Columnist would have done better to look up Hebrew before writing

To the Editor:

Noah Lawrence should have made sure to consult appropriate sources of information before making sweeping claims about non-native languages. In his Monday column, Lawrence claims, “Hebrew, interestingly, has no plural for the word ‘person.’ ” This is blatantly untrue. The word for person, “ish,” does have a plural, “anashim,” which Mr. Lawrence seems to have overlooked. “Bnei adam” which does in fact mean “children of Adam” is used more like English speakers would use the word “humans.” If he wishes to make the claim that both “ish” and “anashim” refer to males only, I could make the same claim with “bnei adam” which actually means “sons of Adam” since in reality Hebrew has no neuter gender.

Daniel Hoffman ’08

Sept. 19

The writer is in Branford College.

Students hurt more than teachers by University’s ‘shopping’ analogy

To the Editor:

(Re: “Shopping has high price for professors,” 9/19)

It is my first semester at Yale as a professor, and even though I do have to say that I am somewhat hurt by the shopping process, I think that what I really am is perplexed. The literalization of the shopping metaphor does hurt professors but, most of all, it hurts the students and the institution by giving the message that education is something that can or should be consumed.

However, the analogy between the selection of an academic course and the selection of a product is an outright fallacy. A course, as its etymological meaning implies, is a journey of self-transformation engendered by a dialogue that develops over time between the participants. Thus, even assuming that a student could be the best-informed consumer, he or she cannot be possibly held responsible to make a decision a priori over the value of a course.

Unfortunately, “shopping” purports the belief that education is something passive that the students can consume rather than something that they need to create through intellectual exchange. An academic institution should help to make the students problematize the assumptions and ideologies surrounding them, but by using the shopping metaphor, we have already ascribed to an educational model of consumerism and disposable education that ultimately degrades both the institution and the students.

Angela Matilda Capodivacca

Sept. 20

The writer is an assistant professor of Italian language and literature.

Taylor missed a good reason why atheists avoid morality question

To the Editor:

Richard Dawkins might be more shrill than I like, as I am more likely than not to avoid conflict and let people believe as they will in peace. Of late, however, I’ve been more and more convinced that someone needs to champion atheism as not only a valid but also popular philosophical stance and someone who, like Bryce Taylor, doesn’t hold back in his criticism of opposing viewpoints out of a legitimate conviction of his own.

Taylor’s challenge is a powerful one, in that it seems to convince many people to side with theism: that without a god, there is no absolute right or wrong. But what I hope is obvious to all atheists is that an appropriate answer to Ivan Karamazov’s statement “Without God, everything is permitted” is, “Well, yeah.”

This should be clear enough by the fact that bad things happen. Six million Jews were killed during World War II. On average, someone is sexually assaulted in this country every two and a half minutes. Surely the vast majority of people will believe, very strongly, that this is evil; I do. And if no one stops these things from happening, then clearly, in the concrete sense of the word, they are permitted, even if God will punish perpetrators by sending them to hell afterwards.

Clearly, this is a frightening prospect, that there might not be absolute right and wrong in the world. Not only that, we see things in terms of right and wrong, and constantly speak and think in terms of right and wrong. But if modern science has taught us something, it is that reality is often violently counterintuitive, and that common sense has to bow down to concrete evidence when they are in conflict.

The reason atheists might not address the question of absolute morality head-on is because it’s a non-question for most of us. Dawkins does a fine job in explaining why we believe very strongly in right and wrong, which explains why we think people ought to do something or other. This and the shifting moral zeitgeist, as Dawkins puts it, as well as our difficulty still today in agreeing about right and wrong, though not proof, should make us suspect the idea of absolute morality. And if there is nothing greater to appeal to than reason and people’s consciences, I can only say that I’d rather side with evidence than with wishful thinking.

Caio Camargo ’09

Sept. 20

The writer is in Timothy Dwight College.