Pathos, Ethos, Logos

A [large] group of [Evangelicals] opposed to the current social justice turn in the church created a document called the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel to stake out their position. This was a classic attempt to debate substance. It contains a number of specific affirmations and denials based on the signers’ interpretations of scripture …

[T]hey attempted to find common ground, but ultimately rejected today’s social justice movement. The key is that this statement was a list of substantive affirmations and denials that represented a form of logical argument.

[S]omebody asked Tim Keller about the statement during the Q&A period of a conference he was speaking at. A video of his response (which has subsequently been removed due to a copyright claim) was posted. Here’s what he said:

It’s not so much what [the statement] says, but what it does. It’s trying to marginalize people talking about race and justice, it’s trying to say, “You’re really not biblical” and it’s not fair in that sense … If somebody tried to go down [the statement] with me, “Will you agree with this, will you agree with this,” I would say, “You’re looking at the level of what it says and not the level of what it’s doing." I do think what it’s trying to do is it’s trying to say, “Don’t make this emphasis, don’t worry about the poor, don’t worry about the injustice.” That’s really what it’s saying.

This was an off-the-cuff response to a question and probably did not reflect a fully considered and thought-out position on the matter. It was also not officially taped and was captured by cell phone. However, after the video caused a small controversy, he could have issued a clarifying statement. He did not and to the best of my knowledge has never done so, allowing his statement to stand as his take.

Aaron Renn, If You’re Debating Substance, You’ve Already Lost (emphasis added)

I could have lost a lot less time losing arguments over my life, or at least saved the time it took to lose them, had I not utterly disregarded pathos and ethos in favor of logos.

I always considered pathos– and ethos-heavy arguments a form of cheating. Aristotle apparently did not. I just might possibly have gotten this one wrong, right?

By the time the ink has dried on this, figuratively speaking, I probably will have forgotten the important lesson Aaron Renn carried from Aristotle. But as I’m no longer arguing publicly and passionately, it doesn’t much matter.


Jesse Singal is a card-carrying progressive who, lucky for us, has a very good crap-detector for progressive quackery. A progressive has heightened ethos when critiquing any progressive phenomenon, which by explains why conservatives love guys like him and, by analogy, Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas.

But calling "Bullshit!" in a way conservatives like will get a progressive falsely labeled reactionary by other progressives, and so it is with Singal.

Social Science Is Hard: Resume Audit Studies Edition is not really calling Bullshit, but pointing out the difficulties of social science, using an example from studies that purport to show racism in the U.S. I won’t try to summarize it, but it will be misrepresented as a denial that racism is real rather than affirming the elusiveness of proof.

I suspect that Singal’s problem is akin to mine: his logos is fine, but he refuses resort to pathos, and his ethos — what he’s (allegedly) doing (aid and comfort to the enemy), not what he’s saying — make his substantive points categorically impermissible.

Damn shame. He’s perceptive. I’ve learned a lot from him.


We invaded shortly after the 9/11 attacks with two limited goals in mind: decapitating Al Qaeda (including capturing or killing Osama bin Laden) and toppling the Taliban government that had allowed the group to use the country as a launching pad for terrorism targeting the United States. The second goal was accomplished very quickly. The first took far longer — nearly a decade — because bin Laden escaped into the mountains and managed to elude capture in Pakistan. But this goal, too, was finally achieved in May 2011.

While the hunt for bin Laden dragged on, the American military took on numerous additional goals. Before we knew it, we were committed to transforming Afghanistan into a functional, stable democracy with a military and police force capable of standing up to and fighting back against the Taliban’s unceasing efforts to exert and expand control over parts of the country. This aim also required fighting corruption. And providing education for girls and opportunities for women. And working to grow the economy. And fighting the drug trade.

In the process, Afghanistan became an American vassal state … American withdrawal is highly likely to result in a reversal of all the goals that have been added to the mission over the years.

That, in effect, is what Biden was saying in his speech on Wednesday officially announcing the intent to withdraw all troops from the country (aside from a limited number of soldiers left behind to secure the American embassy in Kabul) by the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in September. The message was that we succeeded in achieving our original goals years ago, we’ve failed to achieve the additional ones, there’s no realistic path to changing this outcome, and so it’s time for America to come home and stop trying to do the impossible.

