Dr Greg Fried

21 May 2007 - 12:15

In her letter to the Monday Paper (issue of 7-20 May), Judy Favish writes: 'I was shocked that Professor Benatar believed that it was possible to evaluate redress mechanisms…purely on the basis of logical considerations.' Several other critics of Benatar have also made this point. I think it is important to show that it is not an effective criticism of his views.

I can think of three senses in which Favish might mean that logical considerations are inadequate. In two of these senses, Benatar would agree with her. In the third sense, the claim would be implausible.

If Favish means that the bare laws of logic alone are not enough to settle things, she is right. Thinking doesn't take you far if you have nothing to think about. But this is no threat to Benatar, whose reasons for his conclusion do not consist of logical laws alone, but rather considerations of justice in a logical framework.

If instead Favish means that reason in the absence of relevant contextual considerations is inadequate, then again her point is credible. But Benatar's arguments do pay heed to our history. His distaste for the categorisation required to implement affirmative action is rooted in the claim that it returns us to apartheid-era racial classifications. Favish might wish to say that Benatar does not adequately take history and society into account, but then she must say how.

Finally, if Favish means that our decisions should be partially based on some motivation that we do not subject to reason - for example, a passionate conviction valued without consideration of its truth and significance - then she is not alone. Current and historical events amply display the bad consequences of making wide-ranging policy decisions without comprehensive rational scrutiny. Surely Favish would not wish to support the architects of folly just because they believed fervently in their cause.