If by open borders

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about open borders. All right, here is how I feel about open borders:

If when you say open borders you mean jobs stolen, welfare for scroungers, forced integration, that violates freedom of association, dethrones self-determination, destroys institutions, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of our own children; if you mean the utopian seduction that topples the goose that lays the golden eggs from its precious perch, plunged down into the bottomless pit of socialism, and violence, and backward cultures and values, and tyranny, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say open borders you mean the lubricant of globalization, the lifting of unjust barriers, the prosperity that obtains when good people can move to good jobs, that enables the sending of needed remittances, and the warm glow of remitted liberalism and democracy; if you mean expatriate adventure; if you mean the stimulating diversity that brings variety to our restaurants and corporate boardrooms; if you mean the capability which enables a refugee to magnify their opportunities, and their happiness, and to forget, at last, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that essential liberty, the exercise of which calls forth trillion dollar bills out of the void, and is used to revitalize our economy, to begin anew hopeful lives, to taste freedom, to escape persecution, to add the power of exit to muted voice; to build a world where one’s place of birth is not one’s destiny, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

The Tension Between Pluralism and Standardized Education

coexist

Tamara’s excellent inaugural post as a Sweet Talker brings into sharp focus many of the frames we so often unthinkingly approach the question of higher education with.

I particularly liked the way that she linked the goal of pluralism in ideas with diversity in demographic backgrounds. The quotes she provides seem to indicate that having a wide variety of ideas around is good in itself, rather than as a means for arriving at the correct one or offsetting the problems with the largely better but still flawed ones. Taken in that light, it seems obvious that demographic diversity would be a necessary condition for the greatest possible variety of ideas—more backgrounds, more cultural variety, therefore more variation in accepted wisdoms or even in counter-cultures against the former.

I am reminded of a group that is usually treated as an ideological enemy of the diversity in demography crowd, but a friend to the pluralism in ideas crowd—the modern defenders of federalism. That is, those who believe that the ideal world would have the greatest variation in political systems at the smallest possible territorial level with unlimited freedom of movement between the systems. This ideal is justified either on the basis of maximizing freedom—you have the most options in political systems and thus governments are much more euvoluntary—or on the basis of discovery—you are much more likely to find the best possible system if you allow the largest possible trial and error process to play out.

When justified on the basis of discovery, there’s a natural link with the notion of pluralism in ideas as a tool for finding the best ideas. When justified on the basis of freedom, however, we get closer to the goal of greatest diversity in ideas and people as an end in itself. Pluralism in ideas, people, and governments for pluralism’s sake.

In another piece I created three provisional labels; federalist, propertarian, and liberationist. Federalist should be straightforward from what I described above, and propertarians are simply those who believe that freedom just is the existence of well defined and enforced property rights. The liberationist, on the other hand:

Under the liberation framework, individuals are liberated from something—superstition, prejudice, poverty, even from family ties or marriage. They are free not only to sell their property or form a community according to their own values, but to hold themselves to no one’s standards but their own. In practice, there are always specific standards either in the background or explicitly. Science is the great liberator of minds over religion and superstition. Policy provides just men an avenue for liberating the poor from their poverty. In law, liberation is embodied in anti-discrimination, affirmative action, and welfare of all stripes.

The tension that Tamara identifies in her piece is, I think, between federalists in the domain of ideas on the one hand, and liberationists in the domain of diversity on the other. For the latter, diversity in demography is a tool for liberating minorities from the chains of a white patriarchal normative system—but also for liberating whites of each sex from that very system, by exposing them to groups who have been marginalized by it.

Liberationists often also espouse pluralism in ideas as part of their core beliefs. But the role of standardized education—higher as well as K-12—in the modern liberationist framework creates a serious tension. If the purpose of a standard education is to crack up the dominance of white patriarchal norms by exposing everyone to pluralism in action, then it is already excluding many ideas from the outset, just like a monism would do. By imposing a single form of education on all, it also precludes pluralism in education, forcing any tensions over competing visions into the scale of the nation, rather than the locality.

However, I do not think that the liberationists are in some way solely guilty of this. Their only fault, in terms of conceptual problems, is their dedication to eradicating conformity (and hence norms) by using the very tools which create conformity. Norms both create power relations and are an ineradicable part of how human beings work and think together. It makes sense, then, that liberationists would use it as a tool for change—but self-defeating when the goal of the change is to get rid of the very things that make it possible.

