The much-maligned unicorn

The much-maligned unicorn

The poor unicorn. Among philosophers, he has become a stock example of a fictional creature. Here’s a typical misappropriation:

The best reason for asserting so bluntly that there are no such rights is indeed of precisely the same type as the best reason which we possess for asserting that there are no witches and the best reason which we possess for asserting that there are no unicorns: every attempt to give good reasons for believing that there are such rights has failed. 

These remarks, which are pretty well known, come from Alasdair MacIntrye’s After Virtue. MacIntyre argues that there is no such thing as human rights. They are a fiction… just like unicorns. While I do have some sympathy for MacIntyre’s critique of human rights, that’s not the issue in this post. MacIntyre (who I’m not particularly picking on – he just happened to be a ready-to-hand example), like many of his fellow philosophers is happy, unreflectively to perpetuate the fiction about the fictitiousness of unicorns. It seems never to have occurred to anyone actually to confirm the facts!

But I’m here to say that the day has come, indeed it’s long overdue, for us finally to note those facts. Paleontologists have known for many years now of the existence of the Elasmotherium sibiricum, also called the “Siberian unicorn.” In fact, on the basis of a recent discovery, it is now possible to say that this unicorn may have lived alongside humans.

Okay, it’s true that some people say that it was probably more like a rhinoceros than a horse. But, might this not just be the age-old bias against the reality of the unicorn reasserting itself?