Agonising, agonism, and nuclear power

Bridget McKenzie @ New Public Thinking discusses with finesse and honesty the nuclear problem in the context of climate change. Here is my comment.

Dear Bridget,

There is a lovely line in the late philosopher Robert Nozick’s book The Examined Life about taking a position. Nozick confesses that when he was younger he believed, like any good analytic philosopher, that he had to have a position on everything. As he got older, he realized that ‘position-taking’–the presumed need to have a position on everything of general importance–might have been his adolescent mistake. Nozick had managed to grow up.

What you are describing above–beautifully and succinctly–seems to be the endgame of a certain public adolescence: position-taking entails point-scoring, agonism, moralism, and ad hominem attacks. But what you offer, I think, is another way of public thinking.

Rather than believe that there is some universal calculus that will yield the One Right Position, you see public life as consisting of an incommensurable, competing goods (see Martha Nussbaum, Steven Lukes, Isaiah Berlin). And yet, rather than sliding into skepticism and its suspension of judgment, you seem to go with the Montaignean essay. Let’s try out these ideas, run with them, and see where they take us. Let’s do so provisionally while still being committed to them. We are invited to think. Will we accept?

In short, the task is to come up with a new way of public thinking–one that is more provisional, more honest, more reflective, and, yes, more dialogical–a way of thinking that is also a form of deep, reverent commitment.

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2 thoughts on “Agonising, agonism, and nuclear power

  1. “Let’s try out these ideas, run with them, and see where they take us. Let’s do so provisionally while still being committed to them.”

    Interesting but humans seems to prefer tried and tested methods, even when they fail.

    1. “[H]umans seems to prefer tried and tested methods, even when they fail.” Granted, humans may prefer the tried and true, but I doubt you or I think that humans have good reason to do so. And I suspect what we’re both after is cultivating the kinds of persons who can leap rather than retreat.

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