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Why Flannagan fails... another perspective

Fri 22 Oct 2004 In: Comment

Matthew Flannagan is a conservative Christian student, affiliated to the Reformed Calvinist tradition, and currently works with Student Choice, an organisation that advocates voluntary student unionism. In his final article about Flannagan's views on civil unions, Chris Banks referred to Immanuel Kant, an eighteenth century German philosopher [see Stacking the Student Deck series, Epilogue - ed]. According to him, Kant provides grounding for a conservative Christian position. Kant was a proponent of the Enlightenment and critical use of one's own reason to prompt obedience to some civil authorities. I have a different perspective on this, which is related to Michel Foucault, my own philosopher of choice. Foucault, an out gay man, believed in the critical use of subversive reason to investigate the grounding premises of our own suppositions about particular issues. In his classic History of Sexuality Part One, Foucault argued that subverting the premises that had previously marginalised lesbians and gay men contributed to the emergence and continuation of our ongoing project of liberation. According to Foucault, Kant didn't go far enough in his project of critique or criticism. From this perspective, the limitations of Flannagan's worldview can be seen. Flannagan seems to think that it is unproblematic to use a circumscribed version of algebraic logical axioms to advance particular premises from loaded, a priori premises. He is entitled to his viewpoint in a pluralist, democratic and multifaith society. However, Flannagan is also a partisan of Alvin Plantinga, a US Calvinist philosopher, who believes that religious conversion experiences open conservative Christians to immersion within particular forms of constrained 'reason' that acts as a premise for their assessment of the alleged 'ills' of contemporary society. If you're outside their community, you are said not to share this basis of experience and world view, so we are barred from fully comprehending their perspectives. However, I would respond that is comparatively easy to do so if one has belonged to one of their faith communities and is familiar with their philosophical arguments. Plantinga is an 'anti-evidentialist' too- he argues that conservative Christians should not even try to provide independent confirmation of their world view, because that worldview is sufficient in and for itself. As a worldview pluralist, I would respond that meaningful religious freedom means that Flannagan, Plantinga etc are entitled to hold their particular viewpoint. But. But, even if I do not intend to make windows into others' souls (in the words of Elizabeth I), it is quite another thing to make assertions about issues of public policy, like lesbian/gay relationship recognition, without providing empirical, social scientific or medical information for one's viewpoints. And here, I'm afraid, Matt Flannagan falls down. Recommended Reading: Foucault, M. (1970). ‘The discourse on language' in Foucault, M. The order of things: An archaeology of the Human Sciences. London: Routledge. Foucault, M. (1980). ‘Truth and power', in C. Gordon, (Ed). Power knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings 1972-1977 London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Foucault, M. (1984). ‘What is Enlightenment' in Rabinow, P. (Ed.). The Foucualt reader. London: Penguin. Foucualt, M. (1997). ‘Friendship as a way of life' in Rabinow, P. (Ed.). Michel Foucault, the essential works volume one: Ethics, subjectivity and truth. London: Penguin. Foucualt, M. (1997). ‘Sex, power, and the politics of identity' in Rabinow, P. (Ed.). Michel Foucault, the essential works volume one: Ethics, subjectivity and truth. London: Penguin Kant, I. ( 1963). ‘What is Enlightenment' in (Ed.). L.W. Beck. On history. Trans. L.W.Beck. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril. Craig Young - 22nd October 2004    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Friday, 22nd October 2004 - 12:00pm

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