February 08, 2014

Ducks, hate, and logic (part 2)

Phil Robertson on "I am second"
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, February 6, 2014

Ducks, hate, and logic (part 2)

Much anger was expressed a few weeks ago in the media about Phil Robertson, the patriarch of Duck Dynasty (an extremely popular A&E television show), and his alleged anti-gay comments in Gentleman's Quarterly (GQ magazine). Robertson stated publicly, albeit bluntly and explicitly, that the Bible says same-sex sex is morally wrong—i.e., it's a sin, among other sins, including bestiality, heterosexual fornication and promiscuity, greed, drunkenness, slandering, and swindling.

In an earlier installment of this column (January 2, 2014) I addressed the oft-heard objection that Robertson equated and compared same-sex sex to bestiality, thereby diminishing the humanity of persons who engage in gay sex, thus inciting hatred toward them. I showed that this objection is false.

Today I examine the objection that setting out a moral objection to gay sex is, automatically, to engage in hate.

Clearly, for some angry critics it was assumed that Robertson's saying that same-sex sex is morally wrong is, because of the mere fact of saying same-sex sex is morally wrong, an instance of hatred.

But these critics should think carefully here.

If "saying X is morally wrong" is an instance of hatred, then "saying 'saying X is morally wrong' is morally wrong" is an instance of hatred, too.

It turns out that the view that all claims asserting moral wrongness are instances of hatred and thus morally wrong is a view that includes itself in its field of reference and thus self-defeats. The claim is guilty of the very thing it claims is wrong!

The claim, in other words, is attempting to take the moral high ground while at the same time destroying the moral ground on which it's standing.

Note for the sake of clarity: I am not saying that "saying X is morally wrong" is in fact an instance of hatred, at least it's not necessarily true that it is such an instance. Surely, and significantly, there is room to express moral views respectfully.

Think carefully about the if-then claim I set out. Here it is again: if "saying X is morally wrong" is an instance of hatred, then "saying 'saying X is morally wrong' is morally wrong" is an instance of hatred, too.

Above I have simply set out a conditional statement (an "if-then" statement) which is true even when the antecedent (the part immediately after the "if" and ending at the comma) is false. The interesting logical fact is that the conditional statement shows that those who do say "saying X is morally wrong" is an instance of hatred (i.e., they assert the antecedent to be true) have a serious problem on their hands: i.e., the consequent (the part immediately after the "then") has got to be true too.

But then this morally undermines the objectors' own view: if their view is true, it's morally wrong. Also, if their view is false, then, well, it's not true.

Contrary to what some angry critics would have us think, then, the simple fact is this: To set out an objection based on moral principle is NOT automatically to engage in hate.

The fact remains that it is possible to raise moral objections without engaging in hate—and this is what Phil Robertson has done.

All this to say, to (once again) paraphrase C. S. Lewis’s wise old professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic in schools these days?!”

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)


Andrew Eddy said...

Great article. Thank you.

Al Hiebert said...

Excellent 2-part piece.

It seems postmodernists prefer to talk of "rhetoric" rather than logic, since the latter has no room in their worldview.