I think there might be some tension in my position.

‘Tension’ is the term professionalized philosophers have been trained to use in place of the less charitable terms ‘inconsistency’ or ‘contradiction’.

Okay, I think I might have inadvertently saddled myself with a contradiction, which I now have to try to repair.

I’ve taken the position that there’s no fact-of-the-matter as to whether, for example, a woman does or does not have the right to control her own reproductivity, save that fact-of-the-moment reflecting the equilibrium of political forces that have been brought to bear on the assignment of such rights. And yet at the same time, like everyone else, I seem hardwired to adjudicate such disputes with reference to some ontologically antinomous entities called principles.

There’d be no contradiction if I conceded that these principles, and any pretended realism about them, are themselves just one of the forces involved in arriving at this equilibrium. But the moment I concede that I can no longer keep a straight face when pressing any such appeal to principles. How likely am I to move the pro-Lifer by saying, “A body belongs to whose body it is,” and in the same breath add, “but of course I’m only uttering these sounds because I hear tell – go figure! – they sometimes move stupid people.”?

So I can only escape inconsistency by making the object-language/meta-language distinction. When I’m appealing to principles, I’m engaging in object-talk. When I’m taking a philosophical position about my appealing to principles, I’m engaging in meta-talk.

But as just demonstrated, meta-talk about object-talk takes the wind out of the sails of object-talk, So as a matter of psychological necessity I really can’t appeal to principles while simultaneously being aware of what I’m doing. So insofar as I have appealed to principles, I had to have self-effaced that awareness. I am not now self-effacing that awareness. But then neither am I now appealing to principles. For the duration of meeting the need to do so, I’ll have no choice but to self-efface this awareness once again.

This rescues my position, but at the terrible cost of empowering my interlocutor to defeat me at his leisure. He need not himself subscribe to this meta-understanding of what we’re doing when we’re appealing to principles. He need only remind me that I do.; and then my appeal to whatever principle I’ve appealed to disintegrates like a dried dandelion in the breeze. In short, I can be a spectator, but never a player, in the sturm und drang of flesh and blood human political discourse.

There is this thread hanging from the garment of such discourse. Wittgenstein understood this. Give it even a gentle tug and the entire garment unravels. The body politique thus denuded is defenseless against moral and political nihilism. So on pain of inviting the apocalypse, leave that thread be!

In the name of all that’s decent and holy, just leave it be.

Categories: Angst

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