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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Disagreement, contempt, and the "merriment of heaven"

Prof. Robert Miller (Iowa) has a nice post up at First Things, called "Thanatopsis for Ronald Dworkin."  The last few paragraphs really stood out for me.  After noting his frequent and deep disgreements with Prof. Dworkin, Miller writes:

Especially with people whom we do not know personally, it is easy to pass from thinking that a person holds bad ideas to thinking that the person who holds such ideas is a bad person—to move from disagreeing with a person to contemning him. This is a moral lapse, of course, because we should love everyone and contemn no one, even people who really are bad, but it is a mistake in another way as well, for it usually involves us in a simple factual error.

In my experience (and as a religious and political conservative in academia, I have a lot of experience of this kind), when we get to know the people with whom we disagree deeply, it usually turns out that they are very good people—people who love their spouses and children, who work hard at their jobs, who have overcome serious hardships and obstacles in life, who are kind to strangers, who are truly upstanding and morally admirable people. Rather than despising them, we end up liking and admiring them.

With people we never meet, however, we do not have this opportunity to see more of them than their ideas. Seeing just the ideas and thinking these are wrong, we too often dismiss the person with the ideas, and people we dismiss we easily come to hate. Reflect for a moment on your feelings for your least favorite politician currently in office. Allowing ourselves to have such feelings, however, reduces us as human beings because the final end of human nature requires that we will the good of all human beings, and it also has deleterious consequences, for it erodes social capital. It makes it harder for us to trust those with whom we disagree, to discuss matters reasonably with them, and to find common ground where such ground can be found in order to work together despite persisting disagreements. . . .

I never met Ronald Dworkin, which is too bad for me, because I am sure I would have enjoyed questioning him about his ideas and perhaps being questioned by him in turn. This, however, is but a minor misfortune. I still hope to meet him in the merriment of heaven.


Posted by Rick Garnett on February 20, 2013 at 04:35 PM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


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really, really nice...

Posted by: Ian Bartrum | Feb 21, 2013 12:32:55 PM

Robert Miller is a mensch.

Posted by: anonowitz | Feb 20, 2013 7:03:09 PM

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