True Prejudices, Rational Prejudices, and Conservative Philosophy

 

ThinkerRoger Scruton as quoted by Daniel Hannan on a podcast here on Ricochet: “The role of a conservative thinker is to reassure the people that their prejudices are true.”

It’s a wonderful quote, but I’m tempted to modify it: The role of a conservative thinker is to reassure the people that their prejudices are rational. I think the challenge to — for example — disapproval of embryonic stem-cell research is rarely “You are mistaken,” but rather “Your view is only held by nutjobs who hate science.”

A question for the Ricochetti:

For which of the people’s prejudices do we have the most need these days for reassurance that they are true, or rational?

Update: For a compilation of suggested answers, see comments 41-43.

There are 53 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I prefer to seek definitions through logic instead of dictionaries when I’m familiar with the applications.

    For example, what qualifies as a sport? What is the difference between a sport and a game?To answer, one must compare the qualities of sports and games, then identify which qualities are essential and which are incidental.

    Dictionaries, like Wikipedia and print encyclopedias, are most reliable on relatively uncontroversial and concrete subjects. The more heated or abstract the topic, the more definitions reflect biases and estimations.

    “Prejudice” is a word associated heated topics. The variation of definitions in dictionaries reflect that controversy.

    On a related note, consider the words “sex” and “gender”. The dictionary definitions have changed in just the past twenty years, but many traditionalists didn’t get the memo.

    • #31
  2. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    “Political authority derives from the people (aka, all residents).”

    I’m still not convinced of that fundamental idea. It seems to me that authority is derived rather from moral justice or else from sheer power.

    • #32
  3. LilyBart Inactive
    LilyBart
    @LilyBart

    That Big Government doesn’t really help the people.   It helps itself – and its friends – but not the poor and middle class.  In fact, it steals people’s freedom from the average person and leaves them impoverished in the end.

    • #33
  4. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry3435:

    . . . I’m glad to use the word axiom for an assumption that requires no proof, and the word hypothesis for an assumption that is tentative and subject to further testing.

    Here we are not in agreement.  I think some beliefs requiring no proof may also be held tentatively and subjected to further testing.

    But that is not the same as being “rational” in the sense of being derived by reasoning. We should keep those terms separate.

    The word “rational” need not be reduced to that which is derived by reasoning; as I already showed, that’s not the only thing the word means.  (But if anyone prefers to use “rational” in that restricted sense, he could read the question in the opening post as asking about whatever quality makes a belief “agreeable to reason, reasonable, or sensible,” rather than about rationality.)

    Just calling the axioms that you happen to believe “rational,” simply because they make sense to you, is an invitation to fuzzy thinking.

    Indeed.  I would do nothing of the sort.

    However, I might call some axioms “rational” simply because I can clearly see that they are true, despite the inability of others to clearly see.  (An appeal to clear seeing is an appeal to an epistemic criterion which is more than my own perceptions.)

    Put differently, what I am calling “rational” could perhaps be equated with what is “self-evident,” but could in no way be equated with what simply makes perfect sense to me.

    • #34
  5. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry3435:

    You cannot accuse someone else of being “irrational” because they do not agree with your axioms, because axioms themselves (as I have said) are not rational. They are either self-evident or they are not. That is all that can be said about them.

    If I understand you rightly, you hold that various things that simply seem true to a person, while not rational, are not irrational either.

    I think Scruton and Hannan would like that conclusion, though they wouldn’t think it goes far enough.

    • #35
  6. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Ok, we have a nice set of prejudices suggested now.  I think I’ll try to compile them if my offline life and dialogue with Larry allow!

    • #36
  7. LilyBart Inactive
    LilyBart
    @LilyBart

    – That a person born a man (or woman) is really their natural gender, regardless of how they’d like to be perceived.

    – That people should, in most cases, have the right to freedom of association, even if it hurts ‘feelings’.

    – That traditional marriage is worth celebrating and protecting.  (note: the greatest damage to traditional marriage is probably done by hetros – with their casual, easy-come, easy-go approach).

    – That it is good and noble to grow up and be an adult – not to live in perpetual adolescence.

    • #37
  8. user_57140 Member
    user_57140
    @KarenHumiston

    A few more:

    — Women should not get drunk at frat parties.  (Not that it justifies what might happen, but it’s not a good idea.)

    — Most women seek a man she can look up to and respect.  A protector.

    — Married people should be very careful about close friendships with persons of the opposite sex.

    — And something I never thought would be open to question:  ALL LIVES MATTER!

    • #38
  9. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Aaron Miller:“Political authority derives from the people (aka, all residents).”

    I’m still not convinced of that fundamental idea. It seems to me that authority is derived rather from moral justice or else from sheer power.

