Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The marketplace and truth

But neutrality, with its deep skepticism, and the marketplace of ideas, with its collective search for truth, make strange bedfellows. What progress toward truth can there be if it is impossible to pronounce on the truth? The [Supreme] Court’s response is to equate survival in the intellectual marketplace with the truth, thereby treating the marketplace of ideas not as a metaphor, but as reality. The value of an idea, like any other commodity, is defined by its performance in the marketplace; that idea which survives the competition is, ipso facto, the truth. Popular acceptance or, as Justice [Oliver Wendell] Holmes states in his Abrams dissent, “the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market” becomes the test for truth.

Such a marketplace metaphor definition of truth, however, is not without its difficulties. To begin with, it does not make sense when applied to empirical and scientific knowledge; there are many beliefs, such as astrology, that are scientifically false, yet popular. And when applied to ethics or politics, where the truth that emerges can be identified with the best answer for society at that point in time, the extreme relativism of a marketplace-defined truth is unlikely to be acceptable.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 254

<idle musing>
That's the end of this book. Sorry to end it on such a sour note, but that pretty much defines where we are as a society right now. The marketplace is our god. Not just economically, but in our ethics, social policy, and international policy. It's a variation of might makes right. All we've done is substitute economic muscle for the sword. Of course, we use the sword to enforce that economic might.

So much for an ethic based on the Sermon on the Mount. You don't get rich giving to those who ask and not charging interest or asking for it back! At least not economically rich. But there are other forms of riches of which the economically rich know not.
</idle musing>

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