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On "Kindly Inquisitors" by Jonathan Rauch
Section IV.2A of II.1: The Epistemological, Intellectual, and Creative Primacy of Speech According to Jonathan Rauch
…How might we sum up Deirdre McCloskey’s case?
‘[H]istroically unique economic growth on the order of a factor of ten or sixteen or higher, and its political and spiritual correlates, depended on ideas more than economics. The idea of a dignified and free bourgeoise led to the ideas of the steam engine and mass marketing and democracy.’⁸³
‘Talk, talk, talk. Ideas matter.’⁸⁴ A metaphysical change caused “The Great Enrichment,” which is to say a change in values, culture, and the corresponding Rhetoric (which suggests “culture is king,” as someone like Thomas Sowell might stress), which is to suggest that we cannot separate “The Industrial Revolution” from “The Enlightenment” or religious revivals — in all connects. This though poises a problem to McCloskey’s work, because she is arguing that a qualitative change made Modernity, and how can we measure “quality” without transforming it into something we can “quantify?” This suggests a reason why McCloskey’s argument has been missed for so long and why it is still hard to grasp: she is arguing for the primacy of quality in a world that naturally thinks qualitatively. She is fighting against the tide.
Still, why should we think that Rhetoric could be so powerful? Sure, perhaps McCloskey has ruled out everything else but Rhetoric, but are there positives reasons to think of Rhetoric as so culturally and intellectually significant? McCloskey does provide these arguments, but I would like to focus on a favorite book of mine, Kindly Inquisitors by Jonathan Rauch. This book defends free speech, but it so not merely on grounds of “human rights” but also by helping us see how free speech functions to help gather and test knowledge. In this way, Rauch’s argument is incredible.
According to Rauch, ‘[a] very dangerous principle is now being established as a social right: Thou shalt not hurt others with words.’⁸⁶ To Rauch, ‘[…] the old principle of the [Christian] Inquisition is being revived: people who hold wrong and hurtful opinions should be punished for the good of society.’⁸⁷ Rauch discusses the desperate need for “liberal science” in America today, which ‘insists absolutely on freedom of belief and speech, but freedom of knowledge it rejects absolutely.’⁸⁸ He praises the work of Karl Popper and C.S. Peirce, both brilliant philosophers focused on the question of how knowledge builds and develops, and both conclude that knowledge doesn’t “come down from on high,” out of nowhere, but is a result of trial and error, testing, and falsification. To determine truth, things have to be said that are false, even offensive, and premises we are disgusted by also have to be given their fair chance to be proven or disproven. ‘To advance knowledge,’ Rauch notes, ‘we must all sometimes suffer. Worse than that, we must inflict suffering on others.’⁸⁹ Considering this, a country where free speech diminishes is a country where the rate by which truth is discovered will increasingly diminish.
‘How to manage conflict of belief is, [Rauch] submit[s], a problem that every society must somehow solve.’⁹⁰ Plato, to Rauch, tries to hold society together by controlling ‘the reality industry’, while liberal science tries another way: not concentrating power to stop bad ideas, but making “space” (or a “clearing”) for countless errors to be made without it being possible for any one error to be so big that it takes down the whole society, all so that truth can emerge thanks to a scientific epistemology.⁹¹ Science relies on experience, but ‘only the experience of no one in particular.’⁹² In other words, in science, ‘particular persons are interchangeable.’⁹³ For science, when it comes to truth, the question is ‘what would anyone have seen […]?’⁹⁴ ‘[T]he rules [of liberal science] should deny respectability to anyone’s claim that some particular kind of person is favored with especially undistorted insight,’ rather that person be the Pope or a salesman, especially if that person demands other views be kept from being tested, considered, and weighed.⁹⁵ This isn’t because the Pope is wrong, nor is to say that their beliefs shouldn’t be tested; rather, it’s say that no one’s views should be called “knowledge” without having to be tested by liberal science. Rauch is careful here to note that he isn’t saying that only science can determine what is true, and he isn’t saying that all beliefs are false. Rather, he is arguing that what we call “(reliable) knowledge” (as opposed to “truth”) must be that which passes the test of liberal science; otherwise, society will be unable to manage conflict, will probably become authoritarian, and other, terrible consequences — all of which become increasingly likely as “the social meaning of free speech” diminishes.
