[If you have no idea what I'm talking about, see here, and don't worry. By Wednesday, we'll be back to talking about phil of logic.]
So I was going to let it go and use the previous post exploring the connotations of "logician" to transition back to the more usual subjects discussed here, but given some of what's been said in this debate since my original post, I did want to briefly follow up and make a few summary points before changing the subject for good.
(1) This whole thing started when Ed Feser wrote an angry, unhinged blog post explaining why a recently murdered doctor was an evil, worse-than-Dahmer mass murderer who had forfeited his right to live. He also claimed to nonetheless fully oppose “vigilantism.”
(2) None of his critics--not me, not Ryan, not Leiter, not Shipley--have at any point in all of this denied the existence of that supremely unconvincing disclaimer or “lied” about it. The point of my first post on all of this was that it seemed hard to square that claim with the obvious upshot of everything else that he had to say.
In normal contexts, when someone hears about a murder and they respond with “well, y’know, he did deserve to die,” everyone takes that as a bit of positive commentary on the murder. Feser demands that people refrain from taking his words this way, because his “of course I don’t approve of vigilantism” disclaimer magically cancels out the rest of what he said, no matter how hard it is to fit the two together in a coherent framework. Thus, when some of us have noted the presence of the disclaimer but declined to take it very seriously given his overall views, he’s accused us of spewing “lies” and “libel.”
(3) Even if you take Feser’s disclaimer to be (a) sincere, and (b) somehow compatible within a remotely plausible framework with his claims that Tiller was worse than Dahmer, had forfeited his right to live, etc., then it would still be the case that Feser was an enthusiastic apologist for doctor-killing.
On that reading, he didn’t object to the fact that Tiller was killed. He only objected to the fact that the wrong people killed him. Feser (on this reading) would prefer to wait for abortion to be banned and the death penalty applied to abortion doctors. At that point, he would be all in favor of Dr. Tiller being lethally injected or strapped to a chair and electrocuted for the crime of helping women end unwanted pregnancies in safe conditions instead of using coat hangers. Moreover, even a cursory glance at Feser’s original post, which was replete with claims that Tiller was a servant of the demon Moloch, that he was worse than Dahmer in five distinct respects, and so on, should confirm that Feser was extremely enthusiastic in pushing for his position that Tiller had "forfeited his right to live."
Thus, even on this reading--that is, to concede for the sake of argument that Feser’s defenders are entirely right and the rest of us are entirely wrong on how to read his original post--it is a banally obvious statement of fact that Feser is a “doctor-killing enthusiast.” Given that, it says something about the standards of reasoning in force over at W4 that, in this comment thread, Feser calls me a “nasty, unrepentant, shameless bald-faced liar” because I called him a “doctor-killing enthusiast.” Regardless of who is right and who is wrong in the argument we’ve been having, on any possible reading of Feser’s original post, he is indeed a doctor-killing enthusiast.
(4) That said, the reading on which Feser “just” wished that Dr. Tiller’s killing had been carried out by different hands is far from the most natural or reasonable reading of his actual words. The central reason not to take his “of course none of this means I actually approve of the actions of people who take all this ‘abortion doctors are serial killers’ rhetoric at face value...no, no, I wash my hands of that” rhetoric very seriously comes in the form of some forceful arguments by analogy advanced at various points in the debate by Shipley and by Ryan. Here’s Shipley:
"Suppose a racist government refuses to protect a minority from persecution. Don't members of the minority have a right to protect themselves? Or, suppose a government refuses to outlaw rape. Would it not be justifiable to protect women by means outside the law? Do you really believe that there are absolutely no circumstances in which vigilante action is justified?"
After Leiter quoted this item, Feser made a long-winded, detailed-looking reply to Shipley, in which he responded to individual sentences of Shipley’s with lengthy blocks of text, but he conspicuously failed to touch this paragraph. He changed the subject to say that vigilantism might be justified in societies as bad as Nazi Germany, but the U.S. wasn’t as bad as all that. He utterly failed to acknowledge or respond to Shipley’s hypotheticals. I took Feser to task for this omission in my original post on all this, then Feser responded at length to me....but once again conspicuously failed to respond to the content of the paragraph just (once again) quoted. To make the point even sharper, Ryan has been asking anyone who will listen, in the comment thread on his own comic and in some of the comment threads over at W4:
"Suppose that Jeffrey Dahmer wasn’t ever captured. Suppose he were free and still torturing, slaughtering and eating people. And suppose the government refused to do anything to try and stop him. Would you decry the actions of the vigilante who brought him down?”
To date, neither Feser nor any of his defenders has actually answered this question head on, and answered it in the affirmative, saying that, yes, yes indeed, under those circumstances, they really would disapprove of vigilante action to stop Dahmer. To me, this failure strongly suggests that we shouldn’t take Feser’s claim that by saying that Tiller was worse than Dahmer, he wasn’t acting as an apologist for Tiller’s murder very seriously.
That's the point.
Now, enough of that.
On Wednesday, the subject changes to the Lottery Paradox, and what we can learn from it about either the rationality of holding inconsistent beliefs or the relationship between probability and justification.