Two related stories of the week

Story One: Anthony Flew’s death

I know I’m a bit late in reporting this story, but I’ll assume that my readership may already be familiar with the recent death of Anthony Flew. Flew was one of the early philosophers of whom I had some contact with his work; namely, his scepticism concerningthe propositions of theism and religious belief. Flew’s brand of scepticism about theism (or atheism as some may call it) is of a distinct kind which treated believers in a slightly more charitable way than the so-called ‘new atheists’ of today.

One issue about his death slightly saddens me; the work of any interesting philosopher should be remembered for its impact and influence. Flew, I’m sure, was one of the most influential philosophers to atheism for a certain past generation of philosophers. Some people have taken exception to point out Flew’s slight change in position. I’ve understood (although it does not seem clear to me) that Flew had renouced his athism in later life, apparently after coming across some form of a design argument for the existence of God. If Flew had renounced his atheism; does that make him an a-atheist? some (prostheletisers) deem this an important point to add, as if to undermine his own position. Of course these things are early days but I am curious as to whether his legacy and his later ‘deism’ will seriously colour his lasting memory.

If I were to consider an analogy; if a philosopher who came across many significant changes of attitude and mindset, or views in general were to perish; will a similar battle be fought about what their actual views were, or abused to prosthelyize an agenda with an issue such as say; Russell’s change in social attitudes or perspective to the foundations of mathematics?; Putnam’s changed mind on virtually anything?; Nietzsche’s later psychotic decline? or Kant’s changing views on the emerging ‘new’ sciences of mechanical physics or chemistry? With the exception of the latter issue; I don’t see why these views are not treated so passionately to affect our perception of an individual’s legacy compared to how a philosophy may have changed their views about a belief in God (which doesn’t necessarily entail belief in a specific Abrahamic God). Too much disproportional attention is on the God issue which may tar the legacy of Flew. I’ll always remember him for the phrase (excusing any pun): ‘death of a thousand qualifications’.

Story Two: Prime ministerial television debate

A question on legacy rises in this second story of the week. This week saw the first televised British prime ministerial debate, which for my two cents; showed all three party leaders in the best possible light. Compare this to the overtly character driven political debating style of the US presidential elections. There is comparatively less dirty politics and distinctly less cynicism presented from the questioners or the party leaders.

I was thinking about principles of good Rhetoric throughout the debate. For anyone who would like to engage in a debate, there are certain likeable features that can also be taken to the advantage of another. I thought I’d consider the features of a good Rhetorical strategy that perhaps will determine the reception of how the debate came about:

  1. Acknowleding good points of your opponents
  2. Agreeing with an opponent; taking charitable interpretation of their views
  3. Appeasement/deference to establish the appearance of sympathy of others
  4. Refutation and rebuttals to points that conflict with yours
  5. Establishing unity or relata to other propositions in a given agenda
  6. Avoiding personal attack; poor argument or fallacious appeal

Of course rhetoric differs to good argument. Ideally the best argument is the one that is true. Not the one that convinces. However for the interests of a democratic election; rhetoric does better.


One thought on “Two related stories of the week

  1. I only know Antony Flew from the “No true Scotsman” argument… nice to see him remembered.

    Honestly, the theists and the atheists should both be ashamed of their attempts to politicise Flew’s beliefs in later life. Flew’s Deism is clearly opposed to both the traditional theist *and* the modern atheist camps. No-one should be trying to score points here.

    Mind you, I don’t think the younger Flew’s idea that one should be an atheist until evidence for God emerges is coherent. In the absence of evidence, agnosticism is surely indicated. The leap of unfaith is still a significant jump.

    “Ideally the best argument is the one that is true. Not the one that convinces.”

    But in metaphysics as in politics, there is no “true” without a background of justificatory conditions. “There is no God” presupposes knowledge of what God is in order to judge the truth value of the assertion… but that knowledge by definition cannot exist for the atheist, making the statement impossible. Politics is driven by similar circularities of logic. Which means the only “best” argument possible is indeed that which convinces…

    Take care!

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