The Importance of Philosophy to Individual Liberty
I graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in philosophy. I consider myself a philosopher. As a student I learned that philosophy is of two types: (1) good philosophy, and (2) bad philosophy. Bad philosophy is, sadly, far more prevalent than good philosophy, and when most people think of philosophy in general (synonymous to “ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth”) they think of bad philosophy.
Good philosophy’s purpose is to present a consistent worldview, as we find the proper relationships and balances of man’s place in this world. Whereas bad philosophy results in cognitive dissonance, good philosophy leads to consistency in thought. Whether we admit it or not, we all have a philosophy (i.e. a view of the world, a justification for how we know that world, and what ethical relationships we accept from that discovery). The endeavor of knowledge is to have a good philosophy that leads to a discovery of truth.
If there is something that philosophy has taught me, it is how to think systematically and according to principle. This is not to say that I am in possession of the hidden secrets of knowledge (or that every thought and belief that I currently possess is completely consistent), but that I was pressed—as a student—to defend my claims and the certainty of my knowledge. I discovered that some of my beliefs were in contradiction to knowledge that I knew was true, and I better learned how to defend and explain truth on its own terms.
I learned the difference between principle and convention, and observed that the greatest men throughout history are those who broke from convention and established a reasoned outline of their principles. I learned that principle is not rooted in, or synonymous to, ethics, and why it is important in politics, economics, and religion to know this. While ethics follow from principle, principle does not follow from ethics.
I discovered that most people—including myself at the time—do not have a sure and rational foundation for why they believe certain things. I found that when most people lack a definitive foundation of knowledge and reason, they excuse the contradictory beliefs that follow by invoking faith (i.e. faith that these self-contradictory beliefs will somehow prove consistent in the life hereafter)—when they should chalk up their inability to ignorance. I believe John Locke said it best when he noted that
Faith is nothing but a firm Assent of the Mind: which if it be regulated as is our Duty, cannot be afforded to any thing, but upon good Reason; and so cannot be opposite to it. He that believes, without having any Reason for believing, may be in love with his own Fancies; but neither seeks Truth as he ought, nor pays the Obedience due to his Maker, who would have him use those discerning Faculties he has given him, to keep him out of Mistake and Error. He that does not this to the best of his power, however he sometimes lights on the Truth, is in the right but by chance; and I know not whether the luckiness of the Accident will excuse the irregularity of his proceeding. This at least is certain, that he must be accountable for whatever mistakes he runs into: whereas he that makes use of the Light and Faculties GOD has given him, and seeks sincerely to discover Truth, by those Helps and Abilities he has, may have this satisfaction in doing his Duty as a Rational Creature, that though he should miss Truth, he will not miss the Reward of it. For he governs his Assent right, and places it as he should, who in any Case or Matter whatsoever, believes or disbelieves, according as Reason directs him (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, IV. XVII. §8; emphasis added).
It is inexcusable to justify one’s inconsistency by invoking faith. Faith is not the inability to express belief, nor is it the justification of cognitive dissonance. In other words, true faith is not the justification of inconsistent conclusions due to bad philosophy.
One’s politics follow from one’s worldview. If that worldview is inconsistent, so is one’s political view. It is our moral duty, when we inject our beliefs into a body politic, to explain not only how our public policy will work but to present a consistent and rational argument—based on principle—as to why we believe our policy is best. It is immoral to inject inconsistency into the body politic.
Because I value consistency in my personal, social, and religious life, I also value discovering consistent and principled applications and policies in a body politic (i.e. I value good philosophy). This is why I have agreed to direct Libertas Institute’s Center for Individual Liberty.
Utah is a great state, and I have faith that it will continue to grow in its greatness. However, Utah has a growing number of problems too, and there is much room for improvement. One of the main underlying problems affecting Utah policymaking is the conventionalist outlook and the collective attitude that many Utahns have largely adopted. Conventionalism puts social norms and acceptance ahead of what is principled and right, as collectivism leads to Democracy and denies individual inalienable rights.
These adopted characteristics strike at the heart of the values and virtues that most Utahns strive for, as the body politic has come to largely adopt concepts that are not consistent with America’s principled founding worldview, ideology, and belief system.
The Center for Individual Liberty has two purposes. First, its purpose is to help understand and interpret current issues affecting Utahns (and Americans) in a principled and systematic fashion and to put forward policies consistent with individual liberty and freedom. Individual liberty and freedom are the standards that we will use to critique or promote social issues and public policies. Second, when speaking about public policies and social issues, we must rise above mere conventionalism in how we implement policy—we must discover within ourselves why we believe what we do. The underlying discovery of why we believe in freedom, the Constitution, and our individual rights is as important as the policy itself. We aim to offer a principled worldview and explanation to answer these questions.
Thank you for your interest in the Libertas Institute. Please join us, as we move forward toward a better Utah, and a better America!
Center for Individual Liberty