Hillary Clinton highlighted the tensions in a 2006 remark on vouchers:

Suppose that you were meeting today to decide who got the vouchers. First parent comes and says ‘I want to send my daughter to St. Peter’s Roman Catholic School’ and you say ‘Great, wonderful school, here’s your voucher. Next parent who comes says, ‘I want to send, you know, my child to the Jewish Day School. Great here’s your voucher! Next parent who comes says, “I want to send my child to the private school that I’ve already dreamed of sending my child to.’ Fine. Here’s your voucher.

Next parent who comes says, ‘I want to send my child to the school of the Church of the White Supremacist.’ You say, ‘Wait a minute. You can’t send…we’re not giving a voucher for that.’ And the parent says, ‘Well, the way that I read Genesis, Cain was marked, therefore I believe in white supremacy. And therefore, you gave it to a Catholic parent, you gave it to a Jewish parent, gave it to a secular private parent. Under the Constitution, you can’t discriminate against me.’

Suppose the next parent comes and says ‘I want to send my child to the School of…the Jihad.’ Wait a minute! We’re not going to send a child with taxpayers dollars to the School of Jihad. ‘Well, you gave it to the Catholics, gave it to the Jews, gave it to the private secular people. You’re gonna tell me I can’t? I’m a taxpayer. Under the Constitution.’

Now, tell me how we’re going to make those choices.

This is a cogent critique of the federalist side of the education debate. But it implies that a universal, standard public education resolves it, which simply isn’t true. The same choices are made, they are just made centrally, and for everyone all at once, rather than on a case-by-case basis. Or in a decentralized way.

For my part, I don’t think any of the conceptual problems with either liberationism or federalism can be resolved without a theory of legitimate authority. Authority in terms of ideas and knowledge, but also in terms of the exercise of power. Education is an area in which both of these types of authority are crucial. We cannot have pluralism all the way down where theories of legitimate authority are concerned; without a basic consensus on these twin questions, there cannot be an education.

How can students be taught without being asked to acknowledge the authority of teachers? How can schools be ordered without recognizing the authority of administrators? How can syllabuses be set and standardized without recognizing the authority of some sources of knowledge over others?

Pluralism of all stripes is often anti-authority, or at least an attempt to minimize the problem of authority. But the problem of authority is inescapable; even more so for those who take seriously the value of diversity. A serious understanding of such value must be connected to a serious understanding of its limits.

Good Fences Make Good Pluralism

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” the poet writes. A post I wrote was spiked. I didn’t spike it. Adam Gurri  didn’t spike it. Not even my wife’s fears spiked it. It was wisdom who spiked it, clear and simple. It was wisdom.

The post was only apple trees when you are most likely pines, only as harmful as words on a page can be. It’s not as though the words can do you any harm. “Good fences make good neighbors,” wisdom says, again and again.

But why do they make good neighbors? The wall was here before I was here, and before you were, but now the wall is being taken down, actively taken down, to make great gaps within it so that two can walk abreast. Who did that? Who made the gaps in the walls?

Was it the hunter?

tree-and-stone-wall-11284391110PdDv

It was and it was not. I’ll tell you: I had a good idea, but the latest time series graphs showed that it was a bad idea, and not a mistaken idea (it was surely not mistaken) to make it bad, but frowned upon to make it bad. The time series graphs say, without shadow, that walls themselves are bad. I said no. No, the wall is good, I said.

Wisdom said, thou shalt not post what thou hast written. Thou shalt surely not.

Only wisdom says no nowadays, and who listens to wisdom?

So I wrote a code. The code is for everyone whose wall has gaps. First, the code is a signal that I am here, and you are there. You should stay there, and I should stay here. Do you read me? Second, the code is the first try to undo what the hunter has done, what the frost has done, and what the elves have done.

It is mean work, cruel work, to make a wall, but we are ashamed of being neighbors now. We must all be in communion, and that is never never never good. Never. That is why we are ashamed that there is no more shame. There is no more shame! Even Roger Waters knows that if he were a better man, he’d understand the spaces between friends. A better man: ha! Imagine that!

Remember: the wall is not made for thee; the wall is made for me.

Asking For Whom The Bell Tolls

Who doesn’t know you’re not supposed to ask for whom the bell tolls? Long ago, OG Existentialist John Donne answered the question for you: it tolls for thee.

