In a recent comment Kevin Baker writes:
All of us here, you me, everyone who spends time in here reading this stuff, has the intellect, inclination, free time and motivation to think about philosophy.
And what percentage of the population do we represent? How many people don’t have any or all of the prerequisites? What portion of the population – worldwide – is interested only in accumulating enough food for themselves and their children? Is secondarily interested in the safety, security, and health of same? And will follow anybody who promises to provide that? Or at least promises to stay taking that, so long as they cooperate? How many will sacrifice themselves if it means the promise of the future safety of their children?
We all have the faculty but few will employ it properly under current circumstances.
By nature all men have a rational faculty but it gets employed two different ways. We are instrumentally rational when we employ reason in pursuit of a goal, whatever it may be. It’s the faculty we use to get from point A to point B. This is the default rationality that we see in nearly all men nearly all the time. It’s what makes us economic agents – we’re goal directed and we have an ability to achieve goals.
There is a rationality beyond the instrumental. We are epistemically rational when we require that our reasoning be grounded in reality.
Your average voter demonstrates instrumental rationality: He proceeds reasonably according to a (very popular) theory he holds that voting will advance him toward certain goals. He is not demonstrating epistemic rationality because the theory under which he operates is ill supported by reality.
Epistemic rationality can be understood as the faculty of philosophy, the faculty for knowing reality.
Why don’t all men insist on grounding their theories in reality? Partly because they judge, not without reason, that they can achieve their goals by instrumental reason alone and so it is largely a waste of time to trouble themselves further. In our current circumstances this is substantially true.
We all have the faculty of epistemic rationality but most only employ it when their immediate survival depends on it. A man living on the frontier has to care about reality because it will soon kill him if he doesn’t. A man living in a welfare state can ignore a great deal of reality and still survive, even thrive. For a while.
There are a very small number of people who tend strongly to manifest epistemic rationality even when their immediate survival does not require it. I call us “zero percenters” because when you round to the nearest one percent there are roughly none of us.
I think we zero percenters are either born this way or else our nature is determined at an early age. Most people become more or less epistemically rational as their survival requires, but zero percenters are stuck. There’s no way back for us. Have you noticed that most people can evade or dismiss an argument they can’t refute? I can’t. Zero percenters can’t.
What I’ve asked Baker is whether his assessment of the situation entitles him to steal and whether it entitles him to compel others by force to accept a system he is comfortable with. These are questions he must answer or evade to proceed with his political project. He has not answered them, but he evidently intends to proceed anyway.
Baker is not altogether wrong in his observations of people in general, he’s just altogether wrong in his understanding of what I advocate. He thinks that I must be attempting to persuade people to adopt a system because, after all, that’s what instrumental politics is all about. The truth has not occurred to him because it’s not to be found on the way from point A to point B.