Archive for secularism

Écoles laïques [150 years ago]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on April 28, 2021 by xi'an

“So President Emmanuel Macron of France called me on Thursday afternoon” [really?!]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2020 by xi'an

When I read this first sentence in The New York Times article by Ben Smith, I was a wee bit suprised as it sounded more Trumpian than Macronesque. Esp. when the article continued with the French president “having some bones to pick with the Anglo-American media”… As it transpired, it is factually correct, if giving an impression of the exact opposite of the right causality arrow. The Élysée palace indeed called back the NYT journalist after the latter asked for an interview a few days earlier and that Macron agreed to it. Beyond this misleading launch, the article is much more of an opinion piece (about Ben Smith’s opinions on French politics and secular principles) than an interview. Just like most principles, the rather specific core concept of “laïcité” (secularism) can be both debated ad nauseam and turned into political weapons for all positions on the political spectrum, from extreme-left to extreme-right. It is also almost invariably presented from abroad as an attack on the freedom of religion (and lack thereof), mostly against Muslims, and almost automatically mixed with institutional racism. The article actually goes all over the place, from attributing the uncovering of a pedophile writer to The Times journalists, to seeing Macron’s position as a theatrical posturing helping his own agenda for the next presidential elections. And while I readily concede the many woes of the French society, government, institutions, like police and justice, politics, &tc., I cannot but support an idea of a model that remains universalist and therefore secularist.

hommage à Samuel Paty

Posted in Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2020 by xi'an

Toute notre communauté universitaire exprime sa plus vive émotion à la suite de l’assassinat de Samuel Paty, professeur dans un collège de Conflans Sainte-Honorine. Nous nous associons pleinement à la douleur de ses proches, de ses élèves et de ses collègues.

En tant qu’université, nos missions prolongent celles assumées par nos collègues de l’enseignement secondaire, dont nous sommes pleinement solidaires. Et nous tenons à rappeler, dans ces circonstances, les principes qui inspirent nos missions d’enseignement et de recherche : le respect de la liberté de penser, le goût du débat, le développement de l’esprit critique, la production de connaissance, tout cela dans le strict respect des lois de notre République.

Patrice Geoffron, Administrateur provisoire de l’Université Paris Dauphine-PSL  & Nicolas Péjout, Directeur Général des Services

and another step forward for Ireland!

Posted in pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2018 by xi'an

the [h]edge of reason [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2017 by xi'an

I do not know if Julian Baggini chose the title of this book in connection with the second [appalling] Bridget Jones film or with the huge number of books with this title, but the proximity is somewhat unfortunate for a philosophy book!

I presume I got this book based on the subtitle “A rational skeptic in an irrational world”, although I knew nothing of the author and should have done some research before putting my stash of Amazon credit to use! (He has written so many books on philosophical themes that he reminds me of Michel Onfray… And not only for this reason, they also seem to cater to the same readership interested in light or “general public” philosophy. Or as I would call it, journalosophy…)

This thin conception sees rational argument not as a formal, mechanistic, rigid method but simply as the process of giving and assessing objective reasons for belief.” (p.5)

The core idea in the book is that reason is over-rated as an argument in philosophical or every day debate! And should come only as a foot soldier support for one’s beliefs, since those are primordial and unavoidable in leading one’s life, beliefs (!), and principles… Beliefs and presuppositions are central to those and cannot browbeated by reason. I was hoping for a stronger defence of rationality that would set reason at the centre of scientific, democratic, and everyday debates, but I feel the book ends up as at best lukewarm on that front.

“It is always rebarbative  to the philosopher to reach a point in an argument where it is necessary to  admit that others may be presented with the same chain of inferences yet justifiably reach a different conclusion.” (p.9)

The book almost immediately lost most of its potential appeal for me when I realised the very first chapter is about religion and the author seems to find particularly distasteful that “there are some who argue that faith defies reason” (p.17). Followed by a relativistic argumentation that sets religious people and atheists at the same ground level as having different “properly basic beliefs ” (p.21) and “evidence bases” and “rational coherence” (p.17).  Culminating in advocating a “rational Catholicism” (p.133, capitalised by my spell-checker!). At which point I feel we already are on the wrong side of the hedge of reason… From there, the same relativism permeates the whole book, backed up by the argument that there is rarely if ever enough evidence to conclude one way against another (as we would know, of course!). This is particularly jarring in the chapter about science, crucially entitled “Science for humans”, which argues that there is no such thing as pure science, because scientists always contaminate scientific arguments (and data?) with their beliefs and prejudices. As in e.g., “the question of whether or not an experiment or observation counts as critical – sufficient to settle a dispute – is itself a judgement (p.47). The more I read the book the more I felt it carried a postmodernist message, even when stating the opposite (p.238) as aiming at skepticism (p.234) or making fun of the most extreme illustrations of this obscurantism (p.100, p.125). Putting for instance some of the blame “on both sides”, post-modernists and anti-post-modernists alike (p.238)!

“Reason is thin ice on which we have no choice but to skate.” (p.245)

A last comment about the application of those relative principles to state government and society ruling (Part IV: The King). The attack on an ideal (Socratic or Platonic) society ruled by reason alone as unimplementable and not pragmatic and “a bad principle” (p.194) does not produce a better alternative proposal than conservatism (!) and the call to reason to fight populism with practical reason (Chapter 11) sounds self-defeating. When opposed with the relativism of the remainder of the book. If societal decisions should be based on rationality and there is no consensus on what rationality is, which is a reason for advocating pluralism, it seems impossible to reach agreement on how to govern and to find an implementable version of pluralism. Which brings us back to stage zero and the feelings leading to populism that the elites have no idea on how to run the polis. Except their self-interest. Speaking of pluralism, the author seems to agree (p.225) that secularism à la française [obviously to be distinguished from political exploitations like last year burkinigate!] is still a form of pluralism precisely because it excludes religion from the public debate. Because arguments can then [at least on principle] reach all members of the polis. (But then I do not understand how “unleashing religious voices in the political public sphere” [p.230] is compatible with this.)

“Some might believe that such a skeptical defence of reason leaves it thin and emaciated.” (p.236)

In conclusion, I am thus quite disappointed by the book and what I consider to be a rather shallow approach to the question of reason in the public debate. Thinning out rationality does not seem like a helpful step to fight anti-rational, fundamentalist, obscurantist, etc. forces, as it does not make these move one inch their ideological positions.

As an update, it is rather unfortunate that this review came out when the North-Korean crisis seems to push the World beyond the edge of reason with threats of nuclear attacks… Which brings us back to the boundless dangers of populism.

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