I wonder about that.

He’s absolutely correct, in a sense, that we are all connected to each other, and that the ebbs and flows of humanity affect us all, the logical conclusion being that, inasmuch as when a single individual advances, we advance together (the tide lifting all boats); so also when a single individual is removed to Davy Jones’ Locker, we all shall surely find similar breaches in the hulls of our seaships. Experience teaches us that John Donne is essentially correct: the bell tolls for thee. In this way, blood is thicker than water.

“No man is an island unto himself,” he furthermore teaches. I beg to differ. Those of us who have the water have been cordoned off by water so that we are, indeed, islands unto ourselves, each separated out unto lonely spits of sand and coconut trees, being sustained by meager provisions, shouting with disunited voices to all the ships passing by that we can see the breaches in their hulls, but without unity, we are subject to futility. Alas, the bell is tolling for humanity: it is a gigantic ship struck by Kraken the great sea monster so that it is sinking even as it is rising, the shouts of the exulting in the aft decks drowning out the screams of the drowning in the fore decks.

Perhaps the laughter of those who have slipped away from the surface of the cruel sea is a mocking laughter, that the work done by Kraken is beneficial to those who by great strength of reason chose the aft decks (being incidentally born there to choose them), so that those who are now perishing were stupid, foolish, superstitious. But such is the connection of blood: it is indeed thicker than water, and denser. The sea will exult over the wise and the foolish together.

Not so those who have the water. The water separates us from the blood. As the bell tolls across the water, our faint voices, separated by a different connection that cannot be fathomed by any instrument which plumbs the seven seas, are largely ineffective. Lonely isolation makes a man crazy after a while, each in his own way, so that none of us can join our voices together in a single warning klaxon. A scattered few hear, however, and they jump ship, realizing in the joy of escape that the bell is indeed tolling a death knell for them, for to escape the connection of blood is indeed the death of blood, a death in the briny water apart from evil Kraken. After that, it is sweet fresh water, but drunk on an island unto himself, without the tolling of the bell for thee or for me.

Let the reader understand that I am raising my hand in an oath that cannot fail: I promise you I will never die.

kraken

What is a university?

What is a university? What does it add to society and what can we, as students, expect from it?

For centuries, the university was the intellectual center of civic life. Not everyone was expected to go to school or even allowed to, but it was recognized as the developer of scholarship in much the same way churches were recognized as developers of righteousness, and cultivators of community. The liberal arts and classics existed to help students develop an appreciation for culture and deliberation, the sciences for inquiry and discovery. And for hundreds of years, this was the standard.

Somewhere in the past century though, the purpose of university became expanded. Along with being centers of intellectual exploration (a more cynical person might say instead of) universities now had the added task of being an idealized model of what society might look like, provided things were more fair. With the introduction of affirmative action, Minority and Women’s Studies departments, and a host of other programs, college administrations around the country said their role as developers of scholarship wasn’t enough. Universities, they argued, shouldn’t just exist as intellectual spaces but should also be representative of the greater population.

Today these dual views of what a university is and ought to be still exist. Is a university supposed to serve primarily as an academic center? Is it supposed to do more, to be a center of not just academic progress, but to reflect the larger society around it? This is where I believe the deeper tension exists amidst debate about trigger warnings, safe spaces and the like.

 

The first universities weren’t formal schools, but gatherings of individuals with a desire for knowledge. Thousands of years ago Socrates posited the way to truth, if such a thing existed, was to ask questions. Still today questions form the basis of our research, and research is at the core of what makes a university different from any other type of school. Colleges are often at the forefront of groundbreaking discoveries and scientific advancements, making their role in society much more significant than merely that of four-year job training factories. Central to discovery though, is the principle of free expression. In their book, “End of Academic Freedom: The Coming Obliteration of the Core Purpose of the University,” Cleveland State Professors William Bowen and Michael Swartz argue,

“the university is, or should be, the institution in society responsible for conserving the variation of ideas; and that the success with which society produces the knowledge needed to adapt to major social and environmental problems depends vitally upon conserving this variation. The “enemies” are idea-vetting systems that restrict or constrain the variation of ideas that can be used in inquiry, deliberation and action.”

