By Rob Day ’10
This marks my last issue as publisher, and accordingly my last “Publisher’s Letter.” I have thought quite a bit about what sort of parting remarks I’d like to make, and it seems appropriate to end with some final reflections on a topic I have often discussed in this column – namely, the broken state of ethical discourse on this campus. My previous entries have focused primarily on specific instances in which I felt the conservative cause was being criticized on illegitimate grounds. For this last letter, I’d like to propose what it is that makes the response of our liberal counterparts so unproductive for discourse and propose a means for how conservatives might overcome the often-garbled responses of our poor debating partners.
It is not difficult to find instances of the poor state of ethical discourse on this campus, and the current “debate” on sexual ethics is perhaps the most salient example of this futility. Representing a – though by no means only – conservative opinion, the Anscombe Society has published numerous articles, essentially mini-manifestos of their basic philosophical principles. The responses to these arguments have been marked by an unwillingness to engage with the principles or reasoning they contain. Instead, coherent philosophical arguments are met with pronouncements of the corrupted individual motivations of those providing the argument. I have in mind such “responses” that have accused Anscombers of being “heteronormative,” “bigots,” “minions of Professor George,” and/or “religious fanatics.”
It is clear to me that each of these labels is incorrect, but for the purposes of this piece it is more important to see how the conversation is at a stalemate before it can begin. If we wish to pursue a dialogue on this matter, then it is imperative that both parties are talking about the same things – which, clearly, they are not. One side makes claims about the nature of sex, while the other responds to the motivations behind those claims. That is not to say, however, that an Anscombe skeptic can never make the argument that Anscombe is biased. It is simply to say that if one wishes to establish this argument as part of a dialogue, then it must be directly related to the substantive arguments Anscombe has provided about sexual ethics. One might, for example, show that Anscombe’s premises do not reasonably lead to the conclusion and thus must be motivated by some other impetus, and here is where we might look for “clues” of bigotry. In short, we should argue about sex itself before (or at least at the same time as) we talk about normative influences on perceptions of it and how one ought to engage in it.
This task, unfortunately, is one our liberal counterparts seem most unwilling to do. This reluctance occurred most recently in an entry posted on a Princeton feminist blog in response to an article published in the last issue of the Tory. In an apparent attempt to disrepute the author’s argument, the blogger simply made a laundry list of certain arguments that were to her disliking, labeled them as clearly bigoted, and signed off. Her message was clear: the perspective printed in the Tory article was so obviously illegitimate that it simply needed to be pointed out to be disproven.
What is one to do in the face of such opposition, when one is speaking to someone who has shut his eyes, covered his ears, and refuses to engage with the actual principles of one’s argument. There can only be one answer: Anscombers, and all other conservatives who experience this juvenile name-calling, must remove the covers from their opponents’ ears and actively show why their positions are not attached to their personal motivations. Instead of simply pointing out the poor form of our counterparts, we must respond to the accusations they so clearly fail to make. It is work we should not have to do, but, for the sake of campus discourse, we must.
It is the Tory’s great privilege to be one means by which this task might be accomplished, and it has been my great honor to lead it. I entreat next year’s staff, headed by the eminently qualified Aaron Smargon, to take due concern for this, our greatest responsibility.