Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Against dogmatism

I'm not a religious person, but I'm quite familiar with religion.  I grew up with fairly devout parents, several siblings are devout, and my sweetie enthusiastically goes to church nearly every Sunday and holy day. As I've said before, I greatly respect religion.

That said, religion is a horrible basis for politics. This suddenly strikes me as strange. Why is religion a good basis for religion, but a bad basis for politics? Such a simple question, but perhaps there's a lot to explore there.

What got me thinking about this is Andrew Sullivan's post about another blogger at National Review insulting his thought process. I don't want to comment on blogger squabbles, which are endless and tacky in their inbreeding, but it did remind me how important one idea is to me: empiricism.

I fell in love with philosophy in college, and have used critical thinking forever afterward. I also studied physics and psychology, with a sprinkling of art history and geology and other assorted bits. It was a wonderful example of a wide-ranging liberal education. Of all these fields, the one with the strongest basis was the philosophy of pragmatism.

Pragmatism has a lot of similarities to science. It calls for empirical observation, reflection, and testing. It is also explicit about some processes that are implicit in science: follow-through to see the results, iterations on promising theories to refine them, trying out alternative approaches. What makes pragmatism work is what makes science work so well: it is based on honest, unbiased, and careful observation. You don't jump to a conclusion, you wait for enough evidence. If only politicians of all stripes would do that.

"I wrote my dissertation on the primacy of practical wisdom in human conduct - in contradistinction to ideology... Dish readers can judge for themselves whether this blog is about imposing 'theoretical, theological, and ideological certainties' or whether it is about taking positions but always subjecting them to scrutiny, re-evaluation, re-thinking." -- Andrew Sullivan
 Graphic: chemheritage.org

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