Hegel. Then subject him to the teaching of Sidgwick and the continual influence of Moore and Russell. Set him to expound Hegel. What would be the result?” Hegel himself could not have answered this question a priori, but the course of world history has solved it ambulando by producing McTaggart. It is natural then that McTaggart’s interpretation of Hegel should differ greatly from that of other commentators….[I]f McTaggart’s account of Hegelianism be taken as a whole and compared with Hegel’s writings as a whole, the impression produced is one of profound unlikeness. “Whatever Hegel may have meant,” the reader says to himself, “it surely cannot have been this.” “And,” he hastens to add, “it was probably nothing nearly so sensible or plausible as this.” If we compare McTaggart with the other commentators on Hegel we must admit that he has at least produced an extremely lively and fascinating rabbit from the Hegelian hat, whilst they have produced nothing but consumptive and gibbering chimeras. And we shall admire his resource and dexterity all the more when we reflect that the rabbit was, in all probability, never inside the hat, whilst the chimeras perhaps were.


P. 75 of Ethics and the History of Philosophy

Mike T. and Steve Burton, you chaps will at least admit that you characterize _yourselves_ as libertarians. My point was not to inaugurate a debate with libertarians about suicide. No doubt we disagree, perhaps even profoundly. But if we do, as it appears, then I would say that your position is libertarian rather than conservative, as those terms are presently used. My point was that the position, "Assisted suicide should be effectively legalized by a refusal to prosecute doctors and family members who actively assist suicide at the request of the patient" is not what would nowadays be thought of by most people as a _conservative_ position, and it certainly is not the position we who deem ourselves strongly and vocally pro-life and conservative take. We consider that position seriously flawed.

I also, by the way, consider much of Scruton's rhetoric in defense of that position--for example, his evident horror of a society in which the elderly live "too long," his idea that living without love is a result of longevity, his _stoical_ rather than Christian (probably he would agree with this characterization) attitude towards death as very nearly a duty at a certain time of life, and so forth--to be completely and dangerously wrongheaded. And, while I'm happy to admit, Mike T, that I'm not "most people," it brings chills to _my_ spine, knowing where things are at in the world right now. To be sure, Scruton's idea is that we should avoid the horrors to which that line of thought takes us by changing societal attitudes and inducing the elderly to die quietly voluntarily so that the young won't feel like bumping them off against their will. I find that a horrifying line of thought in and of itself.

For all these reasons and more, it's a good idea for a conservative, pro-life writer who has an interest in referring to Scruton as a distinctively _conservative_ philosopher to do as Ed has done and qualify that designation by reference to this aspect of Scruton's thought.

Just for the record, the "Tony" above is not me. I have frequently posted on these commboxes over the past several months or more as "Tony", frequently getting into scraps with Maximos and Kevin, generally agreeing nearly 100% with Ed and Lydia, and able to get along with Zippy before his leave of absence as long as he didn't try to discuss the object of a human act. If the above Tony wishes to be a regular commenter here, I will become Antonio.

That doesn't make it right, but that sort of position is at least defensible on the grounds that the patient made the request of their own free will.

Mike, I think that maybe you are confusing the notion of defensible with the notion of diminished guilt.

First, if a person chooses to commit suicide, they are doing something intrinsically immoral, and therefore never "defensible". It is always wrong to become a formal cooperator in another person's inherently immoral act. For a doctor to choose to become a cooperator with a terminally ill person's is to choose an evil act.

If you mean instead legally defensible, that is of course a different story. It is not right for the state to legislate all acts of morality - some areas ought to be left outside of the law. But whatever is the right approach to whether (or the degree to which) suicide ought to be illegal, surely it is obvious that assisting another person to suicide is quite another question altogether. For one thing, the very thing that usually leads us to assign lesser guilt for a suicide (probable lack of full use of reason) cannot apply to the person who assists. Even in practical terms, you really set up a large can of worms (doubts about whether full information was given, and whether full consent was obtained) when you decide to officially overlook assisting another to suicide.

He just couldn't seem to get his mind around the thought that you could disagree with a philosopher about pretty much everything while still thinking he was the greatest in the biz.

Just to be clear, I certainly never denied that Kant was a great philosopher. Overrated? I think so. Wrong about almost everything? Absolutely. The greatest? No way in hell. (That would be either Plato, or Aristotle, or Aquinas -- the only thing worth arguing about is which one.) The greatest of the moderns even? Arguably, but probably not -- I'd probably put Descartes or Leibniz above him, myself. But I can see the case for it.

But yes, still a great philosopher. That that is possible is just a curious fact about philosophy.

Mike, I think that maybe you are confusing the notion of defensible with the notion of diminished guilt.

First, if a person chooses to commit suicide, they are doing something intrinsically immoral, and therefore never "defensible". It is always wrong to become a formal cooperator in another person's inherently immoral act. For a doctor to choose to become a cooperator with a terminally ill person's is to choose an evil act.

