The Right Coast

September 30, 2004
Janet Radcliffe Richards
By Mike Rappaport

British philsopher, Janet Radcliffe Richards, has written a new book. Richards visited at the University of San Diego Law School some years ago, and she is both very smart and a delightful person. While I don't always agree with her, I always learn something new. Here are a couple of paragraphs from an interview with her about her book:

'If you had to settle the metaethical issues before you had serious discussions of practical problems, you might as well give up on them. There is nothing so useless, as far as I can see, as telling a doctor that if you're a Kantian you do this and if you're a utilitarian you do that - even supposing there were agreement among either Kantians or utilitarians - because they want to know what they should be doing. I think that's hopeless as a starting point.'

On close inspection, most arguments are just not rational, so they collapse as soon as they are confronted with the kind of direct challenge Radcliffe Richard's method makes.

'The thing which gives so much scope for getting the philosophical needle in, is that often the real reason we have for our beliefs is not the one we give - even to ourselves. What tends to happen over and over again in the history of argument is that you get a radical change of world view, but people still have quite a lot of ideas left over from the old one. So they try to fudge a rationalisation of the old beliefs in the new language. This is what happened in the case of women. The old view was that men and women were designed to be in their traditional roles, in the same way as rulers and commoners. Then people began to accept the liberal idea that everyone ought to be able to rise as far as their talents would let them, instead of staying where they were born - but they still thought men and women should stay in their separate spheres. So they tried to justify this in ways that sounded compatible with liberalism. But, as Mill showed, the arguments just didn't work.'