12 June 2012

Same-sex marriage: Scotland's fractured ethical dialogue...

Alasdair MacIntyre isn’t exactly a household name in his native land.  The philosopher, born in Glasgow in 1929, has made revivifying Aristotelian virtue ethics central to his intellectual career.  I can make no great claims to having read his whole corpus, but was introduced to his most famous work After Virtue (1981), during my honours year at the University of Edinburgh.

MacIntyre opens that work with an arresting, and profoundly challenging thesis.  Something has gone seriously awry in our contemporary moral discourse, he argues. The addled thing is constituted of scraps of reasons, rags and patches of arguments, haphazardly stitched together.  This mottled quilt of ideas appeals to no coherent intellectual tradition, but instead, presses any old argument into service, bundled together any which way in an unsettled, multicoloured combination of claims, concepts and contentions.  

In the morning, I may argue with a friend about euthanasia like a Kantian, defending an idea of ethics as categorical rules, indifferent to consequences. Thou shalt not kill.  Killing is inherently wrong.  End of story. Over lunch, I find myself discussing politics.  Prosecutors have dropped bribery and corruption charges against a prominent arms manufacturer, citing fears that the investigation may imperil international relations and security cooperation with a Middle Eastern country.  My lunch mate feels this is wrong, and that the law should be visited upon the guilty, though the heavens fall.  

 I feel differently, and in a trice, my breakfast Kantianism is forgotten, and I’m soon trading moral reasons which draw on utilitarian conceptions of morality. The greatest happiness for the greatest number for me, I say, confuting the idea of categorically applicable rules of ethics altogether. To assess the morality of the deed, we must look to the consequences which it sets in train. The prosecutors were quite right to drop the case, I say, as the general welfare was best served by not pursuing it.

By the afternoon, in another debate, I’ve abandoned my consequentialism again.  My opponent believes “marriage” is just made up, just a word, and accordingly, it doesn’t matter a fig what such unions are called, or who can or cannot have them.  Per contra¸ I argue that there is a human right to same-sex marriage, rooted in ideas of the dignity of persons and their inalienable, natural rights.  Over dinner, I fall into another dispute with a fourth discussant, this time about homosexuality.  My interlocutor firmly believes that gay identities are an ahistorical form of being, and that contemporary categorisations of sexual orientation simply reflect universal, underlying realities about the sexual nature of humankind. Having read my Foucault, I vigorously dissent from this, contending instead that the sexual subjectivities available to us today are the historically specific creations of discourse, social constructs rather than reflections of underlying, given realities amenable to human understanding. 

In the course of a single day, I’ve been a Kantian and a Utilitarian, have invoked and repudiated the natural law, and both rejected and avowed social constructivist understandings of moral, social and political concepts.  A particularly stark example of fractured and irregular moral argumentation I might be, but this hypothetical, quarrelsome soul isn’t all that difficult to imagine.  With a little reflection, I think most of us should be able to recognise occasions when we’ve sustained an argument on premises whose force we might well dispute in a different controversy.  But how can we conduct meaningful moral debate in such a community? If moral reasons and concepts are just weapons of convenience, always chopping and changing, can our arguments ever be anything other than manipulative, anything more than an elaboration of the motto I believe thus, you should too?

Whether or not you agree with the doctrines being propounded, one of the intellectually interesting aspects of the recent same-sex marriage debate in Scotland has been the often fractured nature of the debate on all sides.  It immediately recalls MacIntyre’s thesis. For me, one of the particularly fascinating processes to observe has been the Catholic church’s attempts to articulate a popular and persuasive argument against same sex marriage.  As Cum Lazaro observes, opposition to same-sex marriage in Scotland clings quietly to the fringes of our political sphere.  As reported at the weekend, it looks like a majority of MSPs support the proposal, with only a few SNP and Tory MSPs dissenting, albeit very quietly.  Although the proposal has not yet been enshrined in law, I think it is fair to say that support for same-sex marriage has become a sort of “common sense” in Scottish political institutions and beyond.  A significant feature of the Scottish press coverage has been the extent to which it has struggled even to imagine why those against same-sex marriage feel so vehemently about it.  For many writers, endorsing the proposals is a sort of relaxed “modernisation with a shrug”.

