Friday, August 31, 2007

A Priori, A Posteriori, and Democracy

Throughout this post I will abuse the terms a priori and a posteriori but think they most closely convey what I am trying to say. By an a priori principle, I mean one that is true automatically independent of experiment. An a posteriori principle is taken to mean one that needs experiment to know the truth or falsity of the matter.

I fear too many principles in politics are treated as if they are a priori truths. Today I talked to a person who claimed the government had no business in punishing victim-less crimes. This person didn't have any studies or research to base this claim off of, to him, it was just a matter or principle.

Personally, I think we need to treat such statements a posteriori. I think we need to study what are the real results of the government prosecuting victim-less crimes and the real results of the government not prosecuting victim-less crimes. Then democracy, being educated in these studies, should decided what should be done. (I don't think we will ever have a universal code of morality that we all feel is bulletproof. But, we can always have a democratic vote.) Voting without being educated is very less-effective.

Now, the above is just an example. I'm not trying to say one way or the other about the government's involvement of victim-less crimes, I just wanted an example of how some people treat some things as a priori truths when they could in principle be tested. I understand many things, like whether rape is bad, cannot really be tested in a lab for it will probably be immoral to randomly select people to rape for a study. However, there are enough people who are victims or rape and people who aren't that we can get some very helpful data on the issue. (My bet is rape victims have many more negative mental issues then non-rape victims for example. That is a start.)

My ultimate fear is if you treat your principles as a priori truths, then you set yourself up for believing something that may be dangerous to believe. You may set it down that X is true and Y is wrong, but in reality if the world were to adopt X and shun Y it would have terrible consequences, consequences that could only be known if we studied out X and Y before judging them.

So in conclusion I say lets have fewer principles we treat as a priori truths and more that we treat as a posteriori, or ones that we need to test. Then, after the studies and tests are done we need to be a better job of educating the public. Then, I believe we as an educated society need to come together and democratically voice where stand. This, I believe, would be healthier then just saying you stand by your principles that you believe in a priori. History has shown that too many people's principles turn out to have many negitive and unintended effects.

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