Monday, June 14, 2010
On The Unidentifiability of Priests
Just to put Dworkin finally to bed - I really do find it quite baffling that anyone with any philosophical training at all can take any of his arguments for his theory remotely seriously: confusing, for example, a dispute about canons of interpretation of some text with a dispute about what the text is, as he does when he says in a 2004 article that disputes over the meaning of the clause in the US constitution forbidding cruel and unusual punishment show that legal positivism is false, is just stupid - let's observe what his general account of how to define social practices would involve. Dworkin's interpretative and so normatively guided theory of law depends on the view that since law is a normative practice, it cannot be defined or picked out except by interpreting it so as to put it in its best possible light. Science is also a normative practice - it seeks truth - so does that mean that we cannot define or pick out instances of science without making them seem as close to truth as possible? Is it true that unless I assume that Newton was as right as he could be, I would somehow fail to satisfactorily identify him as a scientist and the Principia as a work of science? Of course not. It's crazy to think that as soon as some practice is normative in any way, any definition of it must be structured around an assumed success in its attempt to guide itself by some value or other. If adopted as a general canon of attempts to say what some x is, this would totally undermine our use of all kinds of perfectly sensible descriptive terms. Either we would have to claim that people were guiding their participation in practices by some value which they did not recognise or had misconstrued, or we would have to claim that despite appearances, the practice in question did not exist there and then. We might imagine a Dworkinian theory of government denying that any had ever taken place anywhere before the Warren-era Supreme Court decisions, as governing just is a highly particular kind of equality - or, in a way even worse, claiming that every tinpot despot, bloody tyrant, racist, and genocidal maniac was in fact aiming at the distinctive goods of the practice of governing. How on earth anyone could think that this stood as a way of respecting the internal character of a practice, I do not know; it is subversive of the very idea of a practice by turning that into a claim about pursuit of goals when of course participation in any given practice is differently motivated for different people in different times and different places. Idiocy.