Editor's note: This column is the second of a two-part essay. The first part can be found here.
If you’ve stuck around for part two, get ready for something much heavier. The last part was Cinnamon Toast Crunch; this part is oatmeal.
My goal in this article is to develop two opposing belief systems which are both, for the most part, justifiable. They are held each by Connor Servative and Libby Rawl.
Here we go.
I will develop two types of justifiable beliefs: personally justifiable beliefs, which describe subjective ideas, and rationally justified beliefs, which pertain to objective beliefs. I define “subjective” as “dependent on personal perspective” and “objective” as “independent of personal perspective.”
I think that a belief is personally justifiable for an agent only if it is strictly subjective or at least greatly subjective, and if the agent holds the belief to be true.
By “strictly subjective,” I mean that the belief holds a truth entirely dependent on an agent’s mental states. Beliefs pertaining to favorite colors, food, and music fall under this category. Furthermore, personally justifiable beliefs do not require warrant. My belief that teddy bears are cool needs no further explanation other than that I believe it.
Political ideologies, on the other hand, rely on objective beliefs, which take the form of core assumptions about human behaviors. The claim that everyone enjoys teddy bears holds value outside of the mind.
The pressing question here is what rationally justifies objective beliefs. Indeed, the truth of an objective belief is independent of our thoughts; however, the belief’s apparent truth depends on some evaluation by reliable cognitive processes, which would here involve studying human behaviors.
It is possible for Connor and Libby to agree on basic assumptions of human behavior, and still quarrel over what makes a consequence beneficial or “good.” Connor and Libby may both subscribe to these general points like 1) power can corrupt, 2) most people can be greedy, and 3) many may care only for their self-interest.
They are rationally justified in holding these beliefs, which can follow from historical evaluation, background experiences with others, and some intuition of human nature. It is critical to note here that the pair affirms only logical possibilities of instances (e.g. power can corrupt). We may simplify by assuming that they hold firm to the idea that it is better to be safe than sorry, and to err on the side of caution.
The preceding is rooted in subjective preferences for safety, and is thus personally justified. They may claim that power does corrupt, and that most people are greedy. There are plenty of exceptions to these beliefs, but many will assert that they seem to be the rule. I will construct their belief systems with this minimalist approach, so as to avoid objections that most people are in fact not greedy or susceptible to corruption.
Descending from these assumptions is the final piece: the political values held by Connor and Libby, which are (surprise!) respectively conservative and liberal. This subjective value weighting forms a collection of personally justified beliefs, which justify themselves. It is safest to say that the students’ preference rankings are at least partly subjective. However, these views do feel attached to concepts of objective social morality and have an element of objectivity to them. They are arguably formed by some moral intuition, which I regard as a reliable cognitive process.
Libby might argue that wealth redistribution feels intuitively just, while Connor stresses the inequity of coercing others to surrender their money. Still others claim that social morality does not even exist. As it stands, social morality seems indecisive enough that we ought to grant equal merit to Connor and Libby on this point.
Differing views on government can be justified similarly. Libby views active government with its safety net as fairer for society, while Connor sees limited government with less coercion as more just. They both hold reasonable social morals here.
Beliefs about cultural tradition are more obviously subjective and can be described as being personally justified.
It is remarkable that two opposing viewpoints can follow from the same assumptions of human behavior; the differentiating factor is their subjective preference rankings. This fact underscores the importance of defining political beliefs, as done in the first part, and understanding how background influences can mold our views. For example, race, gender, and socioeconomic status can shape our subjective preference rankings. A hapless worker may appreciate economic equality more than economic freedom, while a self-made business owner might value freedom over equality.
By showing that the very basic conservative and liberal positions in America can be justifiably held, I hope to encourage consideration among political opponents. Or at least to make you hungry for some oatmeal.
Matthew Morgado is a first-year in the College.