Sunday, January 18, 2009

Conservatism and Human Nature

We'll proceed with our series. At this point, a little note.

We have a nature: a set of dispositions to desire certain ways of living and a set of functional dispositions. We like wine and a little sunshine. We are such that we sleep about eight hours every day, build things with our hands and with tools, and thrive with exercise and a balanced diet. We don't take to the surface of the moon, to counting grains of rice until death overcomes us, or to doing without any sleep.

It is conservative to embrace a set of values which map onto these facts of our nature or at least reflect them well enough to promote our flourishing in keeping with them. Deliberation enters into things where preference must be determined amongst conflicting inclinations or functional attributes which cannot all be fulfilled. Besides the establishment of the relevant non-moral facts, conservative deliberation aims at predicting which course will satisfy as many of the stronger vectors of our nature as possible. It doesn't fetishize any single inclination and neglect others which may be stronger, more long-lived and more numerous. It is prudence. The fetishism of a single value over others is a semblance of deliberation. It argues that the other values must be neglected because they interfere with the fetish, but this is only similar to true deliberation and not the same. It is willing to embrace courses which lead to ruination because it promises that human nature may be changed or ignored so that the ruination never occurs. The preference for genuine deliberation, on the other hand, is prudence.

I've slipped from "conservative deliberation" to "genuine, true deliberation." There is no difference, and if you think otherwise, you're mistaking the semblance for the real thing. There is nothing that would count as evidence that a course of behavior or way of life that went against what we know to be true about our nature and our set of time-honored, human-nature-tested and cherished values was the right course or a good way of life. For the only kind of thing that counts as evidence in these matters is what we prefer, what suits us.