what I believe

(In Albuquerque) For whatever it’s worth, here are the most basic and central positions I hold these days. The links refer to longer blog posts on each idea:

Ethical particularism: The proper object of moral judgment is a whole situation, not an abstract noun. Some general concepts have deep moral significance, but their significance varies unpredictably depending on their interplay with other factors present in any given situation.

Historicism: Our values are deeply influenced by our collections of prior experiences, examples, and stories. Each person’s collection is his or her “culture.” But no two people have precisely the same background; one culture shades into another. A culture is not, therefore, a perspective (i.e., a single point from which to observe everything), nor a premise or set of premises from which our conclusions follow. There are no barriers among cultures, although there are differences.

Dialectic over entropy: Cultural interaction generally leads to convergence. Convergence is bad when it is automatic and the result is uniformity. It is good when it is deliberate and the result is greater complexity.

Narratives justify moral judgments: We make sense of situations by describing them in coherent, temporal terms–as stories. Narratives make up a large portion of what we call culture.

Populism: It is an appropriate general assumption–for both ethical and practical reasons–that all people can make valuable contributions to issues of moral significance that involve them. (Note that ethical particularism rebuts claims to special moral authority or expertise.)

Public deliberation: When judgments of situations and policies differ, the people who are affected ought to exchange ideas and stories under conditions of peace and reasonable equality, with the objective of consensus. This process can, however, be local and voluntary, not something that encompasses the whole polity.

Public work: Deliberation should be connected to action. Otherwise, it is not informed by experience, nor is it motivating. (Most people don’t like merely to talk.)

Civic republicanism: Participation–the liberty of the ancients–is not only a means to an end; it is also intrinsically dignified.

Open-ended politics: We need a kind of political leadership and organizing that does not aim at specific policies or social outcomes, but rather increases the prevalence of deliberation and public work. Like other forms of politics, this variety needs strategies, messages, constituencies, and institutions.

The creative commons: Many indispensable public goods are not just given (like the sun or air) but are created by collective effort. Although there is a global creative commons, many public goods are local and have a local cultural character.

Developmentalism: Human beings pass through a life course, having different needs and assets at different points. Development is not a matter of passing automatically through stages; it requires opportunities. Active citizens are made, not born. They acquire culture and help make it.

Associations: Voluntary private associations create and preserve public goods, host deliberations, and recruit and teach the next generation.

Some of these ideas fit together very neatly, but there are tensions. For example, how can I be skeptical about judging abstract moral concepts and yet offer a positive judgment of “participation,” which is surely an abstract idea? As a matter of fact, I don’t think participation is always intrinsically good; I simply think that we tend to undervalue it or overlook its intrinsic merits. But how weakly can I make that claim without undermining it entirely?

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1 Response to what I believe

  1. airth10 says:

    Peter,

    I am still most taken by your “dialectic over entropy” argument.

    When I have used entropy to explain social behavior and how things organize themselves people say l must just be talking metaphorically and not in concrete terms. I have tried to explain that what I am saying may sounds metaphorical but I mean it in concrete terms. However, people insist I am talking metaphorically, and not concretely.

    Why is it that some can only see the link or comparison of entropy and thermodynamics to human activity as metaphorical, arguing that it is not the same because entropy and thermodynamics apply just to the natural, physical world and not to the human world? However I think the laws of thermodynamics have a direct bearing on how we have come to organize ourselves.

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