Saturday, June 11, 2005

Some Rafts For Your Drowning Brain

Pearsall has linked to me, saying my series of revision-related post are interesting -for which thanks - but also esoteric, which is probably fair. I haven't decided whom I'm going to inflict my ramblings about on the world today - Locke, or possibly Ronald Dworkin - but in a spirit of bringing enlightenment to the masses, here is a one sentence summary of each post (even if the sentences are rather long - look, it's hard to summarise a couple of thousand words in a single sentence without having an apparently ever-multiplying series of subclauses, OK):

All claims are freedom are claims about freedom of some sort of thing, and on the assumption that humans are the sort of thing with goals and plans, for a human to be free, they need to be able to choose and realise their goals and plans, which means allowing them to choose the set of rules they live under, since rules can both prevent and enable the the choice and realisation of goals and plans.

Given that humans should be able to choose the set of rules they live under, we need to think about the limits that should be set on their choice of a set of rules, for there are surely sets of rules which might strip people of their capacity to choose and realise their goals and plans, and in particular, we need to think about whether the criteria on which these limits are based are distinctively political, i.e., related to people's status as free and equal.

However, if there is something distinctively political about these criteria, that must mean, because the criteria are based on people's status as free and equal, and part of the point of being free must be the prospect of change, that these criteria might themselves shift over time, as freedom comes to be used and matter in different ways, that change itself a result of freedom.

The criteria shifting over time though, implies that truth, in a timeless, universal sense, is not a proper predicate of normative claims which could be part of the political on this account, because the validity predicate for the political is legitimacy, but because some have denied the wisdom of this abjuring from truth, a more comprehensive argument in favour of the position is required, one which can be supplied by Quine and Habermas, which effectively extends the idea of legitimacy as the proper validity predicate to all statements (I admit, this was definitely the most esoteric).

Returning to the idea of freedom as requiring some constraint, in Machiavelli's discussion of the best divisions of political power, we can see the idea that, contra Lord Acton's dictum - power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely - there is an incoherence in the idea of absolute power, as power requires something to act against, another power, and that indeed, in Machiavelli's ethical universe, it is precisely the lack of enough to struggle against that spells doom.

By looking at Hume's claims about the artificiality of justice, we can see that, on Hume's own criteria, the most plausible explanation is that justice, as the virtue of conflict resolution, is as natural a virtue as all the others, since conflict is fairly endemic to human life, which quasi-redeems natural law theorists like Locke.

I'm not sure if that makes it any easier: maybe not, but it makes it easier for me, so...


Phil said...

"All claims are freedom are claims about freedom of some sort of thing"

You are Gertrude Stein and I claim my right to be Gertrude Stein and you are right to claim to be Gertrude Stein and

Thanks for the summary of the post about Quine and Habermas, which I will re-read. It occurred to me a while back that there was something inherently dodgy about claiming truth to be a foundational & in some sense unproblematic quality. Bhaskar, for example, uses falsehood as an indicator of injustice - any power relation whose maintenance requires a belief in falsehood is ipso facto unjust. But this is assuming rather a lot; it seems to me that it'd be easier to run the same argument backwards, and to say that a belief which is functional to the maintenance of an unjust power relation is ipso facto untrue. Substituting legitimacy for validity as a criterion would obviously make this deduction that much easier.

Rob Jubb said...

Like I said, it's hard to summarise two thousand words in one sentence: things may get a bit lost.

On the Quine/Habermas thing, it may be helpful to think of their arguments as explaining why, in part at least, you would think that a social system based on falsehood is unjust, and vice versa. Because they both hold that the validity of some claim is relative its coherence with some set of background claims, it would seem likely that the kinds of revisions one would make in one's belief set when coming to see that something is unjust or false would include revising other beliefs associated with it. I should probably add that seeing Quine as concerned with legitimacy is probably not a very conventional interpretation, although it is probably is sustainable.