‘With the skeptical revolution, the anchor was sawed off. Nothing would be out of bounds for critical scrutiny. No one would be entitled to declare what was true knowledge and what was false opinion.’⁹⁶ Rauch notes that someone may argue that this means that we’re putting all of our faith in liberal science, as if it were a religion. ‘Belief in liberal science is a faith,’ Rauch acknowledges (why not?), ‘but it does deserve special standing: not only because it is the best social regime for mobilizing resources to produce knowledge, but also because it is inherently anti-authoritarian.’⁹⁷ ‘Liberal science has brought peace.’⁹⁸ Considering this, those opposed to liberal science (indirectly, for the best of reasons) oppose peace, usher in authoritarianism, and hinder prosperity. The power of liberal science comes partially from the fact that it checks bias, and ‘[w]hat is to be condemned is not bias but unchecked bias.’⁹⁹ Bias, belief, prejudice, and what have you will be with the human race forever; the power of liberal science is that it manages these human realities. We don’t need like opinions, a lack of bias, etc., but an ‘agreement on the rules: […] a mutual undertaking to check and be checked’.¹⁰⁰
‘The fundamentalist temperament tends to search for certainty rather than for errors. The fundamentalist’s tendency is to nail his beliefs in place.’¹⁰¹ Liberal science checks and balances the fundamentalist tendency in all of us (as discussed in The Map Is Indestructible) and thanks to this, liberal science contributes to peace, democracy, and civility in our Pluralistic Age. Rauch is concerned that people’s impulse for justice is turning moderns against liberal science to end bigotry, to silence prejudice, and so on. According to Rauch, ‘[w]e must take collective action to check prejudice and bigotry, [but] that is all.’¹⁰² ‘A no-offense society is a no-knowledge society,’ Rauch warns, and universities today are not helping us advance knowledge by silencing all those who offend.¹⁰³ Bigotry, error, stupidity, hurtful words, and so on make up the “raw material of knowledge.” They are not the enemy, but rather whatever doesn’t let us test the “raw material” (even if that thing is “justice”). If people can’t offend, criticism will naturally be oppressed away (by those with the “right/just answer”), and then there won’t be a way to determine the good ideas from the bad ones, for no one knows what constitutes “true knowledge” without some kind of test (though the higher our intellect, the more likely we’ll feel we know the truth without a test). In history, it’s hard to find a new, good idea that didn’t at first offend, not because the originator wanted to upset people, but because truth that combats cherished ideology inevitably offends. ‘If governments stifle criticism, then they impoverish and oppress their citizenry; if universities do so, then they have no reason to exist.’¹⁰⁴ If this keeps up, assuming it’s not already too late, ‘[…] the general public will soon see the universities are enforcing knowledge rather than searching for it. [Consequently,] [t]he researchers’ credibility — science’s credibility — will be shot. Prejudice then really will have the field to itself.’¹⁰⁵
Rauch sees “free speech” and “liberal science” as deeply connected, and Rauch basically says that what we need is “tested speech” while encouraging as much “free speech” as possible (the more there is to test, the more likely we generate strong results). Looking back on McCloskey, we can say that Rhetoric is the movement in which “free speech” and “liberal science” seem to have arisen together to dialectically work off one another. Alright, but why did the Rhetoric which started in Northern Europe arise to both “free speech” and “tested speech?” That’s a good question, and perhaps where there is Rhetoric, there can be a spread of knowledge, which generates wealth. That wealth then leads to a growth of science which helps there be scientific reasoning, and then Rhetoric can be tested: Rhetoric generates the tests of Rhetoric, which then allows there to be a distinction between “knowledge” and “belief,” as needed for there to be knowledge acquisition and spread. I’m actually not sure: perhaps it is a coincidence or there is something in speech that naturally generates tests for that speech, which seems reasonable given that if we hear information, we need to be able to determine what information is valid and what is false, which that test becoming more formulized and intentional as the information becomes vaster and more diverse. All the same, I believe Rauch gives us a good framework to think that McCloskey’s Rhetoric must entail “free but tested speech.” Now for McCloskey the content of that speech behind “The Great Enrichment” was dignity and freedom, and perhaps the Rhetoric also tested dignity and freedom in its very speaking and observing if “the quality of life” indeed increased for the average person; furthermore, a stress on dignity might also lead to a stress on realizing the truth, for truth bestows dignity. In observing this, there was then reason to think that dignity and liberty worked, and so on. Still, the point stands that all of this, regardless the order, requires Rhetoric, and Rauch can help us understand why and how perhaps to do it better (“tested freedom”).