    You fiddled with the quote and the concept.  Jefferson wrote that governments derive their “just powers” from the consent of the governed.  The word “just” is what harmonizes the derivation of political authority with moral justice.  Otherwise, as you say, it is all merely sheer power.

    • #39
  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Well corrected. I didn’t mean to question Jefferson’s statement so much as the supposed one-to-one relationship between democracy and authority that modern Western philosophers assume.

    A just society honors free will because freedom is good and generally necessary for human fulfillment, as designed by our Creator. It does not follow that democracy is the only or even the best means of honoring free will politically… let alone the presumption that our particular manner of democracy is the best.

    • #40
  11. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Here’s a compilation.  The Ricochetti suggest that these prejudices of the people have the most need for reassurance that they are true, or rational:

    From Tom Meyer:

    • “That there’s a cohort of people in Washington who look upon the rest of us as serfs who should show a little more gratitude for being so well-ruled.

    From Aaron Miller:

    • that “political authority derives from the people (aka, all residents).”

    From me:

    • “that all people are created equal;
    • that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights;
    • that my country is great and worth defending;
    • that my civilization is great and worth defending;
    • or that people are better off when markets are free.”

    From Z in MT: that:

    • “The Constitution is not whatever 5 lawyers in black robes think it is
    • Laws are made by Congress, not the President nor 5 lawyers in black robes
    • Something is wrong when a politician enters Congress a pauper and leaves it a multi-millionaire
    • Illegal immigrants have broken the law and so do not have a right to stay in our country
    • A country that proclaims: ‘Death to America’, is unlikely to be reliable in holding to agreements made with America.”

    (Continued)

    • #41
  12. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    (Continued)

    From Karen Humiston here and here: that:

    • “Excessive debt is a danger to our future and our children’s future, and if not gotten under control, it will lead to financial devastation and virtual slavery.
    • We can’t dole out money we don’t have, and to fudge the books to find a way to do it is not kindness, and will lead to the sesults described above.
    • Male is male and female is female.  Vive la difference!
    • We are not here as a result of random accidents.  A divine power (intelligent design) had a hand in our creation.
    • Women should not get drunk at frat parties.  (Not that it justifies what might happen, but it’s not a good idea.)
    • Most women seek a man she can look up to and respect.  A protector.
    • Married people should be very careful about close friendships with persons of the opposite sex.
    • And something I never thought would be open to question:  ALL LIVES MATTER!”

    (Continued)

    • #42
  13. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    (Continued)

    From LilyBart here and here:

    • “That Big Government doesn’t really help the people.   It helps itself – and its friends – but not the poor and middle class.  In fact, it steals people’s freedom from the average person and leaves them impoverished in the end.
    • That a person born a man (or woman) is really their natural gender, regardless of how they’d like to be perceived.
    • That people should, in most cases, have the right to freedom of association, even if it hurts ‘feelings’.
    • That traditional marriage is worth celebrating and protecting.  (note: the greatest damage to traditional marriage is probably done by hetros – with their casual, easy-come, easy-go approach).
    • That it is good and noble to grow up and be an adult – not to live in perpetual adolescence.”
    • #43
  14. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry3435:

    Aaron Miller:“Political authority derives from the people (aka, all residents).”

    I’m still not convinced of that fundamental idea. It seems to me that authority is derived rather from moral justice or else from sheer power.

    You fiddled with the quote and the concept. Jefferson wrote that governments derive their “just powers” from the consent of the governed. The word “just” is what harmonizes the derivation of political authority with moral justice. Otherwise, as you say, it is all merely sheer power.

    Aaron Miller:Well corrected. I didn’t mean to question Jefferson’s statement so much as the supposed one-to-one relationship between democracy and authority that modern Western philosophers assume.

    A just society honors free will because freedom is good and generally necessary for human fulfillment, as designed by our Creator. It does not follow that democracy is the only or even the best means of honoring free will politically… let alone the presumption that our particular manner of democracy is the best.

    Great stuff, gentlemen!  There’s an interesting post on the Member Feed on that topic right now.

    • #44
  15. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Larry3435:I have the same problem with people who claim that their positions are “natural law.” I deem that just a fancy way of saying “My thinking is better than yours, for no particular reason that I can explain.” Self-affirming. Tail-chasing.

    Since there is such as thing as “natural law” and that particular set of understandings predate anything you or I can express, assuming that the “natural law” can be blown off as my inexplicable thinking leads me to consider that you are wrong.

    • #45
  16. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Augustine:

    Larry3435:

    If we are in agreement that your question relates to moral assumptions or axioms, . . . .

    I think it is safe to say that we are. The “or” must be emphasized. I’m following Scruton and Hannan in talking about moral assumptions which may or may not be axioms.

    I should probably clarify.  I spoke hastily here.  It’s not just the moral assumptions; I imagine Scruton in particular would approve of various pre-reasoned assumptions of the people that are not strictly moral: some aesthetic, some epistemological, perhaps some metaphysical or religious.

