Thursday, February 18, 2021

Contra Julian Baggini, on Hume, two wrongs don't make a right or justify a Platonic noble lie

Although already refuted by my piece on David Hume as racist, and refuted on presentism?

Julian Baggini goes in the tank for Hume. Undercutting him?

And? Undercutting even more Sir Tom Devine, the present-day Scottish historian he cites, claiming there was no push for abolition in Scotland in 1762, the time of his sugar plantation intervention, which he claims is in a "purported" letter?

In history we teach our students not to indulge in the intellectual sin of anachronistic judgement, i.e. never to impose the values of today on those of the past. In 1762, the year of David Hume’s reported letter on the plantations, there is no evidence that any groups in Scotland opposed chattel slavery in the colonies. The surge of abolitionism and widespread horror at man’s inhumanity to his fellow man only came later. In that sense, Hume was a man of his time, no better and no worse than any other Scot at the time.

Scotland was part of the UK, and was so for Hume's entire live. In addition, by this time, Hume had lived in London, and on the continent. (Amazing how the "world" of Enlightenment letters & ideas can be so selective.) Abolition was a happening thing in England; James Oglethorpe founded Georgia to be slavery-free, and for humanitarian reasons, before the original version of Hume's footnote.

And, Beattie and his mentor Thomas Reid? SCOT! 

AND? He's arguably wrong about "no evidence that any groups ..." Per that "happening thing" link from Wiki (which has a footnote, so shut up):

Some of the first freedom suits, court cases in Britain to challenge the legality of slavery, took place in Scotland in 1755 and 1769. The cases were Montgomery v. Sheddan (1755) and Spens v. Dalrymple (1769). Each of the slaves had been baptised in Scotland and challenged the legality of slavery. They set the precedent of legal procedure in British courts that would later lead to success for the plaintiffs. In these cases, deaths of the plaintiff and defendant, respectively, brought an end to the action before a court decision could be rendered.[8]

Also, per the same link, John Wesley, who created this organized group called "Methodism," started writing against slavery on moral grounds two years before Hume died. 

More here on those freedom suits and related issues. More at this link. Both of them mention three freedom suits, not two. The second link mentions how individual Scots helped fugitive slaves. I would suspect that there was at least word-of-mouth organizational effort behind this.

Both links also have more information about the profitability of slave trading and island plantation ownership to individual Scots and to Scotland as a whole. Given that Hume, in some ways a precursor to Adam Smith on modern economics, wrote a lot about economic issues, I suspect he knew all of this himself.

Related to this, Baggini wants to make "presentism" a non-absolute descriptor. I reject that. Even if I accepted that the idea of presentism, empirically, should be defined in majoritarian terms, per the logical side, specifically, psychological logic, I would reject his claim that the minority side in 1700s Scotland was so small that we can essentially ignore it.

I am tired of this. I've already told Baggini on Twitter that I'm going to do a new post. Basically, I see things like this as a version of Platonic noble lies, based on ideas that cancel culture or whatever is so evil all tools in opposition to it are fair game.

As for the British involved with the tower's de-naming not calling out China more? Two wrongs don't make a right. And, he either knows that, or if he doesn't, he's pretty appalling as a philosopher. The modern world would call this whataboutism or something.

That said, trying to do a Robert Wright on Jesus, in a book he wrote last year, and find that Jesus' calls to "renounce one's self" have secular value when removed from Jesus' metaphyics, makes me think he is at least in the vicinity of appalling.


And, per a discussion on MeWe, sorry, but this DOES, if not detract from Hume's (or Kant's, Locke's or Voltaire's) work in general, at a minimum, it brings it under heightened scrutiny. I'm sorry that it doesn't for you.


Update, May 28: Via Massimo, Baggini continues this by, to put it politely, offering an overly charitable interpretation of Hume's socio-political bigotry.

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