In the absence of animated political opponents of the measure in parliament, the primary vocal, visible dissenters have been the Catholic church hierarchy in Scotland and its representatives.  John Deighan has appeared both on Newsnicht and the Sunday Politics Scotland on this, with the bellicose Cardinal O’Brien launching rhetorical exocets in tabloid and broadsheet titles. What interests me is how their position has been consistently rather misunderstood, which is partly testament to the difficulty the church have had in cogently presenting their case, and in effectively explaining the understandings of nature, reason and law which their argument relies upon.  It is a timely reminder that if any conversation is going to be meaningful and mutually instructive, we can’t rush into it headlong, without trying to understand the basic ideas and understandings which our interlocutor is relying on. 

Religion may be operating in our public sphere, but that is not to say that religious understandings and explanations find that agora particularly comfortable territory.  In both of Deighan’s TV appearances, he’s cut a rather ruffled, compressed figure – trying the make the best of his cumbersome case, and refashioning it into more potentially populist terms.  I'm not convinced that he succeeded.  Indeed, to my eye, the haphazard combination of claims made by the Catholic church against this proposal - human rights, religious freedom, natural law - much more closely resembles MacIntyre's vision of the fractured, incoherent and confused lay ethicist than the expressions of a confident tradition of objective reasoning, offering the promise of right-reason and intellectual coherence to a dazzled and dazed postmodernity.

As I understand the theology being propounded, the Catholic Church’s position is not an argument from its own especial authority, nor is it primarily premised on any authority derived from divine revelation condensed in scripture. Distinct from protestant traditions of revealed Biblical truth and faith, Catholic theology retains a strong account of reason and the natural law, the law “written on men’s hearts”.  The Cardinal believes that the natural law has substantial content, is accessible to human reason, and affords a natural, reasonable, concept of marriage, sexuality, gender and the true vocation of humankind.  Rejecting the proposition that marriage is a social construct whose ambit and exclusions is merely the product of social and political forces about which reason is silent, the Church adopts a strong, prescriptive account of both nature, reason and the character of true human flourishing – but critically – reason is understood a faculty common to all humanity, and is not just limited to the Catholic faithful.

When it argued that homosexuality is “disordered” or that same sex marriage is contrary to the natural law, the Catholic church addresses the reasoning capacity of all persons.  Even if you don’t believe in God, and are not part of the Catholic church, you are still graced with reason, and it is this reason O’Brien and others mean to appeal to. What’s more, there may only be one reason, one natural law.  Accordingly, for the theologically committed Catholic, familiar distinctions between the secular positive law and religious claims about the contents of the natural law simply cannot be distinguished.  Multiple, contending, incompatible secular and religious and historical concepts of marriage cannot all be equally valid: for the soul committed to natural law accessible to human reason, many of these notions of marriage miscarry.  They are disordered and disordering concepts: hoodwinking simulacra of the true account of marriage.

For those of us who firmly take marriage to be a social construct, amenable to reconstruction and deconstruction in a range of different ways, this concept of reason may seem suspect or deeply eccentric.  However, there are several other similar sorts of claims which lack the theological atmosphere, but essentially make similar arguments.  Consider this one.  There is no god, no cosmic or sentient bearer of law tables for humanity.  However, I believe homosexuality isn’t a choice, isn’t a contingent construction of contemporary discourse and categories of sexuality, but a natural state, which people are born into.  It may well be that gay identities only came to be clearly articulated at a particular point in history, but that doesn’t entail that there is no such thing as natural, homosexual being, whether or not humanity throughout most of its history would recognise it as such. 

