Plenary: Idealistic Dreaming

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Claes G. Ryn (Catholic University of America): Extended rant about the evils of modernity, laying all blame at the feet of Rousseau, who supposedly inspired “impossible dreamers” who deluded themselves about reality and killed millions of people in the futile quest to bring about some impossible utopia. Crude historical account with no attention to the complexities of real human history (according to Ryn, it’s more or less a straight line from Rousseau to Auschwitz); sweeping social and psychological generalizations (all idealists are detached from reality, conceal from others and themselves their will to power, and have “ugly souls”) without supporting data, simplistic, preachy, and scolding philosophy. Lots of name-calling.

One listener wondered if the push for equality for women couldn’t be considered an instance of praiseworthy idealism.

Ryn shot back that equality was a mathematical concept, not a philosophical concept (pretending that words can have only one meaning).

Ryn then observed that equality was impossible since we’re all unique (pretending to conflate equality of ability with equality of opportunity).

Ryn next argued that people always want equality before the law, but it always turns into consideration of contextual details surrounding the case (pretending that there’s no difference between considering relevant factors and considering irrelevant factors).

Ryn’s then observed that we should force idealists to define their terms – but they never do (pretending that even mainstream “idealists” such as John Rawls give considerable attention to the concept of equality).

He closed by arguing that was against equality, which at least seemed to me to be intellectually honest.

Jan Olof, who introduced Ryn, and offered a glowing description of his mentor. afterwards publicly described the talk as “polemic.” One senior attendee angrily described it as “bullshit.”

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