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How Political Correctness Makes Us Dumb Print E-mail
By Francis J. Beckwith   
Friday, 18 March 2011

The other day I was lecturing in my critical thinking class on the difference between arguments and explanations. An explanation is an account of something whose truth is not in dispute. So, for example, if you ask me why the Packers won the Super Bowl, I can give you several different answers. But the simplest one is this: they scored more points than the Steelers. We do not disagree as to whether the Packers were victorious. I am not trying to prove that. All I am doing is giving you a simple explanation as to why the Packers won.

On the other hand, if you asked me why I think belief in God is rational because you doubt God’s existence and may want to believe, I can give you several reasons. If did that, I would be offering you an argument (or a set of arguments) for the veracity of a belief that is in dispute between us.

In class, I took an example from the textbook (Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic, 3.1e) and asked my students whether the following is an argument or an explanation: “Men pitch baseballs faster than women because they have more upper body muscle strength.” The right answer is that it is an explanation, because a reason is offered – “men have more upper body muscle strength” – in order to explain a fact that is not in dispute, “men pitch baseballs faster than women.” Or so I thought.

My students, like virtually the whole lot of them at Baylor, are bright and eager to learn. But like most of their peers at other institutions, they have been formed by a wider culture, including the schools they attended and the media they consume, that has taught them that universal judgments about the nature of things is inherently unjust. There is, of course, some wisdom in this, but it is only wise insofar as it depends on universal judgments.

So, for example, it would be wrong to issue a negative judgment about someone simply because of his race without knowing anything further about the person. But, ironically, the reason why this particular judgment is wrong is precisely because we have made a universal judgment about all human beings: each of us possesses intrinsic dignity because of the nature we share.

Of course, if a human person commits an immoral act, we judge the actor as wrong. But we do so precisely because we respect his humanity and the power of moral choice that all human beings possess by nature. Though some human beings cannot exercise that power because of immaturity or illness, they are nevertheless moral subjects deserving of moral respect. They possess no less a human nature than do their mature and healthy peers.


          Universally judged to throw fastest: Aroldis Chapman of the Reds
 

Now back to baseball. 

Well trained by their cultural teachers in spotting and reflexively condemning universal judgments, some of my students resisted the right answer because they thought it a mere prejudice. They seemed to think that to say that “men pitch baseballs faster than women” is to wallow in an ancient irrationality not worthy of our enlightened present. In that case, they would be wrong.

The ability of the human mind to make true universal judgments is a power that distinguishes human beings from other things like baboons, snails, and rocks. Thus, my students’ cultural teachers, though they mean well, have done my students no favors. For anyone who provides assistance in atrophying the mind’s proper function is an enemy of education, even if in his heart he thinks he’s a friend.

The right answer is right because there is a difference between a term’s comprehension and a term’s extension. So, for example, if I say America is a rich country, I am saying something that is comprehensively true about America as a whole, but not something that is extensively true of each and every American in the population.

The two most important terms in the class problem are “men” and “women.” If I were to say that all men throw a baseball faster than all women, I would be talking about the extension of the terms “men” and “women.” That is, I would be talking about each and every man and woman. In that case, my claim that “all men throw a baseball faster than all women” is clearly false, since there are individual women who throw a baseball faster than individual men. On the other hand, when I say that “men pitch baseballs faster than women because they have more upper body muscle strength” I am referring to what is comprehensively true of men and women. And in that case, it is uncontrovertibly true that men in general pitch baseballs faster than women in general.

The distinction between extension and comprehension is clear, easy to understand, and essential to the proper exercise of our mental powers. This is why political correctness makes us dumb.

 
Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University. His most recent book is Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft. He blogs at returntorome.com.

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Comments (17)Add Comment
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written by MarkC, March 18, 2011
Case in point - our ditherer-in-chief:

Pastor Warren: At what point is a baby entitled to human rights?
Mr. McCain: At the moment of conception.

