I went shopping. It wasn't as epic as I'd wanted it to be, mostly because I spent too much time at La Senza. Still, it was quite liberating (yes, liberating) to have these sprawling malls with their bright, sparkly shops open to me to idly walk in, idly walk around, sometimes try on clothes, and idly exit. Cambridge isn't good for shopping at all, and I don't like shopping in London because I pretty much only go to Oxford Street and it's crowded. It's also not the same, walking down roads and going into shops; there's something distinct about going into malls, going up and down escalators, being in this self-contained world, impervious to the outside. Time flies quickly by. It all feels so familiar, as if I was right in my element.
That's, of course, the natural consequence of growing up in Singapore. It's quite an empty activity, but it can be fun once in a while; and after this trip home, it's going to be another year before I can shop at home again.
Anyway, I bought new bras and panties and tried on some clothes at Mango and Muji. I came back and ordered the shirt that I wanted from Mango online. I also restrung my racquet and I can't wait to play tennis again.
I have to get some work done. I spent yesterday reading two chapters of Robert P. George's Making Men Moral. He wasn't as conservative as I'd thought he'd be. One chapter was on the Hart/Devlin debate and the other was his critique of Dworkin's basic right to equality (equal concern and respect) as the foundation of his political liberalism. My main take away from what I read was that morals legislations are legitimate if they are based on a moral truth, i.e. it must be true that the subject of a morals law is immoral. This is in contrast to Devlin's argument against the Wolfenden Report; that the legitimacy of a law criminalising a particular conduct is derived solely from society's determination that this conduct is immoral because such laws are necessary to safeguard social cohesion.
I don't agree with Devlin at all. In fact, his argument - or at least the way George presents it - is pretty unsophisticated. There are obvious objections to it, e.g. it can't be the case that a society's determination of what is moral or not is the end of the enquiry, for a society could say that it is immoral for people of different races to get married; surely it cannot be the case that interracial marriages are per se immoral. Further, what is society and how do we distinguish 'society's preference' from 'what the majority wants'? I think that we can't, and so I don't think that we can speak of a society or a community as a single entity, with wants and preferences like individuals do. A society comprises of individuals, and so when we say 'society thinks x', it probably means 'the majority of people in society think x'. I don't like the imputation of preferences and beliefs to an ill-defined, amorphous entity like 'society'; it provides a false sense of authority to an argument that would collapse (or be seriously undermined) without it. And so I am more inclined to think about community conceptually - what it means to be in a community, what being in a community requires, what obligations are owed between members of a community, etc - and it's helpful to me only to that extent.
But anyway, like I said, I don't agree with Devlin, bu I don't disagree with George. In fact, it seems quite uncontroversial, at least as an idea in abstract, that it's legitimate for the law to criminalise acts that are immoral as a matter of truth. If one believes that the law sets the appropriate normative standard to which citizens should conform, and that the law expresses the moral commitments of the members of the society that it governs, then it stands to reason that the law cannot and should not condone acts that are immoral.
Needless to say, the difficulty then arises in determining what is a moral truth. I don't know if George provides guidance in the other chapters that I didn't print out, but he didn't really explain this in the chapters that I read. He had a few paragraphs on practical reasoning and morality in the introduction which I think goes some way to answer this question. Perhaps I will read it again.
I don't believe in moral nihilism or moral relativism. I believe that there are objective moral truths. It is objectively true that it is immoral to kill or to take a life; it is objectively true, too, that it is immoral to discriminate against someone based on gender, race, religion, and/or sexual orientation, etc. I don't really have a point. Let me move on.
The other thing that I wanted to mention is that I disagree with George's criticism of Dworkin's arguments against paternalism. Dworkin essentially says that paternalism is self-defeating because you can't force someone to lead a valuable life, and that a conception of the good life that ostensibly has value is only valuable if it is endorsed by the person living it. George thinks that the criterion of endorsement is unnecessary, that human goods (such as knowledge) have value as such, and so the lack of endorsement from a particular individual doesn't make them less valuable. But what value does knowledge have to a person who doesn't care about it? It is true that the ignoramous' lack of endorsemenet of the value of knowledge doesn't undermine its inherent value, but it has no value to the person who doesn't care about knowledge. A life of high culture has value, but not to someone who isn't interested in the arts. He may eventually grow to like it, but this takes us back to Dworkin's requirement of endorsement.
The point is, X can only be valuable to Person Y if Person Y values it. Isn't that what is implied in the sentence 'X is valuble to Person 7'? It is valuable to Y, not valuable as such. So George's rejoinder to Dworkin isn't successful, but I don't think he needs this argument to advance his overall argument for perfectionism anyway.
Right. I am going to watch Skins on Netflix and go to bed.