I was using the word defensible in the sense that Scuton could conceivably hold the view because he reasoned himself into a semi-justifiable position to support pre-existing sentimental attachment to the idea. Even if it proved to be ultimately indefensible, it is not hopelessly so like a naked assertion that "such people just have no right to live."

I do not think that the doctor's guilt is diminished at all. Rather, I think that what the doctor is guilty of is an offense that belongs before God, not the state.

I also, by the way, consider much of Scruton's rhetoric in defense of that position--for example, his evident horror of a society in which the elderly live "too long," his idea that living without love is a result of longevity, his _stoical_ rather than Christian (probably he would agree with this characterization) attitude towards death as very nearly a duty at a certain time of life, and so forth--to be completely and dangerously wrongheaded.

Hence my qualified defense of his position. Such thinking is indeed asinine. Love is not the only reason to live, nor even the mark of a life still worth living. By that very logic, every child put up for adoption should get euthanized as well!

I don't know what he said about home schooling and cannot access the pages at the former Right Reason, but from reading his autobiography (Gentle Regrets) and this article at City Journal, it sounds like he home schooled ... at least until the child was of age to go to a particular school (the Lycée Francaise in London) that attempts to educate in a classical way.

In the article, go to paragraph 23 (about 2/3 down the page, begins with "The birth of Sam ... ") for the beginning of his criticism on state education (which I think many here would agree with) and then paragraph 27 for their home schooling response. Towards the end, he mentions that he plans to home school their then-newborn daughter too.

A similar analysis is offered on pages 114-119 of the autobiography. You can read it here.

the case of the unfortunate young woman, with no hope whatsoever of survival, whose entire skin, all over her body, had, quite literally, fallen off, leaving her in a state of constant, screaming agony.
I, of all people, was not the one to try to explain why the will of God required that she not be allowed to die as quickly & painlessly as possible.

Allowed to die, or put out of her misery? They are different things.

And does one have to be in a screaming agony to be "allowed" to die, or would an ordinary agony do?

@ Antonio formally known as Tony:

Since you seem to post on here more often than me, I'll go by TonyB. While I do read the blog often, I do not comment frequently. Feel free to use Tony again, it's a swell name. :)

Like Bobcat above me, I wondered whether your disdain of Kant might stem from a misunderstanding. Perhaps you were ignorant of the full richness of his moral thought. So, naturally, I thought of asking the same question Mr. Bobcat put to you: “Have you read Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason?”

Then I saw this comment:

There is, and I can't stand any of it. Lots of people think all the stuff about autonomy vs. heteronomy, persons as "ends in themselves" and self-legislators, etc. is the noblest height to which moral theory has ever reached. I think it is in fact a blasphemous apotheosis of man. In practice, when uttered by a man like Kant himself, whose own moral sensibilities were (given the times he lived in) relatively traditional, the immediate consequences were not so radical -- hence his sensible views on sex, the death penalty, etc. But once all the supporting Kantian metaphysical hoo-hah is rejected, naturalism takes its place, and liberalism has had two centuries to eat away at our natural moral sensibilities, the result is... pretty much whatever contemporary Kantians find their "considered intuitions" are telling them it is this week.

And, well, my question would be superfluous. What you know about Kant's ethics besides the categorical imperative seems to be...a bunch of reformulations of the categorical imperative from the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Well, it's a short book, and generally pretty good as an introduction to Kantian ethics. One should not, however, assume a thorough knowledge of Kantian ethics based on familiarity with the main themes of that little book. Kant did write more; the Grounding was, after all, a grounding and not the comprehensive theory of virtue and right Kant developed with the Metaphysics of Morals.

But I want to go beyond even the Metaphysics of Morals, because I'm unsure if you are even aware of Kant's discussion of sin and grace in Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Did you just disagree with it, or don't you know about it? Because in pointing out how Kant is an overrated jerkface of a Kraut, you don't seem to have touched on anything in that book. It seems a real shame, because if anything would be of interest to a Catholic, it'd be Religion etc.

One thing I will not dispute – the titles of Kant's books are way too long. Come on, Immanuel, amirite?

Allowed to die, or put out of her misery? They are different things.

When talking about divorce, Jesus clearly contradicted the Jewish culture and the religious practices of most Christian churches today by saying that any man who divorces his wife except for infidelity causes her to commit adultery. It was a hard thing to hear that God doesn't care whether or not you are still in love with her, find her attractive, were unprepared to be married or other such things. Jesus responded that it was not meant for everyone, but for those to whom it was given, and that they should accept it.

Likewise, it is true that the woman in steve's example should not be put out of her misery, but don't kid yourself that this sort of obedience to God's will will not be an incredible stumbling block for the general public, just like the Christian teachings on divorce. It is an equally hard teaching and one that the general public cannot and will not understand.