Pastor Warren: At what point does a baby get human rights?
Mr. Obama: Well, you know I, I, I think that whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, uh answering that question with specificity, uh, you know is, is is uh above my pay grade. Uh but but but but let me let me just speak more generally about the issue of abortion because this is something I, uh, obviously the country wrestles with. One thing that I'm absolutely convinced of is that there is a moral and ethical aspect to this issue and so I think anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue I think is not paying attention. So so so so that would be point number one. ...
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written by Tim Peirce, March 18, 2011
Excellent article. Reminds me of "Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid Air."
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written by Jacob R, March 18, 2011
I'm sorry your students at Baylor aren't very intelligent.
(I know you want to be nice to them but someone who can't make a basic statement of fact is simply unintelligent, whoever the fault belongs to.)

Most of the students that I went to U.C.S.B. with were exactly the same. Bright in their way, bright at copying down what they knew their teachers wanted from them (it's funny how they disparage the old days when the "good ol boy" system ruled, yet they've just created a new good ol boys (and girls!) system).
The truly Catholic intellectual system right now is a joke...what is it 10-20 schools in the whole country that are authentically Catholic? So essentially if you're like me and (unfortunately) happen to be conservative to your core you better plan on a career outside of academia. Of course the cream of the crop will rise to the top and write for websites like this or work at one of those twenty schools or be the one respected heathen at a secular university, but the average conservative will never find a job in media or academia to get good at like the average leftist.. at least not for a long time!

Any type of real debate is frowned upon because leftists might lose...it's like slave owners from the past, better off to just leave the status quo and not discuss it!

I'm actually becoming more optimistic that my Chinese masters will be give me orders that make a lot more sense than baby boomers...and they'll probably be more Christian too! (Not so obsessed with sex lets hope!)
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written by Dandy Randy, March 18, 2011
As I see it political correctness is entirely self imposed. There are no true PC-Police despite talk radio claims to the contrary. If you don't want to be politically correct, don't. Just stop it. No one is forcing you to speak or think in those terms.

Seems to me that political correctness is a rod which some have carved for their own backside. They can't speak plainly about their views because too often they find themselves being rebuked. Their views when articulated in speech or in writing are indefensible, so they clam up, preferring instead to speak in code or not at all.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 18, 2011
Okay, here I go again. Political Correctness is just a euphemism for Communist Party Discipline. there is not one tenet or aspect of PC, from cultural and relativism to promotion of sexual nihilism to the idea that Christianity is what is wrong with the world, that is not a part of the Communist plan for altering the values and beliefs of Christians. That whole canon of radical orthodoxy achieved its status of correctness by Communists and thier useful idiots taking control of our univeristies, the very instituttions which train the so-called educators and jounralists who corrupt even the students once-CAtholic colleges. AGain, we powerless over this enemy if we are afraid to name. And, pleacse, everybody stop being afraid fo being called a McCarthyist. Remember the term Communist Smear did not origniate as term of derision of those who pointed out communist influence but rather the smears camppaings conducted by Communists against people like Bella Dodd, Freda Utely, and Whittiker Chambers who dared to expose what the Reds were up to.
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
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written by Billy Bean, March 19, 2011
"Political Correctness" is a chimera of the (post)modern conservative mindset (unless this offends you). It does not actually exist (except in the privacy of your own conscience, home, or church). My reality is not your reality, and yours is not mine (unless, of course, the ACLU absolutely insists otherwise). So I really don't appreciate this kind of paranoid right-wing screed against the kind of frank and uninhibited speech that my country guarantees (unless, of course, you believe I have violated the First Amendment of the U.S. COnstitution, in which case I, in Forrest Gump-like manner, will simply go back to my college...
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written by Jojo, March 19, 2011
Actually you don't throw a fastball entirely with your upper body. Your lower body is also crucial. So you might say, "men pitch baseballs faster than women because they are physically superior in terms of strength." Yet women are better to look at.
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written by John II, March 19, 2011
"Thus, my students’ cultural teachers, though they mean well, have done my students no favors."

Is your concession ("they mean well") an argument or an explanation? Or just a rhetorical flourish?