What does it mean to focus on Rhetoric which can be “tested by liberal science” versus not? Well, generally, it means we need to keep Rhetoric as “falsifiable” and practical as possible until it is absolutely impossible to do so (which means we need to be very good at asking the right questions and staying in falsifiable questions as long as possible). Now, obviously, that leaves a lot of big questions, but what that means is we need to say in Hume and “common life” until we absolutely must transition into Hegel and abstract reasoning, which I do think we must to avoid problematic political projects (as discussed in “Hume to Hegel” featured in The Absolute Choice). O.G. Rose discusses “phenomenological pragmaticism” and emphasizes the concrete, while also warning that “autonomous philosophy” can be a source of destruction (exactly as Dr. Donald Livingston teaches regarding Hume). However, we ultimately must entertain philosophy, given the sociological problems of Belonging Again — hence why our challenge is so great and we desperately need Wordspread and Voicecraft (as we’ll discuss). If we must do philosophy, we need to be good at it, and how do we spread “good philosophy” without being oppressive? Indeed, not easily, but this is our concern.
Anyway, ‘liberal science does not restrict belief, but it does restrict knowledge’, and ‘if you want your belief recognized as knowledge, there are things you must do.’¹⁰⁶ ‘[Y]ou have a claim to knowledge only to the extent that your opinion still stands up after prolonged exposure to withering public testing.’¹⁰⁷ Without liberal science, there is no way to define belief from knowledge, and hence no “test” or “solid ground” upon which a society can be established, not because no beliefs are true, but because beliefs are too varied, multifaceted, and infinite to found a society upon them. Knowledge can be the only foundation, and so a society that denies liberal science is a society that dooms societies in an age of Pluralism to ever-pluralize without any hope of unifying (another reason why Rhetoric might lead to “tests of speech” as speech leads to wealth which leads to diversity and Pluralism and so a need to “hold things togethers”). Furthermore, societies are likely to become increasingly authoritarian, even if they’re called a “democracy.” Lastly, ‘all misinformation hurts people’, and without liberal science, the line between misinformation and information can never be drawn: we are defenseless.¹⁰⁸
Unintentionally today, in the name of justice, Rauch fears that people ‘are denying the very possibility of liberal science, whose premise is that knowledge is available to everyone and comes through public inquiry and criticism, not from the color of your skin or your ethnic heritage or your social class.’¹⁰⁹ By claiming minorities know things that members of the majority cannot know, for example, Progressives are claiming that ‘knowledge comes in colors.’¹¹⁰ If we accept this premise, knowledge loses its capacity to unify and “ground” societies, and we require the subjective views of others to “know the truth” and not live in ignorance, meaning some have a religious-like power over others that those others cannot escape. This will cause existential anxiety and bitterness, straining the links that hold societies today, perhaps inspiring revolution similar to how the Protestants revolted against the Catholics. Under this circumstance, the power of Rhetoric lessens and perhaps fades entirely…
⁸³McCloskey, Deirdre. Bourgeois Dignity. Chicago, Illinois. The University of Chicago Press, 2011: 25.
⁸²McCloskey, Deirdre. Bourgeois Dignity. Chicago, Illinois. The University of Chicago Press, 2011: 32.
⁸⁶Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 4.
⁸⁷Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 6.
⁸⁸Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 13.
⁸⁹Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 19.
⁹⁰Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 38.
⁹¹Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 38.
⁹²Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 52.
⁹³Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 53.
⁹⁴Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 55.
⁹⁵Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 56.
⁹⁶Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 47.
⁹⁷Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 77.
⁹⁸Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 77.
⁹⁹Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 67.
¹⁰⁰Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 85.
¹⁰¹Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 94.
¹⁰²Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 144.
¹⁰³Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 126.
¹⁰⁴4Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 86.
¹⁰⁵Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 162.
¹⁰⁶Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 116.
¹⁰⁷Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 118.
¹⁰⁸8Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 162.
¹⁰⁹Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 146.
¹¹⁰ Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 147.