Monday, December 05, 2005

I'm indecisive...

Henry wonders about my foxiness. He's probably right: economics has given me more of a hedgehog view of things, but I still resent simplicity in viewing the world. For reasons of biography I have to like and respect Isaiah Berlin, but for reasons of being a wishy-washy pluralist his essay "John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life" has to be one of the more inspiring things I've ever read. Some random quotes (understand the "he" is J.S. Mill, but I highly doubt it is an accurate reading of Mill, rather, this has to be understood as speaking of oneself in the third person):
What he hated and feared was narrowness, uniformity the crippling effect of persecution, the crushing of individuals by the weight of authority or of custom or of public opinion; he set himself against the worship of order or tidiness, or even peace, if they were bought at the price of obliterating the variety and colour of untamed human beings with unextinguished passions and untrammelled imaginations.
-- 221, "Liberty," (also in Four Essays on Liberty)
He was committed to the answer that we can never tell (until we have tried) where greater truth or happiness (or any other form of experience) may lie. Finality is therefore in principle impossible: all solutions must be tentative and provisional.
To understand is not necessarily to forgive. We may argue, attack, reject, condemn with passion and hatred. But we may not suppress or stifle: for that is to destroy the bad and the good, and is tantamount for collective moral and intellectual suicide. Skeptical respect for the opinions of our opponents seems to him preferable to indifference or cynicism.
-- 229
Without infallibility how can truth emerge save in discussion? There is no a priori road towards it; a new experience, a new argument, can in principle always alter our views, no matter how strongly held. To shut doors is to blind yourself to the truth deliberately, to condemn yourself to incorrigible error.
-- 232
the conviction..that there exists a basic knowable human nature, one and the same, at all times, in all places, in all men -- a static, unchanging substance underneath the altering appearances, with permanent needs, dictated by a single discoverable goal, or pattern of goals, the same for all mankind -- is mistaken.
-- 233
Man is spontaneous, that he has freedom of choice, that he molds his own character, that as a result of interplay of men with nature and with other men something novel continually arises, and that this novelty is precisely what is most characteristic and most human in men.
-- 234
Fallibility, the right to err, as a corollary of the capacity for self-improvement; distrust of symmetry and finality as enemies of freedom...
-- 237
Many-sidedness of the truth and of the irreducible complexity of life, which rules out the very possibility of any simple solution, or the idea of a final answer to any concrete problem.
-- 237


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