Into the fray—the internecine war between Stalinism and Trotskyism—entered John Dewey. Now Dewey had previously ventured into the Marxist morality play when his “Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trial” allowed Trotsky to defend his good name after being tried and sentenced to death in absentia by the Stalinists at the Moscow Show Trials in 1936. That the commission provided Trotsky with a western pulpit to justify his beliefs and actions goes a long way in explaining Dewey’s critique of Trotsky’s defense of Bolshevik morality.
In his response, Dewey agrees with Trotsky in the rejection of moral truths and absolutist ethics:
“Since Mr. Trotsky also indicates that the only alternative position to the idea that the end justifies the means is some form of absolutistic ethics based on the alleged deliverances of conscience, or a moral sense, or some brand of eternal truths, I wish to say that I write from a standpoint that rejects all such doctrines as definitely as does Mr. Trotsky himself, and that I hold that the end in the sense of consequences provides the only basis for moral ideas and action, and therefore provides the only justification that can be found for means employed.”
Yet, he also claims, “The liberation of mankind is an end to be striven for. In any legitimate sense of ‘moral,’ it is a moral end.” That Dewey claims the existence of a self-justifying, absolute truth—the liberation of man—while rejecting the existence of such a truth shows a serious misstep in logic. But such is life in progressive academia.
2. Click the link to Dewey’s full essay – now, there’s some thinking for ya:
But for my present purpose, it is important to note that the word “end” is here used to cover two things – the final justifying end and ends that are themselves means to this final end. For while it is not said in so many words that some ends are but means, that proposition is certainly implied in the statement that some ends “lead to increasing the power of man over nature, etc.” Mr. Trotsky goes on to explain that the principle that the end justifies the means does not mean that every means is permissible. “That is permissible, we answer, which really leads to the liberation of mankind.”
Were the latter statement consistently adhered to and followed through it would be consistent with the sound principle of interdependence of means and end. Being in accord with it, it would lead to scrupulous examination of the means that are used, to ascertain what their actual objective consequences will be as far as it is humanly possible to tell – to show that they do “really” lead to the liberation of mankind. It is at this point that the double significance of end becomes important. As far as it means consequences actually reached, it is clearly dependent upon means used, while measures in their capacity of means are dependent upon the end in the sense that they have to be viewed and judged on the ground of their actual objective results. On this basis, an end-in-view represents or is an idea of the final consequences, in case the idea is formed on the ground of the means that are judged to be most likely to produce the end. The end in view is thus itself a means for directing action – just as a man’s idea of health to be attained or a house to be built is not identical with end in the sense of actual outcome but is a means for directing action to achieve that end.
In this one hears the clear echo of Pierce’s Pragmatic Maxim:
Consider what effects that might conceivably have practical bearings you conceive the objects of your conception to have. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object.
Pierce and perhaps Dewey would have been appalled by the mass murder and mayhem that became the means to achieve the effects that the objects of Stalin’s conceptions had – but that would be quibbling over matters of taste and style, as there is no objective measure of horror and evil – it’s just however much you can stomach. Stalin could stomach plenty, and there’s nothing much else to say about it. Not that Dewey and other apologists don’t say it. The rest of the essay that follows that quoted above is exactly that sort of claptrap – Dewey objects that, no, not everything is permissible – only those things that really work. Or something. Thus, we have our second logical full fail: the first is claiming absolutely that there are no absolutes; the next is basing justification of means on whether they actually achieve the ends – which cannot be known until the ends are achieved. This logical dog is chasing its tail.
Dewey, in a thoroughly modern way, fears only absolutism. If only he had feared illogic and unreason half so much. On the current schedule, I’ll get around to reading Dewey around September, 2019. Ish. So far, just sampled some of his less coherent stuff – this here is frightfully coherent. Not sure I don’t like the opaque and obfuscatory stuff better.
3. Yet more Briggs. I just had a wonderful fantasy, in which the efforts of modern Lysenkos to arrest and imprison (and kill, of course – history wouldn’t have it any other way) “climate deniers” leads to an “I am Spartacus” moment among all honest men.
Hey, a man’s gotta dream.
4. You want to know what makes me tired? No? Tough: People who don’t seem to get that having herds of deer in suburbia makes them, you know, an invasive species, to be controlled or even rooted out like so many Asian carp. They are not Bambi. They are only as cute as someone who dies in a car crash after hitting one, or trying not to hit one.
See, in their natural environment, there would not be so many deer that we’d be hitting them with our cars and chasing them out of our gardens daily. Because – follow this closely – in their natural environment, predators would kill and eat them. Their natural predators include wolves, bears, cougars – and people. Soooo, in the Great Circle of Life, we are supposed to kill and eat them. That’s what the Lion King would do, to put it in terms even goofballs can understand. We do not try to feed them birth control bills, or shoot them with birth control shots. We do not have them fixed. We eat them. If we don’t, we’re inviting the wolves and bears and cougars to come do it for us – and those predators are plenty smart enough to figure out that a human is a lot less work to kill and eat than a deer. So, like, we want to be the ones doing the predation, not the ones being preyed upon. Trust me on this.
5. So, as y’all (all three of you) can tell, got a few hours to write over the last few days, so finished up a few drafts. Now, it’s back to the schedule that will pretty much prevent me from writing except on weekends. Try to soldier on.