A Philosophical Pit: Those who ascribe to a principle for desirable outcome

• You ascribe to social determinism as opposed to free will because the former is an argument against capital punishment and the latter can be used to support it and you’re against capital punishment? You one-track minded narrow-gauge derailed caboose, I pit you.

• You oppose Constitutional originalism because you think that an originalist interpretation of the Constitution would cast aspersions on Roe v Wade, and therefore endander abortion rights, and you don’t want to endanger abortion rights? You tunnel-visioned myopic macular degenerate, I pit you.

• You’ve taken a position against a Senatorial measure that would end debate and bring the matter at hand to a vote based on a majority vote, not because you think it would destroy the character of the Senate but because your favored party is not currently in power and could not filibuster to block majority action? You self-aggrandizing cynically demoralizing degernate, I pit you too.
Do you think that everyone who pays consideration to the larger general rules and how they should apply is only interested in the smaller, immediate fallout?. Do you perhaps think it is all a game, an attempt to bring in the big guns to win some local and specific power struggle by invoking the larger context?

Do you totally, absolutely, intrinsically not give a shit about trying to establish some overarching generally established principles for their own sake? Do you not arrive at your conclusions about what is the right stance on various immediate issues by considering how general rules apply to them? If notl, how do you arrive at your positions?

Kindly note that I am not saying that your feelings about some local issue might not give you justifiable reason to call into question some general rule, to elaborate on it and where and how it does and does not apply.

I’m talking about hijacking the philosophical in service to the immediate and utilitarian.

You are the kind of person who would argue that German music composers are intrinsically affiliated with the Nazis of mid-20th century just because you want to burn a sheaf of original Beethoven hand-lettered staves in the fire, simply because you have them in your hand, you’re standing next to the stove, and you are cold right now.

Because I always find your posts worthwhile, I want to understand your OP better.

Can’t service to the immediate and utilitarian in itself not be a guiding principle? Does that necessarily imply something sinister?

Did it not occur to you that some people might turn a blind eye to the frankly laughable idea of a “penumbra of privacy” because their principles lead them to believe that a right to abortion should be protected?

'Cause, you know, if not, I pit you.

Yes, but when that is so it should be defended as such. “I have long held it to be true as a general principle that killing people is evil and wrong; but I am in favor of abortion rights even though I think abortion could be described as ‘killing people’.” You don’t have to elaborate at that time, but the subtext is that eventually you are expected to try to reformulate a general rule that doesn’t have exceptions, yes?

I agree that the here-and-now assessment of WHAT IS RIGHT in THIS CONTEXT takes priority over general rules, but general rules are still useful.

Of course it occurs to me. And I would pit people who embrace “penumbra of privacy” not because they think it is a good general principle but because if they “believe” that principle it backs abortion rights, and that makes it the “good” philosophical position to take. Am I communicating?

I myself do not see a lot of Constitutional underpinnings supporting Roe v Wade. I happen to regard abortion rights as of paramount importance, but if you pull me into a debate about Constitutional law and precedent (not that I’m qualified), I will not ascribe to a general principle I don’t agree with just because one of the outcomes that would be important to me would end up going my way as a consequence.

(To be sure, I’d like to see a Constitutional amendment stating that a woman’s right to terminate her own pregnancy at any time prior to the moment of birth cannot in any way be legally infringed whatsoever and whithersoever, end of story.)

Nice rant; don’t know if I agree completely.

If, for example, I support abortion rights because I believe that not doing so goes against our most fundamental ideas about self-autonomy, and constitutional originalism threatens that right, then I might conclude that constitutional originalism is ridiculous because it doesn’t provide the outcomes I think are important.

In other words, if any particular philosophy doesn’t make one happy, then one certainly is free to turn one’s back on said philosophy. There’s no obligation to slog on through with a broken (in one’s mind) system just because. If Originalism means that many things I consider important rights are going to potentially be removed, then I am against Originalism, no matter how noble it may seem in concept.

If I understand correctly, originalism is just a view about how to interpret the Constitution.

As such, the question whether Originalism is true should be handled independently of the question whether abortion is morally permisible or not. This may well lead to the following uncomfortable situation: you think abortion should be permitted, and also, you think that the constitution constitutes abortion as illegal. That’s an uncomfortable situation, but it doesn’t license a conclusion, even on pragmatic grounds, that Originalism is wrong. Rather, the licensed conclusion is “The constitution is not infallible.”


Fair enough. So, IOW, Originalism is a philosophy that is document independant? That seems to me to be a bizarre perspective, as it requires one to stand behind the results of said document (in this case, the constitution) on principle, regardless of the outcomes. Or maybe I’m not quite following you.