After all, the ancients believed that natural volcanic processes were ordained by divine beings: that didn’t mean that the forces studied by modern vulcanology were not operating beneath the earth’s crust.  Homosexuality is, therefore, natural.  As a community, we have no business legislating “contrary to nature”, drawing artificial legal distinctions between naturally equal people.  Accordingly, introducing sexual equality in marriage is set up as a natural imperative for the secular law.  The argument may lack the religious terminology, lacks the explicit theorising of knowledge of sexuality in terms of reason and the content of some natural law guaranteed by a benevolent creator, but in many ways mirrors the arguments against same-sex marriage adduced by the Catholic hierarchy in Scotland, albeit in a radically different direction.  Both positions make claims about the content of some natural order or law, ideas that human law ought to reflect that order, and claims that their accounts of sexuality represent timeless truths to which secular authority ought reasonably to bend. 

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t agree with either of the two hypothetical arguments.  I’m sufficiently postmodern to be deeply suspicious of any claims about naturalness, whether or not it is promoting or opposing same-sex marriage.  But what both cases show, I think, is the theoretical complexity which inevitably underwrites all of our debates on equal marriage.  All sides of the debate in Scotland seem exceedingly reluctant to recognise this complexity, whether for or against the proposal. The Scottish debate has impatient and for the main, rather shallow. How should contemporary accounts of sexuality be understood? What sort of ontologies and epistemologies are we relying on, and how do these differ from the basic concepts of nature and knowledge which our opponents accept? 

These aren’t avoidable questions.  They lurk, implicitly, in all of the arguments we’ve heard about this proposal.  With a little dissection of those arguments, we can soon see how radically different our conceptualisations of same-sex marriage are, even within the for and agin camps.  One real virtue of MacIntyre’s challenge about the incoherence of contemporary ethical discourse is that it exposes the theoretical complexity of everyday reasoning.  It casts a leery, nitpicking eye over common sense.  What is fascinating about the Scottish example is how far the common sense on same-sex marriage appears to have shifted these last years, but also how much we seem to talk past one another in arguments in debates characterised by their lack of sophistication and any attempt to understand our opponents' views and where they come from.  This tendency is doubtless encouraged by our impatient media, squeezing complex subjects into tiny, 10 minute debate items on telly.

As a supporter of same-sex marriage, I hope that Holyrood will adopt reforming measures, and eliminate the gender requirements for both marriages and civil partnerships.  It seems likely to do so, however, on the back of a intellectually lazy, uncritical common sense. Although I very much disagree with Cum Lazaro on this topic and others, I was arrested by this conclusion to a recent post.  He wrote:

"Scotland is just beginning to build a political culture in which decisions on the running of our nation are debated in that nation. But until that debate is supported by a wider intellectual culture which can do justice to the complexity, depth and conflict in human flourishing, our politicians and journalists will continue to look like five year olds posturing in the hand me downs of their olders and betters across the border."

A wider intellectual culture which can do justice to complexity, depth and conflict?  I like the sound of that. 


  1. At a time when it appears all the ideals and principles of the Enlightenment are being rolled back taking us into a neo-mediaeval mindset can we hope for a Second Scottish Enlightenment as successful as the first in spreading ideas of logic, education, reason, fairness and equality? More than that, who will come forward to drive such a movement, rather than simply seek to be at the apex of the techno-feudal pyramid?

  2. I think it's probably worth bearing in mind that the discussion around equal marriage isn't merely anti-intellectual, with poor foundations, because of a Scottish intellectual vacuum.

    It's a deliberate strategy taken both by the SNP, who can't afford to make Equal Marriage into any particularly principled position, and by the Equal Marriage campaign, who, in the true tradition of the lgbt movement over the past few decades, have preferred a safe, middle-class, decidedly "anti-queer" approach.

