Sunday, March 14, 2010

In search of libertarian atheist puritanism

On second thought, perhaps I do have purity/sanctity moral intuitions. It's not actually the same purity reflex that liberals have regarding the environment or healthy food. (My writing a post yesterday about a French fry and cupcake eatery should have made the latter point clear, at least.)

I do have intuitions of purity/sanctity regarding language and grammar, though. I'm not sure that my soul ever knew how to shudder, in Leon Kass's sense of the term, regarding biomedical technology. But it does shudder when I see the phrase "an alumni of X university." Of course, there are no questions about this point anywhere on Haidt's tests. Maybe Bryan is right; maybe liberals and libertarians do have purity/sanctity intuitions, just different ones than Haidt's current tests measure.

The William James quote is also interesting. Like any good Hayekian, I believe that there are unseen orders everywhere. Language is one such unseen order. So, of course, is the marketplace. But I don't see any "supreme good" that comes from harmoniously adjusting oneself to the economic market. I agree that it's practical to adjust one's behavior to the marketplace -- in the sense that it's probably a bad idea, in 2010, to take up candle-making or artisanal carriage manufacturing as a trade instead of, say, computer engineering. But the issue there isn't moral, at least not for me.

With language, however, it is. I can't quite express this well, but language has such potential for beauty. And only by learning how to master the rules of language can humans come to realize language's full potential for beauty. As an atheist, I'm basically stuck thinking that humans' supreme good lies in learning how to do beautiful things well. See generally W.H Auden:

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

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