Brian Weatherson has an interesting post, inspired by the whole “Bright” meme, as to whether there is such a thing as right or wrong. Both it and the commentaries it provokes are a pretty good case study in why so few people pay much attention to academics: We* debate over rather arcane topics (like whether murdering babies is wrong) as if they matter, do so using language that most people can’t understand, and never come up with an answer. Meanwhile, everyone without a Ph.D. or a mental illness (and, no, those aren’t mutually exclusive categories) already knows damned well that murdering babies is wrong.

*I’m technically not part of academe these days but still qualify in many respects. And even make the Crooked Timber Scholar Bloggers list.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steven says:

    Indeed. How can I know that you indeed wrote the words on your “blog”? Perhaps those photons randomly appeared on my computer screen, or, indeed, perhaps the whole thing is a coffee-induced hallucination.

    For that matter, how do I know you are James Joyner? I mean, I haven’t actually seen you in about a year. And I never seen you blog, for that matter.

    And, for that matter, what is the meaning of “is”?

  2. James Joyner says:

    All points worthy of at least one, if not several, journal articles. And perhaps an NSF grant with a reduction in service.

  3. John says:

    Well, we do argue an awful lot about the finer points of killing babies, even though we know it’s wrong. There were a heck of a lot of civilians killed in Iraq during the war. Some were undoubtedly babies – certainly very young children. So clearly, not even the common folk believe that it’s simply “wrong” – as you put it – to kill babies. It is far more nuanced than that. And believing in an un-nuanced world seems to lead to a lot of inherent contradictions. That’s why it was interesting to me, one of the non-PhD crowd.

  4. James Joyner says:


    Sure. I found the argument interesting but also absurd. Such it is with many things academic.

    And most distinguish between murder and accidental death.

  5. anonymous says:

    You’re misinterpreting what’s being written. The baby torture example was chosen because it is obviously wrong. The post that Brian talked about denied that naturalism could be a foundation for ethics, not that there is no such thing as right and wrong.

  6. James Joyner says:


    Ethics and whether there is such a thing as right and wrong are the same here. Brian used the example because he thought it obvious, but many of the commenters deny that it is obvious because there is no a priori right or wrong in nature.