November 28, 2014

The truth and nothing but the truth .... but not ...

But not the whole truth, to reference the third phrase to which people are supposed to swear in American courtrooms.

I'll explain what I'm about here.

Recent events, including the Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury's no-bill decision, have put me in mind of a saying by Afghan philosopher and Sufi mystic Idries Shah:
To 'see both sides' of a problem is the surest way to prevent its complete solution. Because there are always more than two sides.
Oh most big events, this is pretty true.

Even if we can distinguish truth from lies (setting aside things that are neither true nor deliberately false, like inaccurate eyewitness accounts that are inaccurate but believed to be accurate), and get only the truth told, we can never get the whole truth told.

None of us has a "view from nowhere." I see no evidence of an omnipotent deity who does, and even if such a critter existed, I see no evidence to see that he miraculously enlightened anybody in the Michael Brown case, the Trayvon Martin case, Benghazi, Edward Snowden or many, many other things.

There are ethical structures, philosophically based, that can be connected to the main political stances in America today.

There's John Rawls' ideas on fairness and redistributive justice, strongly liberal.

There's John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham with their utilitarianism and the greatest good for the greatest number, very libertarian.

And there's Immanuel Kant's deontological ethics, that "it's right because it's pronounced to be," very conservative, especially for social conservative rights.

All three rely strongly on the existence of a dispassionate all-seeing view from nowhere.

Rawls' fairness depends on us being absolutely sure we know what's fair for all involved. And, as Walter Kaufmann has clearly shown, fairness, and redistributive needs (even if not Marxist-based) vary from individual to individual and situation to situation.

So, we have no view from nowhere.

Utilitarianism's view from nowhere depends in part on long-term as well as short-term outcomes, and we are never going to be able to know that.

And Kant's ethics? I already tackled that under the lack of evidence for an omnipotent deity.

Unfortunately, though, humans are are prone to see things in the world in general in bipolar terms as they are in tribal terms.

So, as in the Brown-and-Wilson case, we get two polar "narratives," both of which assume that their own narrative and the other one are the only  two "sides" involved.

And, they're not.

And that, dear readers, is philosophy on the street in action.

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