I've been watching the "cultural teachers" up close for several years now, and I really don't believe they mean well at all.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 21, 2011
Deqar Biily Bean, I don't think that I remotely suggested you or anaybody else does not have the rights guaranteed by the first Amendment. If you want to see the First Amendmant under asssault, just see what happends when someone like David Horowitz speaks at a college campus. There cleary isa canon of beliefs that the educated in america are expected to adhere to. Just go to the sociology, political science, or philosophy dpeartsments of most colleges in the US and anooucne that you are pro-life, oppose homosexual marriage, do not think that the Catholic Church should denounced for refusing to ordaine women, or even suggest that vountary single motherhood is not a really great idea. I have not here or or oabve cahllenged anyone's right to hold those PC ciews. Be my guest. Shout from the rooftops that sodomy is normal and that US is an imperialist country. Denounce marriage as a form of slavery. You're free. This is America. OK? But I have right, arguably an obligation, to point out that nearly every tenet of that canon of believes which has achieved the status of orthodoxy in the academic world has it's origins on the Marxits attacks on Christianity. One tenet of the PC is that the Catholic Church is source of all evil in the world, except when it is calling for an end to the death penalty. Right wing screed, indeed!
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written by Mary, March 21, 2011
This can get tragic. From a story of a doctor tryin to persuade a sixteen-year-old that a violent lover is not good:
I warned her as graphically as I could that she was already well down the slippery slope leading to poverty and misery—that, as I knew from the experience of untold patients, she would soon have a succession of possessive, exploitative, and violent boyfriends, unless she changed her life. I told her that in the past few days, I had seen two women patients who had had their heads rammed down the lavatory, one who had had her head smashed through a window and her throat cut on the shards of glass, one who had had her arm, jaw, and skull broken, and one who had been suspended by her ankles from a tenth-floor window to the tune of, “Die, you bitch!”

“I can look after myself,” said my 17-year-old.

“But men are stronger than women,” I said. “When it comes to violence, they are at an advantage.”

“That’s a sexist thing to say,” she replied.

A girl who had absorbed nothing at school had nevertheless absorbed the shibboleths of political correctness in general and of feminism in particular.

“But it’s a plain, straightforward, and inescapable fact,” I said.

“It’s sexist,” she reiterated firmly.


Full thing here:
http://www.city-journal.org/html/9_1_oh_to_be.html
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written by Judi Beauford, March 21, 2011
Last year when the earthquake in Haiti happened and the US gave money to the relief efforts, I made the remark to my 7th grade students that America is a rich country, (compared to other countries, etc.) They could only think of their own personal family situations learned by listening to the things their parents were saying around the dinner table about their own financial difficulties. They could not grasp what I was trying to say. Most had not travelled outside Texas. I was not very successful in explaining to them what I meant by "America is a rich" country.
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written by Brian Cook, March 22, 2011
The likes of David Duke insist that blacks are inherently less intelligent and Asians less creative than whites. I wish that critics of "political correctness" would directly address these notions.

Moreover, I wish to comment on conspiracy-theories about Communists. According to the likes of William Bennet, even if there were Communist spies, McCarthy exaggerated the Communist presence and spoiled their cause. The John Birch Society has been notorious for its conspiracy theories.

This is Lent, so I don't want to be dragged into a vehement debate--instead, I just want to speak my mind and contribute to a discussion.
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written by Brian Cook, March 22, 2011
When I typed "their cause", I meant, "the anti-Communist cause"
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written by Steve, March 22, 2011
The fact that the Packers beat the Steelers as "an account of something whose truth is not in dispute" and the need to argue for God's existence because it is in "dispute" says all that needs to be said about the state of the Western mindset on and off the university campus.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr, March 22, 2011
Dear Brain Cook, that there was vast Communist penetration of the US government can longer be in dispute after the declassification in 1996 of the Venona Transcripts. It was much greater than even McCarthy imagined. McCarthy is an easy target, but his excess do not disprove or excuse the damage that was done to the entire free world by Soviet agents of influence--not just spies--who helped shape our goverment's policies. Don't take my wrod for it (as if you would)! Read the books of the ex-Communists who have told what they were up to, not just infiltrating the government but the churches. Does the name Bella V. Dodd Ring a bell? Well, if it doesn't, please put Bennett aside and read her School of Darkness. Lent or not, downplaying the Communist threat, both past and present, is ultimate in PC; it is the Party Line to claim the Communists don't exist, just as it is Satan's greatest lie that he doesn't exist. PC doesn't just make people dumb; it makes them unwilling accomplices of the sworn enemies of Christ--what Lenin called useful idiots.
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written by Brian Cook, March 23, 2011
I acknowledge the existence of Satan. I acknowledge the existence of Communism. Now that I've attempted to contribute to a discussion, I will bow out of this thread. Good day.

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