Monday, February 05, 2007

A Note on Emotivism.

Personally, I have never found all that plausible the idea, recently repeated here, that architecture dictates morality.

("I know I'm a lazy, abusive drunk, honey, but we're not living in the right house in a true communitarian neighborhood.")

I agree that the individual can become the most virtuous only within a group -- specifically, by playing a specific role both within the organic relationship of the family and within the family of a local church. But this isn't something that results from architecture. Truth is, I don't think it's the sort of thing that can be imposed from above in any circumstances: virtue requires freedom, and invariably some people are going to abuse that freedom.

"The New Urbanists," Rod writes, "with their ideas of returning to the ways civic spaces were designed in the past (e.g., human-scaled, pedestrian-oriented), hope to revive a civic and communal spirit among people, by creating public and private spaces that reflect a traditional understanding of how human communities flourish."

But were these traditional "human-scaled" communities actually more moral than modern society? First-century Jerusalem was almost certainly closer to the New Urbanists' ideal than modern New York, but it's not as if Christ looked at the architecture and said that the city needed no moral improvement. On the contrary, quite a few of its residents plotted or enabled the vicious murder of an innocent religious teacher.

But I digress. Rod repeats the view of one Philip Bess that "we are now living, and have for some time been living in, a highly individualistic 'emotivist' society (emotivism being the philosophical stance that denies objective truth, saying rather that truth-claims are nothing more than statements about the feelings of the speaker), in which the feelings of individuals are considered the absolute telos, or goal, of society."

Emotivism is a very odd thing for Rod to criticize about modern society, since he, first, seems to oscillate between the idea that we need a modern Benedict to help us retreat from society and the idea that we need a modern William Jennings Bryan to lead a populist movement for reform. (If Rod really bought the idea that retreat was necessary, would he be so infatuated with Obama?)

More than that, his still unsubstantiated claim that conservative writers were uncritical of Bush and Congressional Republicans prior to late 2005 is, I believe, based more on the projection of his own emotional state than objective reality, because objective reality quite clearly refutes his claim.

His often hyperbolic, often hypocritical writing is more easily understood if seen more as a manifestation of Rod's emotional state than as a reflection of time-tested principles or even objective facts. So, what's all this about emotivism?


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8:09 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

Oh my gosh, ConCrunchy has arrived. it's getting combox spam! :)

But on a more relevant note...

Bubba, I could not even read Rod's post about urban architecture. My BS Threshold is low today, and I can only stand so much.

I prefer pretty buildings to ugly ones, just like anyone else, but elevate this kind of thing to some sort of metaphysical plane is just more of the usual crunchy silliness.

Moreover, as you say, pretty architecture has absolutely no connection with human morality. Here in the Southeast, some of the most religious, moral people I know live in trailers, double-wides, and modest suburban homes that would surely elicit a contemptuous sniff from Rod.

ISTM this is yet another attempt to justify snobbery and elitism by trying to portray 'em as morally superior. Only problem is there's nothing in Scripture or Tradition connecting aesthetic snobbery with moral superiority. Our Lord enjoins us to preach the Gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. He does not seem particularly concerned with whether or not we renovate our architecture.

9:50 AM  

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