by Joshua Jongema
Libertarians come from a tradition of Classical Liberalism, which was a mix of the English philosophy of the Whigs and the radicals. For about 140 years, America has been a liberal nation. Today liberalism is a term that is misused, but classically, it means limited government, personal and economic liberty, and justice for all. Classical liberal, John Locke, improved upon the field of discourse through his understanding of rhetoric. A study of each of these concepts will lead to a greater appreciation for the truth we all share.
Rhetoric is the observation of persuasion, and developed due to a recognition of uncertainty. It taught three ways to communicate knowledge- sensation, reflection, and demonstration. Its purpose is for common people to defend their own views with arguments, character, and emotion. To use it requires no expertise.
Aristotle believed that people can trust human sense and empirical discourse. Gorgias was skeptical, and felt that language was for performers, that we are always in the process of becoming, and that perhaps communication is not possible. Language philosopher Rudolph Carnap taught that people could communicate best if they adopted the language or syntax of science.
John Locke was most famous for his epic work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which gave his reasoning on the limits of what humans can claim to be true. He wrote on ideas and their origin, perception and retention, discernment, the use of the mind and modes of thinking, and of relation, cause, and effect.
The limit of our claim to truth can be called our confidence level. There are levels of confidence like ‘more sure than not’, and ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’, but these use deductive reasoning and are found in courtrooms and newsrooms, not science labs. Scientists measure things mathematically. To call something ‘probable’ is an argument that must be found using statistics, inductive reasoning, and a repeatedly tested and unrejected hypothesis. No scientist would claim absolute certainty of anything. unlike politicians and prosecutors, for example.
The only thing certain is change. So we should be mindful of the limits of our understanding, and respect the plausibility of the beliefs of others. We all hold pieces to the puzzle called life. We are each, physically, a piece of this thing we call truth. Whether we cooperate in assembling pieces, or compete to test them, the flow of human society is dedicated to either the protection or destruction of truth. In these dark times, let us be its protector, granting it both liberty and justice.