For Bowen, Swartz, and many others, a student’s ability to appreciate the variation of ideas that exist in the world is much more important to their students’ level of comfort, which professors have no effective way of measuring because every student is different. There exist an infinite number of social and politics topics which when discussed honestly could potentially offend someone, but that is the nature of discussion, they argue. Students shouldn’t be able to censor ideas in the classroom just because they feel uncomfortable. We should enter college expecting to be made uncomfortable at some point or another, to be challenged, and to re-evaluate our own biases and orthodoxies because otherwise, college is little more than in-depth rehash of our prior education. A university’s purpose is to serve as an institution of scholarship, undergirded by the principles of free expression, inquiry, and academic freedom. For some, this is a university’s primary and perhaps, only duty.

For others still there is more to the story, a different view of what a university is. If asking questions is the first step to good producing great research, then universities should strive to attract students willing to challenge orthodoxy, to ask difficult questions, and do the work required to answer them. With this reasoning as a premise, it’s often argued that a student body willing to do just that–to produce scholarship worthy of outside consideration–can’t all come from the same background.

From the University of Minnesota’s statement of diversity:

         “In proposing a transformational framework, we are defining diversity as not only a driving force but also a necessary condition for excellence. We are saying that excellence is truly achievable only in an environment that fully supports engagement with diverse cultures and perspectives. An academy of the highest stature, as measured against ideals of both academic excellence and social justice, is one in which excellence and diversity are inextricably intertwined—not either-or, but both-and.”

 Good scholarship requires diversity in race, political views, religion, sex, and so on, because different people have different perspectives, and there is more room for debate between people who disagree. Visible diversity provides intellectual diversity, if only because it’s unlikely that any two people–but especially not two people of different races, religions, or creeds–would view the world quite the same way. This is the academic argument often used to justify affirmative action and the creation of various ethnic and women’s studies departments. Diversity within a student body doesn’t just benefit certain students but the entire university, making these programs a net benefit even when they privilege certain students over others.

Implicit in this argument however, is another statement about what a university ought to be. It is also frequently argued such programs are necessary to right societal wrongs: racism, discrimination, and sexism, among others. Universities aren’t just places of research but symbols of how society should look. Thus, greater representation of minorities on college campuses is not only preferable, but also necessary. Those who argue for greater diversity in college, whether via race-conscious admissions, Latino/Black/Women’s Studies majors and departments, and programs and housing specifically for minority students, do so with an eye towards equality.

Diversity isn’t just important to the scholarship of a university, but inherently good. Striving for a diverse student body and faculty is therefore an important goal independent of the academic benefits of doing so.

Because there is disagreement about what exactly constitutes the purpose of a university, it’s natural that there is also passionate disagreement about what students can and should expect from their colleges. If a university’s purpose is to be the intellectual center of civic life, free expression must be its center. Difficult questions should be met with debate, and diversity should be valued more highly in the context of intellectual differences than in those of race or gender, even though they overlap. Using this framework, it’s difficult to justify intervention by university administrators in the classroom or lab except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Academic freedom is an established, accepted norm and any violation of it is a violation of the entire purpose of a university. For others, intervention by a school administration in the classroom and in other aspects of student life–housing, private organizations, even social media–is not a mere possibility but a necessity.

However, if part of a university’s responsibility is to reflect society as it should be, to not just boast diversity, but actively work to promote inclusivity, then it’s reasonable that students would expect their university to take measures to ensure all students feel welcome. This sentiment seems to be at the core of calls for trigger warnings, explicit racial quotas in admissions and employment, and other efforts to fulfill the university’s role as reflection of societal progress. Following this line of reasoning, college administrations have a duty to create a safe space for students, which either equals or exceeds its duty to cultivate an intellectual space. Looking at it this way, it’s less difficult see why some college campuses seem to be coming apart at the seams right now.

But there is still a third group of students we tend to ignore, and those are the students who are neither involved in the protests nor leading the backlash against them. They’re the students for whom defining the purpose of a university is secondary to well, acquiring a degree. Most undergraduate students don’t really have the luxury of going to school to conduct groundbreaking research, or to protest during classes and work. Most students, whether or not we like to admit it, just want to get their degrees and move on with their lives. I find it almost comical that at a time when more students than ever aren’t graduating, doing so only after 5 or 6 years, or when they do graduate, are doing so with upwards of $20,000 in debt on average, this somehow isn’t the main issue being discussed. Even at my own school–which has itself been the target of outrage because of an offensive frat party theme–the majority of students aren’t engaging one way or another in the debate (which is perhaps also a problem). Of course this really doesn’t make for headlines that are quite as polarizing, or validate the endless thinkpieces about why millennials are all terrible, but it’s just the truth. In spite of this, I still think these debates—when they’re actually debates—are worthwhile.

