Judge not, lest ye be judged

There is a strange juxtaposition in contemporary culture. On one side we have numerous campaign groups, NGOs, and the like declaring moral causes from family values to anti-discrimination, on the other we find a commentocracy happy to find moral messages a pretentious nonsense even in literature or music. I guess it’s hardly interesting to suggest that each feeds on the other through mutual suspicion and fear which pervades Western culture anyway. It might not be that interesting to characterise the ostentatious amorality of the currents running through from counterculture icons like A Clockwork Orange to parts of the right-wing commentocracy as a perversion of the Biblical injunction ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’. Perverted first by overfamiliarity, and second, by a weird combination of arrogance with a sense of lacking real moral worth.

What is interesting is to compare this with a tension (or just plain inconsistency?) in some current philosophy. Philosophical liberalism has been criticised from left and right viewpoints for assuming a neutral or universal standpoint by which all competing claims and positions can be judged. Yet many contemporary philosophers continue to try forming ‘normative theory’ – that is, arguing from a grounding in certain basic norms or principles to whatever position they intend to take. Yet if there is no such thing as a neutral or universal standpoint (on anything), how can we all be expected to accept anyone’s norms unless we are forced to – and not by the strength of their arguments! I am no expert on Critical Theory (frequently seen as an alternative to liberalism) but so far as I can see it carries that tension at its heart. It seems to me that many of us still hope to judge us all, and find us wanting, whilst refusing a standard by which the judgement could be made.

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