"I have never been impressed by what I have read by Scruton."

Makes one wonder how much you've read.

Let me respond to some of Ed's points about Kant.

Ed wrote,

"Not by my lights, he isn't [a natural lawyer]. Like other moderns, he rejects the whole family of classical metaphysical positions -- Platonic/Aristotelian/Augustinian/Thomistic -- and without something like one of these views you can't have any natural law worthy of the name, because without them you can't ground morality in nature. The ice of pure practical reason is too thin to skate on, moral-theoretically speaking. (I know there are people who call their own barely-40-years-old ideas 'natural law theory' who think otherwise, but they're wrong, and they have certainly done serious damage to the public understanding of what Aquinas et al. were really all about.)"

I'm not really familiar with the new natural law theory; what I know of natural law theory I know mostly from TLS and Aristotle. That said, let me tell you a few ways in which Kant is a natural lawyer.

First, of course, is the FLN (Formula of the Law of Nature) formulation of the CI: "Act as if the maxim of your actions should through your will become a universal law of nature."

Second, note that in the Grundlegung, Kant says that reason has two functions: its first function is allow us to develop a good will; its second function is to make us happy.

Third, in the Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason, as well as in the Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (though in different language), Kant says that there are three natural predispositions that together constitute the original predisposition to the good: the predisposition to animality, the predisposition to humanity, and the predisposition to personality. All of these predispositions, Kant says, are in themselves good, but of course they can be corrupted by a person's evil disposition. If they're not corrupted, though, then they give rise to natural desires that we ought to satisfy: our animal desires for sexual intercourse, eating and drinking, sleeping, self-preservation, and community with our peers [predisposition to animality]; our distinctively human desires for happiness and social status [predisposition to humanity]; and our distinctly personal desire to following the moral law [predisposition to personality]. Admittedly, in both the Grundlegung and the Critique of Practical Reason, he says that people with any sense would want to be rid of their natural desires, but he changed his mind about this by the time of the Religion, for largely theodical reasons.

Fourth, there is the Critique of Judgment, in which he says that, because we can't understand how biological organisms can result from the mindless interplay of mechanical phenomena, we have to view them as being organized by central life-principles, and that we can attribute functions to them in virtue of their having life-principles.

Fifth, regarding his other religious view(such as his account of grace, original sin, and the Atonement), you should check out Chris L. Firestone's and Nathan Jacobs's In Defense of Kant's Religion, which I reviewed recently in the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion; they make a powerful case for the claim that Kant is a Christian, or at least very close to one.

The only philosopher of the modern era who I can see challenging Kant's title of greatest is Descartes.

Rob G, your suspicion is right. I have not read huge quantities of Scruton's work. But life is short, and there is such a thing as getting samples of someone's work and then saying, "Okay, that's enough. I don't think I would profit from reading more." Such judgments can be wrong, but there's nothing wrong with making them. In fact, one often has to do so.

Roger Scruton was brought on board the old blog Right Reason, at which I was a contributor, with much fanfare. I knew nothing about him except the name and the reputation. I was prepared to like him. I knew he was thought of highly, and I had nothing against him. In his initial electronic interview, asked what he would talk to George W. Bush about if he could get his ear, his response was...urban sprawl. I happen not to agree that that is a federal issue nor that it would be _the_ thing one should want most to discuss with the President of the United States. Of course, a Britisher might not be expected to understand all about that 10th amendment stuff. Lots of Americans don't. But a conservative should have some idea of the whole notion of state vs. federal power if he's going to write and speak to an American conservative audience. So we were off to a bad start. As I recall, I read every one of the posts, sometimes rather long, that were put up in Scruton's name at that blog (the archives of which are no longer available on-line except through the way-back machine).

The Chapter 4 I linked above is pretty typical, and I wrote a fairly detailed response to its excerpted version at the time on another now-defunct blog, Enchiridion Militis. His style is not that of analytic philosophy, though ostensibly Right Reason was set up for analytic conservative philosophers. He did not state a clear thesis and provide reasons for it. He did not answer objections or cope with clear, hard facts relevant to his public policy proposals. Rather, he worked by means of rhetoric--often powerfully written, to be sure--and the creation of atmosphere. Precisely because of my immediate antagonism both for his style and for his ideas as a fellow blogger, I tried to be pretty scrupulous about reading his stuff on the blog. I don't think I've read much besides that. I do recall reading a piece somewhere else about the horrors of garbage accumulation in which he implied that we will all be buried in garbage eventually if we don't change our entire culture and use fewer disposables. Needless to say, he didn't even talk about some of the solutions proposed by non-environmentalists nor tell us what his objections are to them. I can find that level of shallow environmentalist alarmism any time I want and in many places. I don't need to go to an acclaimed and eminent philosopher.