How people define what a university is has everything to do with what they believe universities should do for their students, what students can expect from their faculty and administration. Though debating the merits of safe spaces and campus protests isn’t bad, it tends to distract from larger issues, particularly that while there used to be a general consensus about the purpose of colleges, that consensus doesn’t exist anymore. Until this is addressed, every other conversation is just ideological performance theater.

Good Faith

trust

A lot of philosophy and social science boils down to the quest for the right standards.

  • What standard of measurement shall we use for overall or even individual well being?
  • What standards of behavior should we hold ourselves and one another to?
  • What standards of justification should we use to undergird our use of the other standards, and how could these standards of justification themselves be justified?

The standard, as an ideal, is supposed to be something set apart from our particular interests, biases, and social status—in short, they’re supposed to be fair, and perhaps even neutral.

I was recently reminded of a metaphor my dad had for standards internal to most bureaucracies: the treadmill.

The ideal is for the treadmill to be used to determine whether or not you qualify for something. A baseline standard of health is set, and everyone gets to be tested against it. It sounds impartial, even egalitarian. It doesn’t matter who you are—so long as you can pass the treadmill test, you qualify.

Unfortunately, the people who run the test are part of the political machinery of the bureaucracy, and it turns out to be quite easy to put their thumb on the scale.

When the powers that be want someone to qualify, they are given a much less taxing experience on the treadmill. Meanwhile, if those powers are determined that you will not qualify, they crank up the speed and leave you on until you die of a heart attack.

Standards can never be neutral, but they can be fair. But only when we’re able to trust one another to act in good faith.

Trust

I am fascinated by the questions that philosophers have asked for thousands of years, but amused by how completely worthless all our answers are without a foundation of faith.

Increasingly I’ve come to believe that trust is the most important aspect of faith in this respect. How is coordination and cooperation among millions of strangers possible? A widespread trust. How are we able to learn anything? By trusting in certain authorities and in the authority of certain sources. How has science advanced? By creating specialized communities of inquiry who trust each other enough to learn from each other, and develop standards of evidence that they believe will be employed in good faith.

What you believe is, I think, much less a factor of your theoretical pre-commitments, or your religion, or your politics, than of who you trust. Indeed, your pre-commitments, religion, and politics are largely determined by a combination of who you trusted in the first place and your own judgment.

The so-called culture war is nothing more than the professionalization of political mistrust, the monetization, glamorization, and weaponization of bad faith. We are more likely to trust people we don’t know who espouse beliefs similar to the ones we do, than people we don’t know who disagree with us. If people in the first group are pouring a lot of energy into portraying people with different beliefs as untrustworthy and cynical opportunists, then the already existing divisions in trust will only grow wider.

I like to use the example of anti-vaccine people, something I trust most of my audience will agree is an instance of a group being simply wrong about something. This piece depicts how often this group makes other choices outside the mainstream, opting, for instance, for alternative forms of education for their children. When it comes right down to it, trusting the authority of doctors and medical researchers is conventional. It therefore makes sense that communities who reject big, central conventions in one area (like the standard American education) would also be more likely to mistrust those who are conventionally trusted.

Note that even a fairly nuanced piece on this group is entitled “Vaccine deniers: inside the dumb, dangerous new fad”. The intended audience is clearly not the “deniers”. And any denier who saw this piece would no doubt dismiss it out of hand, without reading it, since it leads off by insulting their intelligence.

Imagine you wanted to persuade a member of this group that they are mistaken about vaccines. Would you lead off by demanding that they prove they even care about their children’s health, or the health of the larger community? Of course not. No amount of “proof” could suffice; trusting that they do care about such things is always a leap of faith, one that can only be given and never earned.

The problem is precisely that they trust sources that spread skeptical narratives about vaccines and the authority of mainstream medicine, while mistrusting the conventional authorities on the subject. Any hostility directed at them from people whose trust is more conventional only reinforces their belief in the bad motives of those people, and their defensive responses surely only reinforce the reciprocal assumption of bad faith on the other side.

