Should We Tolerate Evil Opinions? – Robert George on Peter Singer, Abortion, and Seeking Truth


>>Are there intolerable opinions? If so, how should we spot
them and respond to them? If not, how do we tolerate evil opinions?>>You want to take that one brother?>>Sure, sure. [audience laughing]>>Or we can just pass it up
and go another [chuckling]>>No, no , no, I think, brother Robert, he’s got an answer to that. [chuckling] [audience laughing]>>Warren: That was very
Jesus-like of you to do that. [laughter] You take that one.>>I’m something of an extremist on this. I will confess an extreme supporter of John Stuart Mill’s principles of liberty in
chapter two of “On Liberty”. I’ve been a critic of Mill’s
general harm principle articulated in chapter
one of “On Liberty”. I can’t give you the page number>>Warren: Yeah, I was…
>>Cornell’s got it memorized. [chuckling] But in chapter two when he talks about liberty of thought and expression, and my view is that, especially
in the university context, especially in the context
of a university that is non-sectarian like Princeton University, that doesn’t make a
faith commitment upfront, take a stand, but presents
itself as an institution that is welcoming all points of view, providing a forum for
the engagement of ideas. So, the kind of university
in which I spend my days. I think it is very
important that we be willing to listen to anybody who’s willing to come into the university
context and present reasons and arguments. In other words, do business in the currency of academic discourse, the currency of reasons and arguments even if I deeply oppose, if I abominate the
position being articulated. Professor West and I
have a famous colleague, Peter Singer. Peter Singer
not only believes in the legitimacy of abortion
through the entire nine months, he believes in infanticide, the killing of infants,
the moral permissibility of the killing of infants
even after they’re born. Now this to me is an
outrageous abomination. In a sense, that is an
intolerable, intolerable idea. The idea that any human being, any member of the human family, can be directly targeted for killing, that, to me, is just an intolerable thing.>>Yeah>>And yet
>>yeah>>I would be the first one in line to oppose the eviction of Peter Singer. It’s a scandal to some of my conservative pro-life friends to oppose
evicting Peter Singer from Princeton. Now, there’s some people
who feel about me, some people feel about Cornell, the way I feel about Peter Singer. Now, and that’s because Professor Singer is prepared to make
arguments and give reasons for his position. So if he’s willing to do that, I am willing to listen and I am, in fact, willing to listen with an open mind. Now, none of those arguments
has cut any ice with me. I’ve listened to them respectfully.>>Warren: But he has the
right to persuade you.>>It’s not just the right to say it.>>Yeah.>>He’s got more in
the university context, in the context of truth seeking, He’s got the right more than to say it, as terrible as I think it is, he’s got the right to have me listen and thoughtfully consider
what he has to say. Our devotion to truth
should be so powerful>>Warren: Yeah, yeah>>that we are willing to do that because it is conceivable
that even an opinion that strikes us and me
and probably strikes many of you as so
abominable, could be right. And even if it’s wrong, which
I’m quite confident it is, We have something to learn about the basis of our belief in the sanctity of life. From confronting the
very best reasons that a very intelligent person can adduce against the sanctity of life position. Professors Singer makes,
leaves us in no doubt that what he is aiming
for is the destruction of the basic sanctity of life principle that’s part of our
Judeo-Christian heritage. So now, does that mean I’m in favor of simply unlimited speech?
No and I don’t think anybody really is. What I’m against is
abuse. Hurling epithets, incivility, a grunt or a name-calling
>>Warren: Yeah.>>episode is not making
reasons and arguments. It is not the currency
of academic discourse to simply verbally assault someone or brutalize someone. But
if someone’s willing to make arguments and provide reasons and cause us to think, then I think, we’ve got to tolerate it in the rich sense of toleration, not just letting him speak, but listening to him.

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