One of the best things about going home for the weekend, apart from the food and the chance to watch top gear in comfort, is getting to read the new scientist. I could read it in the library at university of course, but it’s not quite the same. This week, there was a feature on reason itself, which interested me greatly.
There seem to be places where science and philosophy merge or overlap, and indeed spread into politics. It occurred to me, while I was reading, that questioning the essence of reason in itself betrayed a political bent. For one to ask such questions in the first place, it is necessary for one to assume that there are no absolutes, only perception. This is, of course, a movement which began in the enlightenment: the movement away from the idea of absolute truth.
Yet it occurs to me that this is, in and of itself, liberal. Had the forces of conservatism prevailed, we would have such to the old beliefs concerning true and false, and the enlightenment would never have happened. Ideas concerning the flexibility of truth, perception, etc are liberal ideas. But this is where I got into a muddle.
As I understand it, liberalism decrees that every point of view is equally valid, from whence it follows that there can be no one absolute truth. Conservatism, on the other hand, states that there are absolute truths, that we should stick to old values, and that concepts such as right and wrong do therefore exist. I wrote several years ago that this causes a paradox: if all viewpoints are valid, then conservatism is valid, but conservatism states that there is only one true viewpoint. Conservatism is essentially incompatible with science, then, ass they are both making opposite claims. If, as roger Penrose pointed out in his article, that we can no longer be absolutely sure that two and two make four, how can we be absolutely sure of anything at all? But then, how can we be sure that conservatism isn’t a good idea? If we can never be sure of anything, how can we be sure that we can never be sure of anything?
[matt scratches head] I guess the only solution is democracy: go by what the majority of people believe to be true (however ridiculously gullible and narrow-minded the majority are). Truth can only be determined by perception, and perception is both individual and relative. But if most people state that they believe in the idea of an absolute truth, then, under the standards of democracy, the concept of truth exists. Most people say that two an two is four, but it is possible that each time that sum has been done, people have got it wrong, however extremely remote that possibility is. We cannot go with the majority either. In a way, for one to say that there is no absolute truth, one must invoke a concept of truth, so both positions are equally valid. Truth does and does not exist simultaneously. Ergo, both conservatism and liberalism are equally valid.
This is all rather confusing. Time for me to get on with stuff though. I would, however, appreciate feedback.