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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Flying by Flapping One's Arms

If someone says, "Attempting to fly by vigorously flapping one's arms is doomed to fail," people are unlikely to respond, "Ah, so, if you think my method of doing this fails, then just how would you fly by flapping your arms?"

But when you point out that ideologies are inapt guides to political action, you are very likely to get asked, "So, what system do you propose, then?" Or, even more remarkably, you will be assured that your statement is itself an ideology! (The latter is like being told, "Your criticism of attempting to fly by flapping one's arms is itself a form of attempting to fly by flapping one's arms.")

11 comments:

  1. I have been reading your criticisms of 'ideology' for a while now, and I'm still wondering what would be your 'alternative'.

    If you think of ideology (maybe wrongly) as a general idea of 'a coherent set of normative ideas' anything could be called an ideology; I think. Someone who says 'we should look at any given situation and decide what is best based on prudential decision making' would than be an ideological pragmatist - or something.

    I think I get your analogy. However; flying itself is simply impossible as a human being without aid. However; having normative ideas is not. So having normative ideas through an 'ideology' makes sense, but maybe there are other ways of having normative ideas, without being in an ideology. But given the general definition I gave (maybe wrong) it seems hard not to equate 'ideology' with having 'normative ideas'.

    So how would you propose to think about normative ideas if not within an ideology? Could you give a more positive description of what you propose as an alternative to think about normative issues?

    Or am I making the mistake of saying 'how would you fly, then?'

    I'm trying really hard to understand your position; I hope you don't mind me asking these clarifications.

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  2. "If you think of ideology (maybe wrongly) as a general idea of 'a coherent set of normative ideas' anything could be called an ideology"

    If anything could be called an ideology, surely that is a sign that one has hold of an utterly useless definition!

    Ideology defined here.

    "However; having normative ideas is not. So having normative ideas through an 'ideology' makes sense, but maybe there are other ways of having normative ideas, without being in an ideology."

    However, deciding on one's practical conduct on the basis of a theory IS impossible. Some people think they do it, but they are wrong. So the analogy holds just fine.

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  3. This is an interesting view, but I'm not sure it is useful.

    Why does it matter whether an actor consults some principles list ex ante? Every explanatory analysis of an action fact (assuming that we know it's an action) will be through the application of concepts, not "practical particulars." Even if we want to explain the unique mix of concepts that occurred at this particular instance, won't we do this with mixing principles?

    I don't think we can escape categories in our analysis.

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  4. Marris, the point isn't whether or not one uses concepts. A collection of concepts do not an ideology make.

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  5. Suppose I want to create a new ideology. I start with some concepts and laws relating these concepts. What else do I need to add?

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  6. You mean something like "murder is bad" (concept) and "the penalty for murder shall be x"

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  7. Oh, the above needed a question mark!

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  8. I was thinking that murder would be a concept [composite concept?] and "moral badness" would be another concept. "Murder is bad" may be some law that relates the two.

    "The penalty for murder shall be x" gets a little tricky since it relates "law" in legal sense with "law" in the relational sense.

    Maybe a theory of justice would structure the statement as "the penalty for murder ought to be x" ?

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  9. Marris, is it helpful to regard "murder is bad" as a scientific law? Scientific laws usually relate cause to effect: if the pressure on a gas increases, ceteris paribus, the temperature will rise. Now, the "law of karma" is like that, but that is *not* what most people mean when they say "murder is bad": they are not saying it *causes* something bad, but simply *is* bad, in and of itself. It is a normative judgment, not a statement of cause and effect.

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  10. No, I also don't think it's a causal law. More like a conceptual relation (conceptual law?).

    I think Rod Long has a talk where he labels the subject matter of the scientific revolution as "causal relations" and older Aristotelian/Thomistic material as "conceptual relations."

    I prefer to apply the "science" label to both (rather than just the causal stuff), but this is not a strong preference.

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  11. OK, Marris, I just wanted to clarify before I answered. New post at the top level.

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