    This ultimately means a failure to get to the fundamentals of the debate, and also that equal marriage is treated as an isolated issue, without any meaningful background in understandings of homophobia, or queer liberation.

  3. I've never understood why people get so caught up in the same-sex marriage issue. I would think that given all of the problems with the economy, most would have enough to worry about in regards to their own family then to worry about someone else's perfectly harmless family arrangements.

  4. You write this as though there was some point in time when ordinary people were clearer about the ontologies and epistemologies they were relying on.

    I suggest there has never been any point in the history of our nation when more than about 5 - 10pc of the population has known what those words even mean, far less being clear about their own positions.

    Ditto comments about the Enlightenment. While it was the case that Scotland at that time had (probably) the highest literacy levels in the world I suggest that ordinary people took very little to do with the Enlightenment. They were far more likely to spend their time weaving or mining or some such thing. I don't think many people would have swanned down to their nearest lecture or philosophical discussion after putting in a 12 hr shift!

  5. Thanks for a very fair minded reaction.

    There's a sociological element in MacIntyre's thought which Indy touches on: ideas and traditions are embodied in institutions or practices and not just philosophical systems. Part of the problem is, as you suggest, that we simply don't take time to examine the depths of each side's reasoning. But another part of the problem is that, as a nation, we don't (yet) have the institutions which can provide a diverse cultural hinterland which feeds into the political debate.

    Probably a key element of this is that there is no functioning conservative party in Scottish politics.

  6. I'd definitely agree that there's a lack of consistency in peoples moral positions, and certainly the majority will not have considered this in depth, but I'm not convinced it's a problem to use different normative ethical frameworks to work within while exploring ethical issues.

    It certainly helps if people recognise this is the nature of their discourse and, like most things, ethical frameworks are social constructs.

    But then I'm a moral relativist, heavily influenced by evolutionary psychology and Foucault with a fascination with experimental Trolleyology.

  7. In the wider supposedly revolutionary intellectual culture envisaged by MacIntyre EVERYONE will speak Greek, will have a deep knowledge of history and "great quantities of Literature, especially Shakespeare", plus calculus, statistics, experimental physics and observational astronomy.

    In other words, whatever the actual value of these subjects, his utopia is almost perversely ridiculous and inhuman. Its no surprise therefore that 'lazarus' finds him so appealing.

  8. An interesting application of MacIntyre - a kind of philosophical Victor Meldrew, hankering after a lost world. “I don’t believe it, they’ve ditched Aristotle. What will they think of next?”

    The answer of course is that they thought of many things, and wrought changes on the world and on society that Aristotle would find unimaginable. We may argue over the details of that progress, but few of us would want to go back to the pre-enlightenment days when the beliefs of nations were supposedly settled by disputes between rulers.

    We are all Jenny Geddes now; an uncomfortable fact for church leaders, who find it difficult to make their flock follow their lead.

    It is an interesting concept that the early philosophers got things right and all those who came after were led astray, but I suggest it is a difficult one to make stand up. If true, it would make philosophy the one field of human endeavour in which succeeding generations proceeded to unlearn everything inherited from their predecessors and put nothing new in its place.

    When Indiana Jones faced death at the hands of a scimitar wielding Arab, he didn’t try learning swordplay in double quick time, he just shot him, because he could.

    There never was a golden age when all men (women were usually excluded) studied morals and ethics. I am sure most people have always described what they believe by naming their religion or their political affiliations, or summarising their responses to the dilemmas they have faced. As Aristole said “We are what we repeatedly do.”

    I was disappointed in Indy’s comment – the one thing that has changed over recent centuries is that the pursuit of knowledge has moved from the community into the formal education system. Miners and weavers may not have spent many evenings after a 12-hour shift in pursuit of knowledge, but many of them did spend their weekends in that pursuit.

