Archive for June, 2015

On the Papal Encyclical (almost)

June 20, 2015

I’ve promised myself to refrain from commenting on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudauto Si”.  So, “what’s this?” you might ask. This is a comment on a comment: “The Pope’s Climate Error“, in today’s (6/20/15) NY TImes.

I was captivated by the title.   (in my print edition, it differs from the current on-line).  Further by the author’s credentials: philosophy, University of Toronto. And interestingly, his argument is honed with economic reality, and the pragmatic: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the practical.

My plan was, and remains, to read the encyclical.   And the next thing I’ll do. Since i’m one of those influenced by the last word i’ve read, especially if it has a liberal bias,Heath’s argument is now my point of reference.   One might think from the title that Heath disagrees with Pope Francis in principle.   He doesn’t. In summary:

Here he reveals the limitations of his own approach.  The problem of climate change is so urgent that we cannot wait for people to come to some kind of spiritual agreement.

And that would be my only quibble with Heath’s argument.   Who says we have to wait for people to come to some kind of agreement.   Stephen Carter offered the way through this apparent dilemma.  paraphrasing, at best:  in the marketplace of ideas, let’s allow all value systems, and especially not discount those arriving from a faith perspective.

In Heath’s behalf, he offers the necessary philosophic (mathematical logic, really) perspective:

 This commitment can be found at the heart of the “polluter pays” principle, which Pope Francis also endorses.  Most people like this idea when it’s read forward: “If you pollute, then you should pay.”   They dislike it, however when read backward:  “if you’re willing to pay, then you should be allowed to pollute.”

I’d not spent much time with this idea, and now realize my discomfort in it.   Hearkening, back to my teaching geometry at Benedictine, in the curricula of the time, this is where elementary boolean logic was taught.   “If A, then B, does not imply if B then A”, and so forth.   I used to challenge the students, “How may you answer ‘At a fork in the road do you turn right or left?'”   Most students, thinking for a few seconds would choose either obvious answer, some would still be scratching their heads.   I don’t think anyone got “Yes” as a possible response.  There are many ways to phrase such a choice.  The challenge is recognizing similar forks in the logical road.

Heath has shown me one I failed to recognized.