instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The pitchfork point

A comment below suggests that it is possible to assert that someone made a poor decision without asserting culpability for grave sin, "and God help him on judgment day."

Sure, it's possible, but where's the payoff?

Imagine listening to a wide-ranging conversation between two philosophers. At one point, they might be discussing how best to butter a slice of toast. At another, how to determine whether a tax code is just. At any given point in time, you will be more or less interested in what they're saying, depending on the topic and the ways they present their arguments.

Now suppose you leave the room for a minute, return, and, in trying to pick up the thread of conversation, realize they're debating whether pitchforking babies is ever appropriate in a free society, and if so under what conditions.

At this point, you may well find yourself saying, "Wait a minute! You're debating pitchforking babies!??!!"

If you judge that a conversation has reached the point of pitchforks, then you judge there's no point left to that conversation. You say, "God help him on judgment day," let his poor decision follow as a corollary, and there's not much left to say.

There are some answers that ought to be self-evident, some matters that don't require debate. But it seems that which matters aren't debatable is debatable. In other words, the point at which a debate amounts to whether pitchforking babies is appropriate -- the point at which "God help him on judgment day" is easier to say than "He made a poor decision" -- varies from person to person.