Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jack Russell Weinstein's "Adam Smith's Pluralism"

Jack Russell Weinstein is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Dakota and the host of the public radio show Why? Philosophical discussions about everyday life (WHY? Radio for short). He is the author of three books and dozens of articles, and has edited four collections. He is the recipient of the 2007 UND Foundation/McDermott Award for Individual Excellence in Teaching, the top teaching award at his university. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston University in 1998.

Weinstein applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Adam Smith's Pluralism: Rationality, Education, and the Moral Sentiments, and reported the following:
Interestingly, page 99 of Adam Smith’s Pluralism is the moment where the book gets to one of its most foundational and controversial claims: that at the core of Smith’s moral psychology is a commitment to a very basic, intimate experience, that can’t be denied. The example I give is that slaves feel a pain at being enslaved, that cannot be explained away. “A slave and slave owner may be convinced that slavery is morally correct, that it is just, and that each person deserves his or her place in the social structure, but the slave cannot be convinced that he or she likes the experience or that it does not cause pain—again, Uncle Tom’s Cabin comes to mind.”

This intimate experience forms the foundation of Adam Smith’s conception of rationality, our ability to reason that Smith thinks is constructed like a narrative story. This structure is important for two reasons. First, because I am arguing against Economics’ description of human beings, I’m showing that how human beings reason is much more complicated than just the ability to choose between multiple ways of satisfying desires. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I’m showing that emotion plays a central role in reasoning—that the traditional separation between logic and emotions doesn’t hold up.

The book is about pluralism and the importance of using the imagination to enter into the perspective of one another. It is about the centrality of education in this process and the way that our refusal to learn about others promotes injustice. Page 99 shows why: if one can’t acknowledge that the slave is in pain, then one cannot come to terms with his or her humanity. At that point, the struggle for justice is lost.
Learn more about the book and author at Jack Russell Weinstein's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue