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July 25, 2006


Here's an "opinion," from Alan Wolfe -- Boston College professor and Jewish "public intellectual":

I praise fundamentalist Christians for "their willingness to stand against the emotionality of American culture in favor of ideas -- strongly held ideas, to say the least -- about who God is and why he asks so much of us."

One feels one ought to launch an "opinion" back, say: Yeah, but those ideas often seem profoundly uninteresting, even childish.

However, part of the problem with being something of a skeptic is a certain discomfort with this process of opining. Who is to judge what ideas qualify as "interesting"? What purpose does it serve to call adults with views different than yours "childish"?

Here, via Cicero, is Carneades, the Greek skeptic about whom I am about to begin writing, and a hero of mine:

It is not our custom to set forth our views.

It was Carneades who, on an official visit to Rome, gave a remarkably persuasive speech arguing for justice, then -- the next day -- gave an equally persuasive speech disputing all he had said the previous day. (The Romans were not amused; they kicked the Athenian philosopher out.)

One would like to say that this seems more interesting than fundamentalist Christian "ideas" or even than Alan Wolfe's "idea." But, of course, that would be setting forth a view.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at July 25, 2006 11:37 PM


That would put Carneades squarely in the realm of the sophists, no? institutionalized thinking (Roman, particularly, but also that of the 5th c post-Socratics) can't seem to handle thought that refuses to pin itself down.... but sounds as if you are trying to get at the tension between 'opinions' and 'principles' or values, perhaps?

Posted by: JM at July 26, 2006 11:15 AM

The emotionality of American culture?
Believing in superstitions is just a wee bit more than an idea. It is the foundation of irrational belief systems.

Would he also praise neo-nazis for their strongly held ideas about a whites' only America? Alan Wolfe is one confused fellow culturally filled with emotionality!

Posted by: Jay Saul at July 26, 2006 11:33 AM

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