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Semiformalishmaybe

Founding Fools

I sometimes am amazed at how full of shit the founding fathers of the United States were. I think this was just part of the political language used at the time - I don't know if privately their political philosophy was more sensible, but at least the public works talk a lot about "universal values" and things that have held true across all societies, both of which are terribly wrong. Unfortunately, things have not progressed much beyond that - we see such things as "our constitution, in speaking of natural born citizens, uses no affirmative language to make them such, but only recognizes and reaffirms the universal principle, common to all nations, and as old as political society, that the people born in a country do constitute the nation" (Attourney General Edward Bates, in 1862) sprinkled throughout our nation's history. Without doing any specific research, I can name a number of countries across the world where that is not true. Recent presidents, including our current one, have spoken of Universal Values as well.

It is fair to talk about values that we hold as universal in scope, meaning that we assert them to be good for all humanity, all cultures, all civilisations past, present, and future. It is fair to use the term universal values to refer to those values. That is not what is being done here - the phrasing in American popular political discourse denotes values and principles that all humans have, and that these values and principles are inherent into humanity or the nature of things. I hold that the number of values and principles that fit into that category is very close to zero and may in fact be zero. Whenever I hear a politician talk about that, it suggests to me that they have not thought very carefully about philosophy, or as an alternative that their private philosophy and their public one are distant from each other. Except in exceptional circumstances, the latter bothers me more. Except in exceptional circumstances, I hold that people should honestly represent their philosophy and their broad political ends. It is fine not to disclose it or to handle it with tact, but when discussed, people should get a straight answer and possibly a measure of how strongly held the broad intent and specifics of a position are.

In a more ideal world, people would not accept this junk philosophy in public discourse. Then, in a more ideal world, we'd have more of an expectation that news organisations would disclose when they're acting towards a political end, Then... there are a lot of things that would be different in a more ideal world.

Comments

(Anonymous)

You are missing the distinction between the concepts of universal rights versus values.

The underlying philosophy of the Declaration of Independence involves the concept of natural rights and liberties -- that these things exist universally (as to all human beings).

Neither the Declaration or the stated political philosophy attendant thereto proposed that all nations/governments/societies universally *value* life, liberty, or happiness.

The Declaration doesn't say "We hold these truths to be evident based on the fact that all other societies believe them."

Indeed, the Declaration addresses head on, the fact that not all governments value life, liberty and happiness of its people (heck, if the Founding Fathers really thought that all other nations really maintained these values, they never would have, ahem, declared their independence).

To wit:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." -- and then the document goes on to list exactly HOW King George III's government has failed to share their values on natural rights.

Feel free to disagree with a natural rights philosophy, but to conflate the notions of values versus rights is a foolish factual mistake. Your understanding of basic political philosophy as pontificated above is just plain wrong.
/Debb
There is a political perspective, particularly prominent in the neoconservative political philosophy, that people intrinsically hold American-style political values values apart from "some bad guys", and that if only governments ruled by these "bad guys" were shoved aside, the whole world would be peaceful, free, and happy. From this perspective, the genius of the American experiment is that they "got it right" and achieved the best realisation of the natural rights and interests of humanity, and they wish to spread that style of natural law-based governance to other nations.

The very phrasing of the Declaration is bad philosophy - "a priori", "self-evident", etc. If we want to rescue the Declaration, we have to replace this with "We hold these things to be be valuable: .... and we organise the state to achieve them". Natural rights are anything but natural or universally held - that language is dishonest propoganda.

Rights come from values - they are formalisations of value-conclusions, and parts of a value framework.

(Anonymous)

Stating that certain memebers of a neoconservative faction of American politics believes that the US is always right is not the same statement as the Founding Fathers were full of shit. Nor does it logically draw therefrom.

The phrasing of the Declaration does not need to be rescued, because it is neither inconsistent nor illogical, nor propaganda. Stating that certain truths are self evident is called an axiomatic statement. Once more, you can disagree with the axiom, but it is a foolish mistake and misstatement to claim that the language is dishonest.

Re: rights coming from values. Perhaps in your philosophical soapbox they do, but, under the natural rights philosophy they don't have to. Again, feel free to disagree with the axiom, but to your accusations are ill-informed. At best, myopic.
/Debb
There is a difference between saying "this is an axiom" and "this is self-evident". The first does not imply truth, the second does.

(Anonymous)

Right, since it's a well known fact that entire belief systems, governments, and philosophical doctrines believe their axioms to be false..

Axiom: an established rule or principle or a self-evident truth -- http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/axiom

Axion: a self-evident truth that requires no proof. -- http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/axiom

I notice you've failed to defend your original position in either of your replies; hopefully you've realized it's factually indefensible, as are your follow up points.

Sorry dude, you've been beat. Take it like a man.

/Debb
The thing is, axioms are not possibly true or false. They are the foundations of a set of ideas - other things depend on conformance with them to be right or wrong, but they themselves are too foundational to be judged right or wrong. Choice of axioms defines the structure of everything built on top of them, and provides notions of how these higher level matters are to be judged. A libertarian set of axioms is the set of intuitions from which libertarianism is constituted. We can identify other sets of axioms in political philosophy if we wish. Likewise, there are different philosophies and traditions of maths built on different axioms. No doubt, people will commit to a set of axioms as part of how they think about these matters. Commitment doesn't make them true (as they can't be true or false), even though one must usually commit, at least provisionally, to them in order to construct something.


I'm not interested in "trash talking" with you on a philosophical argument (regarding the "Sorry dude.." part). I especially am not interested in participating in or submitting to that type of gender role discourse.

Edited at 2009-08-17 10:28 pm (UTC)

(Anonymous)

None of what you said addresses your original argument.

I am not trash talking you. You've lost the argument. Your positions are indefensible and factually flawed. I am giving you the opportunity to admit defeat in the name of intellectual honesty, because you are quite obviously pumping a dry well. Continuing along this course will serve only to weaken your credibility.
/Debb