Motte and Bailey

A great piece by Nicholas Shackel got linked in passing by Charles C. W. Cooke writing in the National Review. The piece is from Metaphilosophy, and describes in clear terms a mode of argument characteristic of many postmodern thinkers. To help you understand the way the argument works, he suggests you compare it to a motte and bailey castle.
A Motte and Bailey castle is a medieval system of defence in which a stone tower on a mound (the Motte) is surrounded by an area of land (the Bailey) which in turn is encompassed by some sort of a barrier such as a ditch. Being dark and dank, the Motte is not a habitation of choice. The only reason for its existence is the desirability of the Bailey, which the combination of the Motte and ditch makes relatively easy to retain despite attack by marauders. When only lightly pressed, the ditch makes small numbers of attackers easy to defeat as they struggle across it: when heavily pressed the ditch is not defensible and so neither is the Bailey. Rather one retreats to the insalubrious but defensible, perhaps impregnable, Motte. Eventually the marauders give up, when one is well placed to reoccupy desirable land.

For my purposes the desirable but only lightly defensible territory of the Motte and Bailey castle, that is to say, the Bailey, represents a philosophical doctrine or position with similar properties: desirable to its proponent but only lightly defensible. The Motte is the defensible but undesired position to which one retreats when hard pressed. I think it is evident that Troll’s Truisms have the Motte and Bailey property, since the exciting falsehoods constitute the desired but indefensible region within the ditch whilst the trivial truth constitutes the defensible but dank Motte to which one may retreat when pressed.You see this everywhere.
There's a great example in this piece by CounterPunch on FBI surveillance.
We’re constantly told that “criminals” are the dregs of human history. Yet “criminal” is an ideological term. Only some forms of behavior of criminalized—and those doing that criminalizing, given the barriers to entry in such professional fields, tend to come from powerful, privileged parts of society who often do not engage or need to engage in such behavior. Structural forms of oppression shield powerful and privileged classes from the consequences of their ill actions.
The motte claim here is that 'only some forms of behavior are crimialized, and those doing that... tend to come from powerful, privileged positions." It's obviously and absolutely true that not all forms of human behavior are criminal, and it's true by definition that those who write the laws and those who enforce them are in positions of power.

The bailey claim is that all laws are mere exercises in ideology. There are thus no objective standards for what ought to be a crime that we can arrive at through human reason. There is no natural law, there are no objective virtues, there is nothing but a pure exercise of power by the privileged to advance their own interests.

The latter claim is garbage, and would be easy to disprove. The motte claim can be defended forever, because it's true by definition.


E Hines said...

They can stay in their motte; I care not a farthing for it. I'll remain on the bailey, as by definition it's desirable. And I'll transform it to my needs, use, and desire.

All while maintaining, in my own way, even demonstrating by my continued occupation and ongoing transformation, those trivial truths of the motte.

They've isolated themselves, and they've lost the bailey. If they're nice to me, I won't starve them in their useless tower.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

You haven't got time, or interest, to do that.

Take this example from CP. I don't go to their site more than once a year. I have no idea what all they're posting over there. I haven't got time, and I haven't got interest, in riding herd on them.

And even if you did, the time you spend riding herd on them is time you're not spending riding herd on one of the thousands of others making this kind of argument.

Ymar Sakar said...

Where there is life, there is hope.

Death is the end of hope.

Grim said...

Not where I come from.

Ymar Sakar said...

Perhaps. To the Islamic Jihad and the Leftist death cult... will they see such pearly gates? If so, Heaven is another bastion of evil that must be stormed.