Stanley Fish, self-proclaimed “contemporary sophist,” recently weighed in on the “religion and science” question in the New York Times. For him, the chief problem we have in this area is that we’re too bothered by contradictions: “The potential for logical conflict, however, exists only under the assumption that all our beliefs should hang together, an assumption forced upon us not by the world, but by the polemical context of the culture wars.”
As a historical claim, the latter part of the sentence is laughable and merits no consideration: it takes very little research indeed to find that the drive for logical consistency far predates any modern culture wars. It can be found not only in Plato, its most famous advocate, but also in Augustine, in Aquinas, in Śaṅkara and Kumārila. One might be tempted to find an exception in Nāgārjuna and his Madhyamaka school, which try to avoid having any position whatsoever; but even Nāgārjuna relies in his arguments on the assumption that our positions should not contradict each other – should make logical sense. Fish is smart enough to know this point; the claim that the drive for consistency is a product of the contemporary culture wars can only be understood as a deliberate falsehood, a lie.
More interesting is the normative claim, the view that we shouldn’t be bothered by contradictions. After all, if that’s true, Fish may be entirely justified in lying. Continue reading