Look, one way or the other, you’re pissing on one of your principles. Either you believe the right to choose should be subjugate to the Constitution, or you believe the Constitution is wrong.

Am I communicating?

Oh, and upon preview, what Frylock said.

As I understand it, originalism doesn’t say abortion is forbidden, it says that there’s nothing in the constitution about abortion at all. The legality of abortion would be decided by statutes.

Yeah, what Frylock said.

What I’m assuming is that Originalism is just a theory about how to determine what a document says. Originalism doesn’t say you have to believe the claims of the document, or follow the rules given by the document.

So Originalism, in and of itself, does not require you to stand behind what the Constitution says. It just claims to be able to tell you what the Constitution does in fact say.

So, if I’m right about what O’ism amounts to, then it could be that you decide that yes, the Constitution forbids abortion, and also at the same time that you believe that abortion is morally permissible and ought to be permitted legally. This is what amendments are for.

I reiterate that I’m not basing this on any particular confidence that I know what “Originalism” amounts to. I think its just the idea that the proper way to understand what the Constitution is telling us to do is by reference to the writer’s “original intent,” and that as they themselves would formulate that intent.


To clarify: I respect someone who says something like “Based on the principles embedded in the law, the law says such-and-such. Which is morally and ethically wrong, and the law is an ass”. That’s a massively different thing from saying “I have studied the law and in my opinion the law says such-and-such. (And I have reached that conclusion because such-and-such is an outcome that I desire).” The latter is intellectually dishonest.

Or, umm, yet again, what Frylock said.

for those of who still might not grasp the OP still, in the simplest possible English:
If you claim a general principle, not because you actually believe in or support that principle as a whole, but because you want to prove a specific point, you’re a fuckwit.

Thanks! That’s just the argument I’ve been looking for.

Why should we support principles as a whole? One size never fits all. Consistency is not some holy grail we should all aspire to without reservation. In fact it has been called a hobgoblin for good reason. Especially on a message board where the nuances of intellectual conversation are glossed over by imprecise wording or lack of vocal and body language cues, the discussion often turns into discussions of stereotypes of positions instead of actual positions. i.e. liberal vs. conservative, pro-life vs. pro-choice, pro-war vs. anti-war, blah blah blah.

I have no interest in discussing matters with a series of bullet points outlined on a party platform website. I’m interested in people, whose positions are invariably more nuanced, than some text written by a faceless committee somewhere. My life is more than a series of links to Wikipedia, Britannica, Oxford English Dictionary, or even Straight Dope articles.

And that’s the way I like it. And that’s the way I like other people too.


I always try to warn my students against the ‘that would suck’ fallacy (which one encounters surprisingly often in student writing). The fallacy operates as follows:

If P, then that would suck.
Therefore, not-P.

Not the same principle as you are railing against, but they are members of the same genus.

This is easily and by far the best pitting I’ve read in the past two months.

To see if I understand the OP’s point, let me make an analogy using an example of my own:
Does this include pitting people who think a certain President should be allowed to run an exta term because “He’s doing a reallly great job” Throwing away the system and the overarching ramifications of such an action merely to support a personally liked politican, would be an example similar to the ones posted originally?

I have to agree with everyone; this is a great pitting. I just hope I am truly understanding it…

You are. Good example

Here’s one for you that still completely burns my butt: in academia in the early 1990s, a lot of folks with a feminist perspective, especially in English lit and the arts, climbed into bed with “poststructuralism”, not because they liked what it asserted in general, but in the most disgusting utilitarian way possible: If we ‘believe’ it, look what it allows us to claim! We can use it to rip apart claims-to-excellence of the traditional (male, white, European, dead) canon! That lets us teach more women’s work, and the art and writing of more women of color!

Umm, yeah, it does. It also lets you ‘teach’ Casper the Friendly Ghost comic books as serious lit. And what it doesn’t allow you to do is assert that Toni Morrison’s writing is in some meaningful way, any meaningful way, better or more appropriate for you to teach than Casper comic books. In order to be able to say that Toni Morrison is on par with Henry James, you’ve embraced a perspective that says everything is on a par with everything else, and that there is, in fact, no quality, that all claims to quality are part of a power struggle in which the winners get to define quality, and that there can never under any imaginable circumstances ever be anything anywhere other than a power struggle.

Yeah, that’s liberating.

And of course we get to wrap it all in the most ostentatiously polysyllabilic discursively alienating jargon ever to intimidate a college student. That sure will bring the incoming freshmen over to a feminist point of view in droves. Nothing means anything and nothing matters, therefore we can read Toni Morrison! Yeesh.