I'm sorry to have to say all this, but having been poked by you, Rob G, I'm saying it. I admit to my relatively low level of Scruton reading, especially given his immense output. I do not, however, regret it.

Scruton is finding/has found his way back to Christian faith; hard to say exactly where he is in that regard, but perhaps his views on end-of-life issues will adjust accordingly. Fortunately his error on this does not color the rest of his thought -- he does not go on and on about it like some activist. Therefore it doesn't seem correct to me to be dismissive of his contributions in other areas because of this one mistake. Robert Nisbet, after all, was pro-choice if memory serves, and even St. Gregory of Nyssa was a universalist. Yet who would question their positive contributions?

I've read a fair amount of Scruton and have like all I've read -- I've found his writing on cultural matters especially good; such books as England: An Elegy, Modern Culture, and Culture Counts are very much worth reading.

Lydia, the very same bull-in-the-china-shop qualities that make me admire you so much in most contexts really frustrate me in others.

For the record, I find your take on Roger Scruton distinctly ungenerous.

But I can't see any good coming from pursuing the issue any further.

Perhaps we should go back to discussing something relatively uncontroversial, like, say, water-boarding ;^)

William Luse: I'm afraid that, under the circumstances, such distinctions, important as they may be from a theological point of view, were pretty much lost on me.

Steve, but think how nice I was about your attempt to start an argument about suicide. Positively statesmanlike, I thought. So the bull in the China shop is only here part-time.

I wasn't even going to say all of that about Scruton if I hadn't gotten the feeling that Rob G was implying that I have _no_ idea what I'm talking about. I felt I had to show that I have _some_ evidence for the opinion, even if I haven't given him as much of a try as y'all might recommend. And I even left out mentioning how snobby he was when talking about people who eat hamburgers. Of course, that was merely an oversight...:-)

Fair enough, Lydia.

And yes - you were comendably understanding about my very emotional/not very rational reaction to the case of that poor, seemingly god-forsaken woman, back in my days at the NIH.

Bobcat and Vernunft,

Well, as it happens I've been thinking about doing a post on Kant's views on teleology for little while now, and one on why I think Kantian ethics is a disaster for a long while. So maybe I should fast-track those.

I do find it very puzzling, though, that anyone would be puzzled for a moment why an unreconstructed Neo-Scholastic Thomist and Catholic traditionalist (e.g. me) would have little time for Kant -- particularly the Kant of Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, one of the founding documents of theological modernism.

It's sort of like saying to a direct realist: "I don't understand why you don't like Berkeley. He claims to be upholding common sense, after all, just like you! And he believes in tables and chairs, just like you! Here, check out this passage from the Principles..."

Kind of misses the point...

Steve, she certainly was not forsaken by God, whatever else. And I do not say that lightly, you'll have to believe that.

Ed, I love your comment about Berkeley. Isn't that what Berkeley says to _everyone_, including the Lockeans? :-)

Well, the main thing about the Religion was that he advances therein an account of human nature that I thought you'd like. Naturally, there are things in it you wouldn't like--his unconcern for the bodily resurrection, for example--but I think he bears the same relationship to religious modernism that he bears to his contemporary interpreters: namely, you can certainly see how pulling on one strand would lead to one thing, but hey, there are all these other strands that could have been pulled that would have led to other kinds of clothes.

I do find it very puzzling, though, that anyone would be puzzled for a moment why an unreconstructed Neo-Scholastic Thomist and Catholic traditionalist (e.g. me) would have little time for Kant
I took a seminar in law school taught by a Thomist, and he had good things to say about Kant. So, perhaps that is why I did not think that all Thomists were Kant haters.

He also freely admitted he hadn't read Religion etc.

"I wasn't even going to say all of that about Scruton if I hadn't gotten the feeling that Rob G was implying that I have _no_ idea what I'm talking about"

I apologize for the "tone" of my statement. It came out rather snarkier than I wanted, but I didn't realize it until after I'd already posted it. It's just that I've found Scruton so helpful on various issues that it's hard for me to imagine a fellow conservative not being "impressed." To me it's like someone saying they're not impressed by Russell Kirk or C.S. Lewis!


Although I'm fond of Scruton's writings on politics and aesthetics, I also treasure his Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey - a book from which I learned much in my early 20s.

Edward,

My own reading of Scruton's works (the one's widely distributed in bookstores in the US)strongly suggest to me that he is a conscientious Lockean of a sort, minimizing or rejecting the first person perspective (including phenomenology) as a critical source of philosophical insight in favor of strict third person observation of human behavior while at the same time resisting sceptical dogmas like Hume's. This captures some important Aristotelian themes but I think he may be weak on the prior potentiality of the mind towards understanding. Wouldn't that also make it difficult for a classical thinker such as yourself? What do you think of Scruton's version of modernism?

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