A Quick Note About Political Bias

It’s difficult to write a blog about philosophy and current events and avoid taking a political position. At various times, Jim and I have touched upon number of political issues from abstract questions about justice and tolerance to contemporary debates over issues such as gun control, mental illness, and child abuse. We have made arguments and drawn conclusions without explicitly endorsing a political position to the Left, Right, or elsewhere. This is not to say that we lack political preferences. At various times in my life I have described my political inclinations as Left-Libertarian, Social-Democratic, and even contemporary American Liberal. But, I am reluctant to use those labels these days, and I expect that Jim is reluctant to use those labels for similar reasons. Political ideology, like religious dogma, is ultimately founded upon some belief about value. For this reason, opposing sides of any debate are likely to reach an impasse when they approach the subject of value from an ideological rather than a philosophical position.

The unfortunate trend seems to be that pundits, commentators, and other supposed experts either fail to recognize the source of political disagreement or ignore it. Political ideologues seem to view it as a rhetorical weakness to confess their value assumptions and defend them, and so instead, they subvert these assumptions with attacks on the other side. Rather than acknowledging the value assumptions implicit in any system of redistributive justice (e.g., ‘equality is good’), Leftists are apt to sneer of at the Right’s callous indifference toward the suffering of the poor. Rather than acknowledging the value assumptions implicit in any system of punitive justice (e.g., ‘punishment is just’), Right-leaners sneer at the bleeding-heart-liberal’s naivety about the threat of criminals who undermine the rule of law. These characterizations are more than ungenerous; they distract from legitimate and productive debate about how we should live our lives and what we owe to others within our countries and communities.

It should be obvious to anyone who regularly checks this blog that we have certain epistemic biases that color our arguments: We are skeptics. We value science and owe a debt to empiricism. We believe that the mind is the brain, and we are comfortable with hard determinism. This skeptical bias strongly informs the way we approach politics and moral reasoning. We value truth and believe that there is moral virtue in the search for truth, and we are strongly suspicious of those who preach the value of the “noble lie.” In the coming weeks I will be posting on political issues ranging from poverty to terrorism, and my hope is that these posts will foster challenging but honest debate among the people who read this blog and take the search for truth and the practice of justification seriously.

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