Time Heals All Wounds, And Then Kills the Patient
Wed Apr 25 19:24:19 2012
Foundations and their need

John Rawls, a celebrated American philosopher, builds for himself a powerful perspective from which he explains society and suggests reinventing it through a small set of basic principles. He gives us the Original Principle as a foundation for thinking about justice, and provided one accepts it (and discards alternative conceptions, at least in the context of a set of conversations), one has enough of a foundation to reasonably convergently construct many of the other basics of a just society. Many other philosophies have the same structure; libertarian philosophy has a similarly small core. Other conceptions of good offer methods that are more process-oriented, relying on beliefs of human nature (Hobbes, or political anarchism, or many conceptions of democracy). On many topics, my style of thought is eclectic; this is only occasionally principled, and generally a statement that so far I have not been convinced to any principled foundation on the topic. Rawls noted that the way people tend to think about morality is through maintaining tension between particular value-conclusions and their broader value-framework, and that tension is a productive one. I maintain many such tensions, in the form of having many competing "lenses" through which to view any topic; the degree to which I identify with any given lens may vary, but they are useful for understanding other perspectives and the temptation to make them a primary lens provides inner debate in me that is productive. I am willing to make a given lens primary if it seems particularly powerful and compelling, but that is a high bar to meet and is usually still incomplete.

I consider the development of non-primary lenses to be worthwhile. I call these "frames"; a frame is an alternate interpretive theory (and possibly value-configuration) that is sufficiently developed to be entered and thought from for consideration of topics from its perspective. A given person might have no frames at all (in general, or for a particular set of topics, they may have one, or they may have many. Frames help one prepare for discussions, by suggesting the arguments one may face; they help with humility because when they're instinctual, those arguments happen entirely internally and introduce doubt. Frames make us less manipulable, because by exploring areas where our primary lens is not, if we are convinced to overturn any given part of our worldview we're prepared for what sits beyond, and are less likely to be pulled by the person who just convinced us into their specific conclusions without adequate consideration of alternatives. Finally, frames are a required mechanism for some kinds of fun intellectual sparring; if we cannot accept certain alterations "for the sake of argument", we lose out on any philosophy that's not right near our current conclusions, and if we consider sparring to be fun, that's a loss. Frames have their dangers; just like with daydreams there are some kinds of thoughts and imagery that bypass our ability to "let's pretend"; treated with appropriate caution and awareness of the limits of mental safety, these can be managed.

The concept of convergence and divergence, in various fields, helps us understand how discourse within and exploration of them can work. A divergent field is one where the scope of potentially correct answers, given all the suppositions that have parameterised the field, is large; a convergent field has a narrow scope. The degree of convergence is narrow in science, and typically wide in philosophy as a whole. Parameterising a field, through the introduction of foundational principles, produces a parameterised field (usually with a name) that's usually more convergent. Doing so sufficiently produces a frame; if we're talking about philosophical concepts of justice for example, that is ordinarily a divergent field; if we provide a Rawlsian, Marxian, Libertarian, Hobbesian, or some other set of intuitions, we're talking about (for example) Rawlsian Justice, which is fairly convergent and has relatively few different particular conceptions that can still reasonably claim to be faithful to Rawls on the topic.

The cohesiveness of a philosophy is the extent to which its components either are compatible with or depend on each other. Compatibility-cohesiveness is something we generally should expect to a reasonable level of philosophically-aware individuals; dependence-cohesiveness is only reasonable, generally, within a topic. Compatibility-cohesiveness is not reasonable to expect to too high of a level; people's philosophies are not generally complete at any given point in their life, and at the more specific levels for most people we might expect their natural drift of positions to happen too quickly for them to have time to work out a detailed resolution of all possible conflicts.

I distinguish between values and value-frameworks; a value is a decision that a certain abstract thing is valuable; a value-framework works out all values with a given priority (if it is a horizontal value-framework) or applying to a given topic (if it is a vertical value framework) into mediated conclusions and practices.

As an example of something that for me is a component of several primary frames for me, I offer the following: The needs of people in society are best considered in three levels:

I use that set of categories as a foundation for various frames in my worldview; it is part of how I think about taxation and renumeration in both my within-capitalism and within-socialism frames (although it is most useful for consideration of taxation in the within-capitalism frame; the within-capitalism frame of necessity has its own logic for within-renumeration and is only moderately movable by public policy and social activism from that).

(Note that this is the first entry since I split my personal blog off from here, and from here on you'll be seeing more of an idea and theory focus from this and a lot less about me; if you want the other blog too or just the other blog, go to my website and read it there or through that Atom/RSS feed)