The Corner

More Consistency

A few readers object:

“JG–

I don’t have any personal problem with your position on consistency, but you have to realize that it makes you a moral relativist and a practitioner of situational ethics, both of which, I thought, were typical liberal vices?”

And another reader:

Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction is roughly “it is not the case that

something can be and cannot be at the same time”. All of us observe this principle tacitly every day in all our interactions. Why, then, is inconsistency “ok” with respect to the principles that undergird social, moral, and political judgments? The position you defend begins to sound like relativism, or deconstructionism.

My response: It’s true, it seems to me, as a matter of ontology that something cannot “be and not be” at the same time. But as a matter of human experience it also seems to me that this is entirely possible that something can appear to be and not be at the same time. I agree that if we have perfect knowledge of the universe and all its workings, it would be unforgivable to be inconsistent. But if we had such knowledge we would be God. Indeed, God is probably perfectly consistent but because we do not have the knowledge he has his ways often seem “mysterious,” as the saying goes. To say that different courses need different horses doesn’t mean one is a deconstructionist or moral relativist or a nihilist. It merely means that one is a realist.

The postmodern crowd seems to argue that since we can’t know every thing we can’t know anything — and that’s idiotic. We make judgements, we apply principles and go where the facts lead us. One reason we may seem inconsistent on one principle is simply that another principle takes precedence. For example, I think as a matter of principle one shouldn’t lie. But if a friend on his deathbed asks me in abject despair, “Is there any hope?” I might lie to him because the principle of honesty takes a back seat to the principle of decency. Also, a lot of alleged inconsistencies are inconsistencies at the micro-level and fine at the macro-level. Killing someone in order to stop mass killing strikes many liberals as inconsistent. The short answer to that charge is, “So what?” I’m sure you already know the long answer.

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