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January 15, 2011



Ah, Nathan, that was a joy to read, even though most of it was orthogonal to my position. I - and I think Tom - believe that logic decrees ethics and meta-ethics that work out (roughly) to natural laws. I suppose that could be considered providential, though it still reserves a central role for secular reasoning.

Mike Linksvayer

I've long thought of natural law/rights as a mix of fantasy and sleight to absolve one from holding one's preferences and consequential arguments open to criticism. Still, I look forward to enjoying your book, and possibly shifting my evaluation of natural law/rights, at least as you define them (hopefully that at least will be clear).


If I were forced to take a strong position on the matter, I would say that ethics/rights are complicated enough things to defy rigorously analytical, first-principle means of explication. As an analogy, theoretically we can explain biology in terms of quantum mechanics, but practically, it's the wrong tool for the job and will most likely not lead to any insight. So what is the right tool, and is there a meta system to determine which tool is right? Tradition is a pretty good tool, but it does seem rather blunt and un-nuanced to me, and it often leads to contradicting norms across cultures. Edge cases are often addressed by artistic forms which tend to push the boundaries of popular conception and acceptance, probing the nooks and crannies of far-fetched scenarios to find out what people are really willing to accept and what they aren't. I'm not sure particular rights and ethical standards can be properly understood outside of a historical context heavily dependent on the arts. If we view art, in its broadest definition, as a sort of anti-tradition or tradition-straining enterprise, then the two frameworks to best understand any particular ethical/rights system are historical tradition and anti-tradition, the struggle between the two defining the problem space.

Ah, but are those norms right and good, and how can we know? I'll save that for some other time.

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