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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Giubilini and Minerva should NOT have apologised

This apology should not have been issued. The authors did nothing that merited apologising for. By doing so - even in a rather "notpologyish" way - they have bought into the idea that people should be apologetic merely for expressing unpopular, perhaps offensive views. Which entails that such views should not be expressed - a dangerous conclusion to be stuck with.

That does not mean that I fully endorse their views in the original article. I don't: the situation is much more complex than they acknowledge, and I am surprised that they did not discuss the sorts of views about the moral status of babies that I elaborate here (full article behind a wall) and (briefly) here, and similar views that others have put forward (e.g. those of Mary Ann Warren; Warren, at least, should probably have been discussed). However, my agreement or otherwise is not the point, and the original article by Giubilini and Minerva was a legitimate academic contribution that probably merited publication.

You should not have to apologise because your thoughtful, civilly expressed views on a tricky bioethical issue have offended or outraged a number of people. By buying into that idea, the authors have made it that increment more difficult for the rest of us to put forward unpopular, perhaps unsettling, perhaps even incorrect, views in the future. That is bad for freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas.

So should they now apologise for apologising? What a mess!


Anonymous said...

If any apology is due from this debate, surely it should come from those pro-life morons who threatened and abused these two academics.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, quite. And as someone said on my Facebook page, this sort of apology - under pressure from death threats and other bullying - makes it a dark day for free exchange of ideas.

Anonymous said...

nice opinion.. thanks for sharing....

Jaime Pimenta said...

What is the limit? Can I defend anything?
It is acceptable to defend rationally that there are categories of people with the gift of defining what can and can not? If you can express and defend their beliefs because they do not defend freedom of expression of one who opposes you even if you do not like?
The so-called science have been transformed into a new religion so called fundamentalism of many scientists and philosophers?
Why the so-called scientific knowledge is superior to other forms of knowledge (and I'm just questioning the question)?
Defend freedom of expression only for those who agree is easy, more work is to defend my opponent also has a right to express and defend their opinions.

ColinGavaghan said...

@Jaime: this isn't about privileging of 'scientific' knowledge. The authors of this piece adopt a philosophical approach of a fairly classic sort, i.e. (a) if we are ok with X, and (b) if Y shares all morally relevant features with X, then (c) we should be ok with Y.

Now we may dispute - as Russell has, and I would - claim (b), but unless you want to reject consistency of thinking, it's hard to find fault with this sort of approach to the issue.

Bill Smith said...

Ok, two thoughts:
First, while all of us will post ideas that are accidentally incorrect in the marketplace of ideas, it seems to me a poor argument that one should be free to post something they know is incorrect. While we all welcome new ideas - even those in opposition to our own, welcoming ideas that are known to be incorrect is a bit of a stretch for almost anyone.
Second, one man's thoughtful view may be seen as very uncivil by the opposing position. It could be argued that Rush Limbaugh was simply drawing a logical conclusion, for example... and just to illustrate; there are those who will consider even my mention of that controversy was most 'un-civil'! If the term 'infanticide' is to be deliberately avoided - another term must be used in substitute - it would seem like that might be the first clue that the discussion itself is dangerously close to 'un-civil'.
I'm all for freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas. Let's be careful, however, about two things; posting ideas that are known to be incorrect, and presuming a particular phrase or concept can be made more palatable by giving it another name. In the words of the immortal bard "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet". (corollary, a swamp by any other name still smells as bad)

Russell Blackford said...

Bill, I'm not sure how your comment relates to the article that we're talking about. It doesn't contain any obvious untruths, let alone statements known by the authors to bed untrue (perhaps it contains philosopical opinions that are not ultimately true, but that is not the same thing for practical purposes, as recognised in defamation law for example), and it does not bully anyone in the way Rush Limbaugh, say, did. I don't see what they have to apologise for.

Bill Smith said...

Fair enough question... and thanks for your kind reply!
The article referred to the need for authors to be able "to put forward unpopular, perhaps unsettling, perhaps even incorrect, views". While incorrect views can be a matter of genuine mistake, and we need allowances for that; I am honestly perplexed that (if I recall correctly) one of the two authors doesn't support the idea themselves. They only wanted to get it out there for public discussion as it were. It almost seems a tad dishonest to write in support of an idea one does not support themselves...
About Rush Limbaugh: His strong supporters, my wife included, simply point out that mathematically, he was drawing a logical and reasonable conclusion as to Ms. Fluke’s social status. The majority of Rush’s opponents, however, found the discourse ‘uncivil’ (‘bully’ was the term you used). My point is that what may seem like a reasonable exploration of discourse to one side of the debate may seem grossly uncivil to the other. I would submit that very close similarities exists in this case in terms of one side arguing that they were just exercising a simple discourse and the other seeing something grossly uncivil. Note the similarities even to the extent that threats are made and one side is calling for an apology from the other.
Yes, Rush was out of line, clearly, and deserved the push-back that he got. To us on the opposing side, entertaining infanticide is at least as morally repugnant as calling a female law student sexually immoral. If you can understand why Rush received threats and demands for apology, you should be able to understand why Drs. Giubilini and Minerva received the same.