Damon Linker, When the Taliban takes Kabul

Linker had another fine column recently, too, but since I don’t have to write about 45 any more, I shan’t.


Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns has written an extremely timely five-part critique of the Biden administration’s "infrastructure" bill, the American Jobs Plan. It is not a partisan hit job; the Republicans (had they gotten beyond "Infrastructure Week" being a sardonic joke) would have made the same sorts of mistakes because those mistakes are now an American tradition.

The gist is that we haven’t figured out the wisdom of stopping digging because the hole we’ve dug ourselves is plenty deep enough already.

  1. The American Jobs Plan Will Make Our Infrastructure Crisis Worse
  2. The Half-Truth on Infrastructure at the Heart of the American Jobs Plan
  3. When it Comes to Infrastructure, the American Jobs Plan is Business as Usual
  4. The American Jobs Plan Delays Necessary Infrastructure Reform
  5. How Local Leaders Should Adapt to the American Jobs Plan]([The American Jobs Plan Delays Necessary Infrastructure Reform)

It’s a longish read. If you haven’t paid any attention to our infrastructure folly in the past, and you don’t want to snort and dismiss it, it will be a longer read (to grasp his blindingly obvious points that so few have been making).


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday 11/6/16

A Secondary Thing

What is the telos of university?

The most obvious answer is “truth” –- the word appears on so many university crests. But increasingly, many of America’s top universities are embracing social justice as their telos, or as a second and equal telos. But can any institution or profession have two teloses (or teloi)? What happens if they conflict?

As a social psychologist who studies morality, I have watched these two teloses come into conflict increasingly often during my 30 years in the academy. The conflicts seemed manageable in the 1990s. But the intensity of conflict has grown since then, at the same time as the political diversity of the professoriate was plummeting, and at the same time as American cross-partisan hostility was rising. I believe the conflict reached its boiling point in the fall of 2015 when student protesters at 80 universities demanded that their universities make much greater and more explicit commitments to social justice, often including mandatory courses and training for everyone in social justice perspectives and content.

Now that many university presidents have agreed to implement many of the demands, I believe that the conflict between truth and social justice is likely to become unmanageable.  Universities will have to choose, and be explicit about their choice, so that potential students and faculty recruits can make an informed choice. Universities that try to honor both will face increasing incoherence and internal conflict.

(Jonathan Haidt, Why Universities Must Choose One Telos: Truth or Social Justice; H/T Rod Dreher)

Haidt acknowledges that this has been a miserable year for voters, but avers that it’s a great, great year for studying moral psychology, his field, which he thinks can explain it all. There is additional material, an outline, a PowerPoint, and a 66-minute YouTube video of Haidt’s talk on this topic at Duke, all at the preceding link.

I didn’t have time for viewing a long video, but if you’re a stranger to Haidt, you might want to make time.

A First Thing

I would a thousand times rather my Christian children attend a secular college that claims Truth as its telos than attend a Christian college that makes Social Justice its telos, or that fails to make Truth its exclusive telos.

But Haidt’s insight is also true for churches today. If we diligently seek Truth, and seek to conform our lives as much as possible around what we believe to be True, then we will inevitably achieve a form of Social Justice. But there can be no Justice, social or otherwise, without Truth. And Truth can never be what serves a pre-determined goal — the Revolution, the party, equality, the nation, the family, the temporal interests of the Church, nothing.

Those contemporary churches that put anything above the fearless pursuit of Truth, and living in Truth, will die, because they have no way of protecting their vision of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful — which is to say, God. They subordinate it to worldly, temporal concerns, and destroy their only mechanism (so to speak) for perceiving God clearly. To be clear, it is impossible for any church to see the entire Truth, and in any case, for Christians, Truth is not merely a set of propositions, but is a Person, Jesus Christ. This has profound implications that we can’t really get into in this post. My point is, churches, like universities, that place politics, culture, or any other goal over Truth are signing their own death warrants.

(Rod Dreher, Truth, Or Social Justice: Pick One (emphasis added), reacting to Haidt and to philosopher Elaine Scarry’s book On Beauty And Being Just)

Would a Church ever choose “social justice” over truth? Many already have. The social justice Sirens are singing their song to as many others as have not resolutely stopped their ears to them.

This does not mean we resolve to be unjust. It means we refuse to be seduced into a view of justice that does not comport with truth.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.