I had a brief encounter with Mike (the new president) just the other day where he reminisced about the “good ol’ days” where debate at the SFL meetings were more about presenting arguments and respecting people’s opinions and less about a “what I am presenting is objectively right, and you are quantifiably wrong if you believe otherwise” type of discussion the club seems to have moved into. He pointed out that I had a heavy handed role in this transformation — I am the chief culprit in this crime of believing in the objectivity of political philosophy.
But I feel it is a crime worth committing.
Questions on political philosophy from taxes and militaries to the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage all have answers. Not only do they have answers, but they have right and wrong answers (assuming that the whole point of political philosophy is to better the human condition*). And though these answers may be hard to come by or hard to understand, they do exist and the weight of their evidence should convince us above all else.
This is why the art of argumentation is one whose techniques I never cared to learn. It shouldn’t really matter how well you follow the decorum of some kind of archetypical debating pattern, nor should it really matter how eloquently you make your point: all that should convince any of us of anything at the end of the day is how well the claims of a person stand up against reality.
And hence, respecting someone’s (what we call) “opinion” is often the last thing we should do. Let me qualify that: I do not mean to suggest that certain matters of taste (real instances of “opinion”) don’t exist, they do. People can legitimately hold completely different views of music, art, food, sport teams, etc. There isn’t a “right” favorite television station anymore than there is a “wrong” choice of cooked eggs. This is because these opinions are real matters of subjectivity, experienced uniquely by a single individual. Political opinions are quite different, however, as they make claims about the nature of the world around us. When someone says Law A will do X and someone else says Law A will not do X, one of them must necessarily be wrong, there is no subjectivity on the matter.
And this applies to practically every question of political interest. Can there be any doubt that taxes either are beneficial (under a certain set of circumstances) or they are not? Can there be any real ambivalence as to whether or not to treat homosexuals or blacks or women the way we treat upperclass white males? Can we really believe that issues of liberty and freedom are merely matters of taste? These questions have answers. And these answers matter.
So yes. I believe that many of the most important questions we can ask of political philosophy do indeed have correct and incorrect answers. And you should too.