    From Ayrshire, David Dale started out as an apprentice weaver and went on to found New Lanark and to promote a new approach to business. It was possibly in Fenwick that Dale first encountered co-operative working. The Fenwick Weavers, perhaps unwittingly, founded the co-operative movement; they also started their own clandestine parliament in which they could debate the great issues of the day. Just five years earlier, in 1756, in Wanlockhead, the miners had founded their own subscription library. Until the last century, formal higher education was denied to most people by a lack of resources, not a lack of intellect.

  9. It's nothing to do with lack of intellect but lack of time. The necessity to earn a living. And I would be the last person to say that there is any lack of intellect in working class people. If there is a lack of intellectualism that is, in my opinion, a thoroughly good thing.

    But then I belong to the common sense school.

  10. @ ratzo

    I'd guess you were thinking of this interview:


    If you'd read a little further, you'd have seen:

    'To this the response will rightly be: you are being absurdly Utopian.Yet there is some point in being Utopian...If we set our standards too low, then we will not recognize how drastic our failures often are. The test of our curriculum is what our children become, not only in the workplace but in being able to think about themselves and their society imaginatively and constructively, able to use the resources provided by the past in order to envisage and an implement new possibilities' (p15).

    And a bit further on:

    'A society in which fishing crews and farmers and auto mechanics and construction workers were able to think about their lives critically and constructively in the light afforded by this sort of education would be a society on the verge of revolution.'

    Utopian perhaps, but the same sort of Utopian thought that set up the WEA and the Open University and doesn't regard ordinary people as fit only to be wage slaves or the dupes of modish politicians. And you're right, I do find that appealing.

  11. Incidentally from a pretty uneducated common sense perspective I think the situations described by LPW are actually quite straightforward and can be answered with no inconsistency really.

    Euthanasia is wrong. Not because killing is always wrong – it isn’t – but it is always wrong when it is unnecessary.

    Arms companies - or indeed any other companies - using bribery and corruption are wrong and should be punished. The argument that it is necessary to stop an investigation because it may imperil international relations and security cooperation with a Middle Eastern country is also wrong because it is the corrupt nature of the middle eastern regimes that we sell arms to that causes the insecurity in the first place. If we stopped selling arms to these people, arms companies would lose money. People who make money out of the arms trade will naturally make up all kinds of excuses for it but they are just so much crap and really it us all about making money. If we threw the lot of them in jail the world would be a better place.

    On the next question, marriage is clearly a made up word. All words are made up. And the institution of marriage is also made up, in common with every other institution. Cos that’s what people do. Words, institutions, philosophies, excuses for selling arms to undemocratic regimes. All totally made up.

    The next question I am not sure I understand. But clearly there have always been gay people. There will always be gay people. But contemporary categorisations of sexual orientation do not reflect universal, underlying realities about the sexual nature of humankind because the categorisation of sexual orientation has never been universal and has changed over time back and forth.

    And there are always sub-cultures that exist under the “official” culture. Like Julian and Sandy on Round the Horn. And also people lie about sex. Quite a lot.

    That is not to say that there is not an underlying universal truth about sex. There is. The truth is that people are into all kinds of stuff. If they don’t actually do it they fantasise about it. And I don’t say that ALL homophobes are closet cases but I think we all know that many of them are.

    Then the final question that gay marriage has become a common sense issue rather than one underpinned by philosophical and ethical underpinning. Yep. And what is wrong with that? If someone said to me gay people should not be allowed to sign a mortgage or own a dog or drive a car or do any other thing that every other adult can do because of their sexual orientation I would think they were off their heads. Where is your common sense my good fellow, I would say. And marriage is no different.

    I dare say a perfectly coherent philosophical argument could be constructed to support the idea that gay people should not be allowed to own property along the same lines as then not being allowed to get married. After all they “can’t” have children (here common sense may pipe up and say actually they can but it is quickly repressed with the retort that they can’t have children NATURALLY) so who would they leave their property to?