    I sure would.

    Examples:

    • an aesthetic prejudice: Certain examples of modern art are grotesque, and vastly inferior to Van Gogh.
    • an epistemological prejudice: Even without knowing much about art or knowing anything about what might be said in defense of the aforementioned modern art, I can still know what I know about it.
    • #46
  17. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    donald todd:

    Larry3435:I have the same problem with people who claim that their positions are “natural law.” I deem that just a fancy way of saying “My thinking is better than yours, for no particular reason that I can explain.” Self-affirming. Tail-chasing.

    Since there is such as thing as “natural law” and that particular set of understandings predate anything you or I can express, assuming that the “natural law” can be blown off as my inexplicable thinking leads me to consider that you are wrong.

    Yes.  Since you believe in natural law you would, of course, think that.

    • #47
  18. user_357321 Inactive
    user_357321
    @Jordan

    I’d probably change the wording, to “non-rational, but not irrational” or something like that.

    Prejudices aren’t rational, but that isn’t to say they are irrational.  Science winds up backing up many of these biases and stereotypes we hold.  For example, people have a better than even chance at identifying criminals from photographs, and rather accurately guess the age of people, and reliably assess outsiders as threats in most conditions.

    These aren’t rational decisions we make, but non-rational, or animal I suppose, instincts that serve our basic survival instincts well.

    I would say do not seek rational approval of your instincts, but rather make sure they aren’t opposed to rational inquiry.  It is enough that your instincts (or prejudices if you prefer) are not irrational, because they are already not rational by their nature.

    • #48
  19. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Jordan Wiegand:I’d probably change the wording, to “non-rational, but not irrational” or something like that. . . .

    This is a lovely analysis, and it is probably correct about a number of prejudices.

    But I’m still pretty sure “rational,” at least in the broad sense described above, is an appropriate description of at least some prejudices–especially whatever are the true moral axioms, the ones of which Lewis wrote in Abolition of Man:

    But you cannot go on explaining away’ forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on seeing through^ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisibe world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

    To see the street, or the garden, is “agreeable to reason; reasonable; sensible.”  It is both rational and, since either the street or the garden is a first principle, a necessary condition for being rational about anything else.

    • #49
  20. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Augustine:

    Jordan Wiegand:I’d probably change the wording, to “non-rational, but not irrational” or something like that. . . .

    This is a lovely analysis, and it is probably correct about a number of prejudices.

    But I’m still pretty sure “rational,” at least in the broad sense described above, is an appropriate description of at least some prejudices–especially whatever are the true moral axioms, . . . .

    These are distinct separate from those prejudices that are neither rational nor irrational, but may become rational upon further investigation—although they may cease being prejudices in the process.

    • #50
  21. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @minksnopes

    “Marriage is a union between one man and one woman” is true but not rational. As Holmes said (following Burke): “the life of the law has not been logic. It has been experience.” It is the libbies at their worst that require all legal matters to be rationally demonstrable. This is why they can’t even understand the conservative objection to same sex marriage and also why polygamy etc are sure to follow.

    • #51
  22. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Larry3435:

    donald todd:

    Larry3435:I have the same problem with people who claim that their positions are “natural law.” I deem that just a fancy way of saying “My thinking is better than yours, for no particular reason that I can explain.” Self-affirming. Tail-chasing.

    Since there is such as thing as “natural law” and that particular set of understandings predate anything you or I can express, assuming that the “natural law” can be blown off as my inexplicable thinking leads me to consider that you are wrong.

    Yes. Since you believe in natural law you would, of course, think that.

    Since you are a lawyer who seems not to recognize the legitimacy of the natural law – an item over which you and I have had previous encounters – you might wonder why lawyers are often held in questionable regard in what seem to be sharp dealing with their interlocutors.

    • #52
  23. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    donald todd:Since you are a lawyer who seems not to recognize the legitimacy of the natural law – an item over which you and I have had previous encounters – you might wonder why lawyers are often held in questionable regard in what seem to be sharp dealing with their interlocutors.

    I have no idea what that means.  Having dealt with a lot of other lawyers in my life, I hold many of them in questionable regard, but it has nothing to do with “natural law.”

    While you are welcome to your opinions, I am entitled to state that when I hear someone describe some assertion or other as being a statement of “natural law,” I understand that to mean that they hold that particular opinion and want to dress it up as having some sort of gravitas that they think it would lack if they just called it “my opinion.”

    Like God, there may or may not be some sort of “natural law,” but also like God, if it exists it does not reveal itself to mortal man.  Conservatives are supposed to be characterized by epistemological humility.  We are supposed to be aware of the limits of our own knowledge.  In my opinion, making claims to know the “natural law,” or any other form of The Ultimate Truth, is the opposite of that.  Epistemological hubris.

    • #53
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.