Public Reason, Rawlsians, Political Philosophy, etc

Public reason may be possibly the most boring topic in contemporary political philosophy, which takes some doing, but it is also the name of a new blog by a bunch of political philosophers which looks as if it might become quite good. They’ve got a distinguished line up of contributors, not all of whom have yet contributed, and I suppose those of us with a sense of history will worry that this looks a little bit too much like the old Left2Right blog, which looked so promising at first, but never seemed to me to do that much beyond hosting some great posts by Elizabeth Anderson on Hayek and other related topics, and rather ran into the buffers. Anyway, I’m particularly pleased to see my old-friend-whom-I-haven’t-seen-in-years Alyssa Bernstein on the roster, as she’s great fun, if not a little Rawlsian.

Thinking of Rawlsians, this thread over at Brian Leiter’s place could become great fun, and possibly quite heated. In my balanced splitting-the-difference kind of way, I’m comfortable with the thought that Rawls was both a political philosopher of the first rank and that much Rawlsian thought is very possibly deep down “a generalizing [of] one’s own local prejudices and [a] repackaging [of] them as demands of reason”. And I think I’m comfortable with that thought because it seems obvious to me that much top-notch political philosophy has always been that, but the good stuff has never been just that, and one of the reasons progress gets made in philosophy, if it does, is through thinking about the extent to which this might in fact be the case and what, if anything, we might do about it. What’s funny is that philosophers sometimes get quite so defensive about the idea that their work might just be a little bit more parochial and a little less universal than they like to think it is, and that historians too often use their discipline’s own distinctive and not always attractive prejudices as a way of avoiding thinking hard about the difficult, interesting stuff.

Thanks also to this thread from Harry B at Crooked Timber, who asked the important question, “are philosophers scruffy?”, thereby reminding me of one of my favourite bits of De Civitate Dei, at the start of Book XIX, in which Augustine discusses Varro’s demonstration that there are 288 logically possible sects of philosophers, 144 of which are scruffy (“following the habits and fashions of the Cynics”), which I suppose follows naturally from our discussion of bearded philosophers from a few days ago.

Right: back to work.


tehgraun has a big pic of Jonny Wilkinson on its front page (webpage, haven’t seen the paper version) with the headline “The man with the golden boot”. Were we watching different semi-finals? His kicking wasn’t actually that good last night; and while the drop-goal he landed at the end wasn’t bad at all, (i) it wasn’t a match-winning kick of the kind to get properly excited about, and (ii) the kind of possession England had at the time meant that he was pretty much assured of a regulation drop-goal opportunity some time around that point in the match.

Pretty scrappy game, I thought, especially after it settled down after a very high-tempo opening fifteen minutes or so. I’m not sure that England deserved to win it, but I know that France didn’t, and I’m sorry we didn’t really see Michalak get to do anything special.

Inherited Cricket Memories

Norm has posted on Eric Hollies’ dismissal of Don Bradman for 0 in the latter’s final Test Match at the Oval in August 1948 — you know, the duck that ensured that he only averaged 99.94 over the course of his international career (YouTube over here) — and he discusses the phenomenon of inherited cricket memories, of events that took place before you were born, or that you couldn’t possibly have experienced firsthand yourself, but of which you possess the most vivid of memories. And this example and this phenomenon makes me think of my dad.

As it happens, he was in the crowd at the Oval during that match as a twelve-year-old, though he didn’t see Bradman bat (not that he batted much), and I think his only memory is of Bradman fielding on the boundary.

(Australia, as it happens, didn’t need Bradman’s runs, as in the first innings England had been all out for 52, with Lindwall taking 6 for 20; Australia replied with 389, with 196 from Morris; and England only managed 188 in the second innings, with Hutton top-scoring with 64, Australia winning by an innings and 149 runs.)

But I thought of my dad more because I’m going to hazard a guess that his is the generation that is most familiar of all with powerful memories of cricket matches it never saw, owing to the Second World War. Men in their seventies now were boys during the war, when there was no significant domestic cricket and certainly no international cricket to follow. So they read up about games that had been played before the war, and very possibly about games that had been played before they were born, and can now talk about them as vividly as I can remember Test Matches that I saw on TV when I was younger, and above all in the early 1980s, with the England team of Ian Botham, David Gower and Bob Willis.

And I think this also helps to explain just why Dennis Compton’s runs in 1947 were quite so celebrated, or why the visit of Bradman’s Australians in 1948 was quite so exciting. During the war people could only read about past heroics, and here were the heroes finally playing again, and heroically, too.

So I’m not sure I’ve got any severely inherited cricket memories. I think I just belong to the wrong generation. The 1970s moment I’m most familiar with is when Fredericks hit Lillee for six but then trod on his stumps in the 1975 World Cup Final at Lord’s, but that’s just because that was the best game ever to screen highlights from during rain breaks in TV broadcasts in the 1980s. (It’s the third ball in this clip, coming after less than a minute.)

Readers! Any inherited cricket memories of your own? Or just cricket clips from YouTube you want to recommend? Fire away in the comments.

On One’s Urges To Deport Muslims, etc.

There’s a helpful round-up of the recent Martin Amis kerfuffle over at Matt‘s place.

All I’ll add is that we need to see the remarks about his urges to stripsearch people who look as if they might be from Pakistan (etc.) in a slightly wider context. Amis is also someone who thinks he can discern murderous intentions towards his family in the glance of an Arab doing his job, who can write things like “the impulse towards rational inquiry is by now very weak in the rank and file of the Muslim male”, who seems to absorb Bernard Lewis-like explanations of historical problems when non-crazy explanations are readily available, who recycles inflammatory quotations from Hezbollah’s leader that circulate freely around the internet, but which no-one ever quite manages to trace back to an authentic-looking source, and so on.

(This last one strikes me as weird, because presumably it’s not too hard to find Hezbollah leaders saying offensive things, so why is the very-possibly-made-up quote the one that everyone’s heard somewhere or other?)

We can practice our careful reading skills as much as we like on that particular “urges” passage, and we can be as charitable towards him as we want to be (though we should also bear in mind that there’s a long history of people with really offensive views managing to present them in ways that aren’t quite so offensive on a charitable reading of their words). But Amis also has form here when it comes to saying the kinds of things about Muslims that the real crazies also like to say, and it’d be a shame to lose sight of that fact in the parsing of his words from the interview.

I’m not sure enough about what I really think is going on in Amis’s head (and I’m not interested enough in either him or his books to spend too much time on trying to work it out), but he seems to me to be somewhere on the slippery slope that has Mark Steyn and Melanie Phillips festering at the bottom, and it doesn’t look to me as if he’s too anxious to be stepping off it any time soon. (But perhaps I’m being uncharitable.)

Tony Blair, Envoy

This made me laugh, from tehgraun:

“Blair was really astonished and angry,” says the UN official who gave him a presentation on the devastating effects of Israel’s “security barrier”, settlements, checkpoints, and closures on the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. “He asked very smart questions, though I did think that someone who was prime minister for so long should already have known these facts.”

David Miliblog

Apparently in response to queries from people like me, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband has posted on his blog about the on-going Iraqi employees issue. Please read what he has to say and comment, but please please please take extra care to be polite when you’re over at his blog. If you’re looking for points to make, some suitable thoughts are easily available in the bulletpoints here.

One other thing: I’ve had comments I’ve posted at that blog vanish without trace in the past. I think it’s cock-up rather than conspiracy, and that the FCO isn’t entirely in control of how to run blogging software. So save a copy of your comment before you hit “submit”, just in case, and do be patient — the comments don’t appear immediately (I suppose for fairly obvious reasons).