    Doesn't society have a duty to ensure that the ownership of property be confined to families? Gay people and other weirdos could just rent – they would still have property, they would have almost exactly the same rights as owners, they just wouldn’t have that bit of paper that says I own these bricks and mortar. The argument against same sex marriage is equally as silly really.

  12. @ Indy

    I'll resist taking up the same sex marriage issue just now as it'll only get us stuck in that particular pit and obscure the central, theoretical point at issue.

    So let's take euthanasia. You say it is wrong because it is unnecessary. Well, the standard reasons offered for euthanasia are usually about the relief of suffering; or the importance of autonomy; or an understanding of what it is to be dignified.

    All of these are goods: we can understand roughly the point of what someone is doing when they pursue them. But as soon as we dig beneath that surface understanding, we find disagreements about the precise nature of the values((eg) dignity: some would think about it as involving physical cleanness and independence; others would think of it as the facing of physical discomfit and the virtue of patience); and of their precise place in a good human life (how important is autonomy?).

    MacIntyre has three main points: that such 'deep' disagreements emerge from different traditions of ethical reasoning; that these traditions conflict; and that a resolution can only be provided from within the perspective of a particular tradition. (He would add that the tradition most able to to that is Aristotelian Thomism; and that the tradition it faces (liberalism) is no longer intellectually coherent -but put these specific claims aside.)

    In principle, I'm not sure I agree with him: I'm not sure that the messiness of ethical thinking can be reduced neatly to traditions. But at a practical level, he does point out the way ethical debates in modernity do tend to talk past each other and are traceable back to quite deep disagreements about what human beings are like and how ethics works.

    I think I'm rather more optimistic than LPW about the ability of such debates to advance towards a rational conclusion. But in any case,it would be a useful starting point for everyone to accept that their 'opponents' on any of these big issues are neither knaves nor fools and to make some effort to understand their deeper reasoning.

  13. Glad I did everything I had to do yesterday, my day will be spent in part absorbing this - fine piece from LPW and excellent thread.

    It is indeed difficult to find many among us gabbers opposed to gay marriage. I am opposed to Nicola Sturgeon politically but she rightly regards gay marriage as something that will happen and must happen.

    It's not of course just the Catholic church that is against; the Church of Scotland (despite all its ball into long-grass instincts) has lost a large congregation today on the issue, and the Council of Imams has said that no Muslim can vote for a party which supports the measure (that sad small demo lead by Gordon Wilson was mostly Muslim - and I gather that most of them were there out of archaic loyalty to Bashir Maan).

    As I say enthralling discussion - If i can throw a curler in it would be to suggest that we need to be especially careful about when we achieve consensus - sometimes it can be a rather disturbing phenomenon as in the Holyrood Jubilee tributes, on which Brian Taylor or cannot be bettered -

    'A debate at Holyrood today anent Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee, using the word 'debate' in its loose, contemporary meaning of 'an outburst of collective loyalty'.”

    As someone who is actually in favour of a constituional monarchy, that all creeped me out. But three cheers still - on gay marriage at least.

  14. Indy

    I am afraid you don't address the issue that they 'made the time'. There was among elements of the community, whatever their trade, a thirst for knowledge. From the 16th c onwards there appears to be a growing recognition of the ability of the individual to change their circumstances through learning.

    From the 18th c new forms of institution came into being that weren't just about defending artisan interests, but also about working together to achieve social progress. Fenwick has been little known in Scotland until recent years because their final act of collective progress was achieved through emigration. This may be why they have been recognised more in California then here.

    The exchange between Lazarus and Indy appears to miss the point that people, including politicians, move the basis for ethical arguments from one tradition to another. The fact that it may be possible to stick rigidly to a single ethical tradition isn't really useful. The same opponents will come at you using arguments from different traditions - and it probably won't help to appeal to the electorate on the basis of their philosophical inconsistency. MacIntyre seems to think that is a bad thing - I'm not so sure.

  15. @ Stravonian

    Yes, fair point about the need for politicians to move about traditions.

