[lit-ideas] Re: Horowitz v

  • From: "Phil Enns" <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 11 Aug 2007 17:12:46 -0400


I read the article.  The 'debate' struck me as being nothing of a
debate insofar as Horowitz and Steinberger largely talk past each
other.  Horowitz plays the political animal while Steinberger does
what most academics do.  Not sure about Charlie Hinkle who curiously
feels himself abused.  Maybe something is missing from the transcript
or perhaps something happened that wouldn't show up on a transcript.

What I found odd was Steinberger's argument for why so many academics
are liberal.  What I gather is that Steinberger takes there to be a
preponderance of current evidence regarding the moral intuition that
social luck should be moderated.  I haven't a clue how one accumulates
arguments and evidence regarding moral intuitions.  I mean, one can
survey people regarding their having this intuition, but surely one
doesn't arrive at this intuition through argument and evidence.  It
seems to me that the reference to moral intuitions is a bit of a
conversation stopper and not appropriate.

According to Steinberger, because academics are focused on argument
and evidence, and there is this preponderance of evidence, it should
not be surprising that the majority of good academics follow the
evidence and arrive at a liberal position.  Leaving aside the dubious
claim regarding intuitions, argument and evidence, there is the matter
of what conservatives are doing when they raise serious, intelligent
concerns regarding particular attempts to mitigate social luck.  From
the little I know of these matters, virtually all conservatives seem
willing to consider mitigating social luck, it is just that they adopt
a different approach to how one ought to go about this business.  For
example, conservatives are suspicious of government as an effective
means for accomplishing social goals and prefer using either market
forces or philanthropy.  And surely there is evidence that these are
effective to at least some degree.  Why, then, should 'following the
evidence' inevitably lead, as Steinberger implies, to a liberal
position?  In short, isn't it a bit problematic to claim that
conservatives are not interested in mitigating social luck when the
difference seems to be one of means?

Finally, it seems a bit circular to claim that the preponderance of
evidence, which I take to be evidence found in academic circles, leads
academics to adopt a particular stance regarding the evidence.  If we
are talking about peer-reviewed evidence, and the majority of
academics are liberal, it won't be surprising that what counts as
evidence is of the liberal kind.  Just as Steinberger takes liberals
to be concerned with evidence and conservatives with doubts and
skepticism, surely a majority of liberal academics will determine what
counts as a preponderance of evidence.

This isn't a defence of Horowitz, who in my opinion is a nutjob, but a
question whether Steinberger is right regarding why liberals dominate
academic, if in fact they do.  Have I missed something in
Steinberger's argument?


Phil Enns
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