Recently, “the Dunedin School” posted an article against Matthew Flannagan (one of our contributors, and the co-author of MandM), titled ‘Thinking in Tatters: Moral Relativism and Hidden Objectivist Assumptions’. The article largely addresses a talk Matt gave against moral relativism, and is rather uncomplimentary. It describes Matt’s arguments as “a mish-mash of illogical nonsense and rhetorical scaremongering” (as opposed, one assumes, to articles in which such descriptions are written); while Thinking Matters is a “conservative think-tank”—which turns out to merely be a “euphemism” for a group “of frustrated and atavistic reactionists who want to take away rights from women, homosexuals, and other minorities and restore power to the patriarchy.” I’d like to respond directly:
Hi “The Dunedin School”. Is this article representative of the quality of research and reporting on this blog? I hope not.
Firstly, Thinking Matters is not run by Matt Flannagan. Matt Flannagan is merely a contributor. Thinking Matters is run by Jason Kumar, Stuart McEwing, and myself.
Secondly, “frustrated and atavistic reactionists”? Seriously? You’re breaking open the ad hominem vial to poison the well in your second sentence?
Thirdly, could you please document where Thinking Matters has ever taken a stance which could be construed, even by great contortions of the imagination, as favorable to the removal of rights from women, homosexuals, and other minorities—let alone the restoration of “power to the patriarchy”? I’m not aware of any such desires on the part of our fairly diverse contributors. As the co-founder of the organization, I really feel I ought to be made aware of whatever it is you’ve discovered. I mean, you do have proof for these allegations, right? Coz otherwise that would be, you know, libel. (That’s where you knowingly lie about people so as to harm them or their reputation.)
His arguments are a mish-mash of illogical nonsense and rhetorical scaremongering. There is much to take issue with in his presentation, so there is no need to dwell on his sleight of hand in presenting obviously unsound arguments for relativism and then (marvelously!) disproving them to his captive evangelical audience – which he does for more than half of his talk.
It’s a lot easier to just smear your opponent by claiming that his arguments are rubbish than to actually show it, isn’t it?
Their commitment to moral objectivism is such that they fail to properly conceive of a world in which every moral duty is simply the result of cultural norms. They can’t do it. And as a result, their protests already – circularly – assume moral objectivism.
This rather begs the question that it is possible to conceive of a world in which every moral “duty” is simply a result of cultural norms. Matt might argue that, to the contrary, this is not possible because any claim to such a conception implicitly presupposes objectivism. So your allegation of circularity is somewhat ironic.
A prevalent problem with moral objectivists such as Matt is that they haven’t ever grasped what a purely subjective morality looks like, how it operates.
Given Matt’s credentials, it seems more likely to me that the problem here is that you haven’t grasped something. Perhaps that a purely subjective morality is incoherent and cannot operate. It also seems to me that, far from burning the strawman you suggest, Matt is interacting with a highly prevalent position found in New Zealand society. How could you not have noticed it when so many people hold the exact views he interacts with? The fact that you don’t hold it, because you’re “more consistent” in your moral relativism than the average Joe, hardly deflects Matt’s critique of it. It just means his critique isn’t aimed at you.
Hoping you’ll either provide some answers, or retract your fibs;