    I'm not sure that MacIntyre has an entirely satisfactory account of the nature of the modern nation state. He comes out (I think in 'After Virtue') with the marvellous phrase that asking someone to die for the modern nation state is like asking them to die for the telephone company. The main elements I take from him are: a) the state should be as local and 'communitarian' as possible (hence the defence of nationalism you find in some of his essays); b) the state should acknowledge and articulate the competing traditions rather than pretending they don't exist.

    As I said, I'm not convinced by his essentializing of traditions. But the general point that the state should learn to live with (and even facilitate) considerable ethical tensions rather than try to resolve them strikes me as rather a good one.

  16. The juxtaposition of marriage as a social construct and Natural Law fails, in my view.

    A Catholic will argue that any enduring social construct, like marriage ( understood as between a man and woman), endures because it is in harmony with Natural Law.

    No social construct which is not in harmony with Natural Law can endure or serve human beings in a beneficial way.

  17. Just a couple of comments.

    1) Stravonian, nobody has ever changed their circumstances simply by learning. People change their circumstances by doing. Obviously learning and thinking helps people when it comes to doing! But many people involved in the trade union movement for example were not learned and did not need to learn that the circumstances of their lives were rotten.

    2) Having said that, the area of life in which knowledge applied really has the capacity to absolutely revolutionise peoples circumstances has not even been discussed here, which is interesting. I am talking about science of course. Technology has changed lives more completely than anything else and continues to change lives yet most people still don't understand even quite basic things such as how a light bulb switches on and off!

    3) The scientific understanding of the universe tells us that it is infinitely weirder and more complex than anything that could be understood as Natural Law I suggest. It is likely that the universe is actually completely different to our understanding of it. It is quite possible that we do live in a multiverse of which we comprehend very little. Most of us can only dip a toe in that water before running away, completely freaked out, but even a wee dip of the toe shows that much, if not most, of our understanding of reality is probably wrong.

    4)That suggests to me that anyone who thinks they really understand anything and that there are any eternal truths is probably mistaken but it is also irrelevant because here we all are and we have to rub along as best we can. So that is where common sense comes into play. Accept that you will never really know anything for sure and just make the best of things in a way that gives everyone an equal chance to be happy because that is all that really matters.

  18. Edwin

    Holyrood paid tribute to an individual for 60 years service. They would probably do the same for the schools crossing person if they weren't being forcibly retired at 65.

    Brian was just being a journalist - criticises you for having an opinion, criticises you for not expressing one. Don't take him too seriously.

  19. Indy

    1 No one ever changed their circumstances without learning - but that does not mean formal education, which is, I think, the point you are trying to make.

    2 The gun versus the scimitar is analogous for the triumph of the modern world, including its technology. As I say, we can argue about the details of that progress, but few of us would want to undo it.

    3 I don't think many scientists would argue that our search for understanding is complete. As for the concept of multiverses, I have yet to see any evidence. We have barely scratched the surface of our own fourth dimension.

    4 Too many concepts in there to unpick in a response, but glad to see you brought it full circle - good old Aristotle.

  20. Ach fair enough Stravonian, but there isn't a sizeable block of MSPs who think lollipop ladies should not exist. I hope!

    Brian Taylor is an interesting observer - the nature of his BBC job means that he has to boing like Zebedee from one hand to the other - if Eck or Lamont put in a good word for Auld Nick Brian's default response would have to be 'Aye weel you have to say...' I like him, think he dose a tough job pretty well.

  21. "What sort of ontologies and epistemologies are we relying on, and how do these differ from the basic concepts of nature and knowledge which our opponents accept? These aren’t avoidable questions."

    Shouting at the sea for being wet, I do realise, but I for one - and I suspect I carry the vast bulk of the Scottish public with me on this - find it both eminently possible and actively desirable to avoid questions which I require the assistance of a dictionary to understand in the first place.