Monday, April 30, 2007

Verification, Social Philosophy and Conservatism

The idea of the previous post is the following. Suppose your society has a set of values that are free of internal inconsistency (such as "All men have a right to liberty" and "blacks have no right to liberty") or error about the non-moral facts (such as, for example, "blacks are happier as slaves".) In other words, your society is committed to a set of values that are unassailable on grounds of coherence and fact. These are the values by which you and your compatriots prefer to live.

If the value set to which you are committed is wrong, then it will be appropriate for someone to require your society to change its values and adopt new ones, values which are not the ones by which its members prefer to live. In that case, the true values will have no appeal to members of your society, as the prospect of pursuing lives that violate one's preferred moral values is repugnant. In addition, no one has any idea what would count as evidence that they should nevertheless accept the new values. On the verificationist view of the matter, this is a notion of persuasion with no content. And the notion that a society should have to live by new values that it coherently and with full information finds repugnant is a notion that smells of tyranny and hasn't the slightest hint of moral enlightenment.

The verificationist result in social philosophy therefore is not only inherently interesting but also has interestingly conservative implications. It seems an important part of the core of conservatism that a society has a right to live as it prefers and can have no reason to pursue any so-called "progressive" paths that are not motivated by the values to which the society is already committed. As I said in the previous post, progressivism is a non-starter whenever it has no appeal to the premises already accepted by the society it criticizes. In other words, it is not worth debating progressives who do not have arguments couched in the antecedently-held values of the society under question. Their moral convictions have no content. More likely they are expressions of resentment or instruments for gaining power, as they have proven to be numerous times in the 20th Century.