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Evangel presents Dr. Justin McBrayer, N.Y. Times’ controversial philosopher — What is truth?

Published on Apr 2, 2015 by Evangel University News

“What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it is not true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests? Would you be surprised?”

Noted philosopher Justin McBrayer started his editorial in the New York Times with those words on March 2. His article focused on the current elementary school teachings on “fact vs. opinion” and whether there is any such thing as “moral truths.”

The firestorm was immediate — it was one of the most discussed NYT articles that week, and has accumulated more than 1 millions views and more than 2,000 comments on line to date.

Evangel University will host Dr. McBrayer for a public conversation on Tuesday, April 7. The discussion will begin at 7 p.m. in Zimmerman Hall, room 105.

“It is my hope that the talk Tuesday night will give the public an opportunity to discuss fact, opinion and morality, and perhaps move the ball forward as we consider how best to educate our children in these particular topics,” said Dr. Brandon Schmidly, associate professor of philosophy at Evangel.

“The talk will start with a short presentation from McBrayer, with a significant opportunity to interact.”

McBrayer is an associate professor of philosophy at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.

“Dr. McBrayer is an accomplished scholar in the areas of ethics, epistemology (knowledge theory) and the philosophy of religion,” said Schmidly

“I know that several across the Springfield area were among those sharing and discussing this piece online. We now have the wonderful opportunity to host the Dr. McBrayer in Springfield for a live conversation.”

According to Schmidly, McBrayer will discuss why treating fact vs. opinion as a dichotomy causes confusion, and then make what he views as the stronger claim, that the dichotomy causes harm, specifically as it relates to morality.

The public debate about the NYT article

According to Schmidly, “The general public has emphatically disagreed with many of the points that McBrayer made in the NYT piece, while many moral philosophers (ethicists), including me, think he is correct. This strong disagreement is a fascinating thing to observe.

“The average person apparently has very strongly held views regarding this topic, even though most don’t study ethics. That isn’t to say people have no business discussing it, it’s just fascinating that there is such a strong difference in view compared to those who study moral philosophy.

“Contrary to stereotypes,” said Schmidly, “philosophers don’t seek to be drastically different from common sense. In fact, in ethics, we often treat common intuitions as a starting point.”


The New York Times article

The lengthy conversation on Reddit