So, on Wednesday evening, mostly as a show of solidarity with my friend Will, I popped by an America’s Future Foundation panel with the inauspicious title “Are Atheists the New Religious Right?” (Short answer, as the moderator recognized right off the bat: No.) One of the panelists was Keith Pavlischek of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who took the bizarrely common stance that it’s just a big mystery what an atheist’s moral theory might look like, unless it’s the radical relativism of someone like the late Richard Rorty.
Well, I couldn’t resist: In the Q&A I observed that this familiar line of attack seemed awfully odd given that essentially the whole of the canon of moral philosophy for more than two centuries now has consisted almost entirely of secular ethics. As in: You need to go back hundreds of years to find an important moral philosopher whose theories are built around a deity as a necessary premise. Not that every significant moral theorist of the modern era was an atheist, or (a fortiori) an evangelical atheist, but pretty much all of the modern giants advance theories (whether they work or not being another story altogether) that don’t turn on the existence of God in any deep way.
Well, who do you mean here, Anthony Flew?
Rarely do I bother being embarrassed on someone else’s behalf, but that did the trick. I have no idea how many cereal box-tops this man had to mail in for his doctorate, but the University of Pittsburgh may want to consider taking this one back before their brand becomes completely meaningless. One might charitably put this down to simple disingenousness rather than gross ignorance, but at the end of the day, these are just different ways of being a fraud.
Addendum: Aaah, it all makes sense now.
Addendum II: A Pitt philosophy student in the comments wants to emphasize that Pavlischek’s degree (though it does contain the word “ethics”) is not from Pitt’s philosophy department, which has long been regarded as one of the best in the country.