I have no solution to such deficits of trust, other than to do the best you can to be worthy of trust yourself—by striving to act in good faith—and to start from an assumption of good faith on the part of others. If you can’t grant this assumption, if you can’t extend your trust, then there is no point to having a conversation at all.

If my father is correct, then we are living through a time when trust in conventional authorities is bleeding away at an alarming rate, with no clear successors in sight. I hope he is wrong, or at least that the trajectory can be reversed or a better one found. Such a path cannot lead anywhere good.

The Whole Truth

truth

There is no way to establish fully secured, neat protocol statements as starting points of the sciences. There is no tabula rasa. We are like sailors who have to rebuild their ship on the open sea, without ever being able to dismantle it in dry-dock and reconstruct it from its best components.

Otto Neurath

If Martin Heidegger brought epistemological holism to Continental Philosophy through the central metaphor of the hermeneutic circle, W. V. Quine did the same for Analytic Philosophy. Part of how he did that was by popularizing the idea of Neurath’s Boat.

The idea is this: we can only appraise the truth-value of some specific assertion in light of a background web of beliefs that provide the necessary context. Thus, it is like we are sailing on a boat which we can scrutinize—and even repair—one plank at a time, but not all at once.

A more straightforward way of saying all of this is that you can only really understand the partial truths available to you in the context of the whole truth. But the whole truth is not available to anyone, and so instead we have beliefs, theories, frameworks.

Neurath’s Boat is a neat metaphor, but I prefer one I encountered from Susan Haack (via Joseph Heath). The idea is that knowledge is like a crossword puzzle. What you fill out has implications for what the likely answers are for nearby slots. But when you figure out what goes into those nearby slots, if you have greater confidence about them, you may need to revise what you put in the initial slot. Thus, the crossword puzzle has this property of a web of answers that are interconnected in important ways.

If we stuck with the idea of a puzzle we could see all of and were merely filling entries out for, it would imply an incrementalism just like the one explicit in Neurath’s Boat. But that would be silly—we do not know what the whole truth looks like. If we did, we would have a great deal more certainty about an enormous number of areas that remain hotly contested.

No, instead it seems to me that the crossword puzzle metaphor works, but we only get pieces of it and attempt to guess at the shape of the rest. Our experience of partial truths is fundamentally projective—based on the parts we encounter we attempt to project a provisional outline of the whole truth, though this outline may itself be quite incomplete.

When Hans-Georg Gadamer argues that the hermeneutic experience, as well as dialectic, are fundamentally about the subject rather than authorial intent, I think he means something like this: guessing at authorial intent is like trying to guess what their projection of the whole truth is. Focusing on the subject, on the other hand, is simply attempting to work out what we think the correct projection of the whole truth is, using what we learn from what we read or the conversation we participate in.

One last observation: the whole truth is not value-neutral; not for humans. Elizabeth Anderson argues this very convincingly—responding, coincidentally, to Susan Haack. She uses the example of The Secret Relationship, a book which apparently uses some very selectively chosen facts in a misleading way. “Although many characters in mysteries lie, the most interesting characters deceive by telling the truth—but only part of it.”

She continues:

How are we to assess the significance of the facts cited in The Secret Relationship? Taken in isolation, they suggest that Jews played a special or disproportionate role in the Atlantic slave system or that their participation was more intense than that of other ethnic and religious groups. But in the context of additional facts, such as those just cited, they show that Jewish participation in the slave system was minor in absolute terms and was no different in intensity from similarly situated ethnic and religious groups. The larger context exposes a serious bias or distortion in the way The Secret Relationship characterizes the significance of Jewish participation in the Atlantic slave system. The characterization is “partial” in the literal sense that it tells only part of the truth needed to assess the significance of the matters at hand. What matters for assessing significance, then, is not just that an account be true but that it in some sense represent the whole truth, that it be unbiased. Furthermore, the fact that an account is biased or distorted is a good reason to reject it, even if it contains only true statements. Haack’s premise (2) is therefore false: to justify acceptance of a theory one must defend its significance, not just its truth.

Our projection of the whole truth has political implications, and so too do the partial truths accessible to us, because of the whole truth that they imply. There is therefore an importantly ethical dimension in how we assemble those partials truths.