Saturday, March 23, 2013

Principles in a tote bag

"I think breaking from ideology to face reality and make decisions outside of any familiar framework is hugely difficult and risky and admirable."
This quote by my friend Meredith was in response to a question I asked after reading Matt Zwoklinski's post on whether the fact that there are exceptions for the rule "lying is wrong" in the real world could be transferable to to the rule "coercion is wrong": What would the implications be for libertarians?*

It got me thinking.

Breaking away from what seemed to be foregone conclusions of my beliefs is something I've been struggling through/playing with. When I was first considering whether a guaranteed minimum income might be "just," or at least OK, I would sort of punt the issue when it came up, suggesting that we deal first with problems that are obviously harmful and then argue about things that might be OK. But I think that discomfort with dismissing an idea outright is indicative of a certain level of comfort with that idea.

I bring up guaranteed minimum incomes as an example because when it is suggested that they are libertarian-compatible policy I see responses like “The author has forgotten her first principles. A guaranteed minimum income requires coercion!” That's a bit silly. We mustn't forget or discard the tenets of our philosophies to consider different conclusions. Far from it! I think you need to have a great deal of faith in your "first principles" to start testing them in earnest to see where they hold up.

It's not that I want to throw away my beliefs. It's just that I'd rather sling them over my shoulder than clutch them, white-knuckled, close to my heart. Even if it aches a bit sometimes, I want my hands free to play with other ideas. I don't think it would be such a bad thing if more of us gave that a shot.


*For the record, I think the implication is that there might be something other than coercion that we ought to weigh when determining what's OK, but that doesn't automatically lead to any particular conclusion.

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