By Daniel A. Kaufman
Sometimes it is useful to try and identify a number of things that everyone should be able to agree on. To the extent to which our moral and political positions may depend upon complex tangles of presuppositions and reasoning, we may not notice that a position we take involves presuppositions that are obviously false or that one we reject in fact follows directly from presuppositions that are obviously true.
Below are a number of things I think everyone should be able to agree on, because the evidence/reasons for them are overwhelming and easily identified. They are loosely sorted into groupings, but this is entirely for purposes of readability. There are many more, of course, but these are the ones that came immediately to mind and seem to be implicated in a number of important and very much current moral and political disputes.
1) In a pluralistic society, if public discourse is to serve the cause of collective self-governance, it has to be in terms that every person involved could, in principle, accept.
2) A society cannot be liberal and democratic, if it incarcerates more of its citizens, per capita, than a totalitarian dictatorship.
3) That something is immoral, even profoundly so, does not mean that making it illegal is a good idea.
4) It is not possible to speak of desert in any form, if one cannot ascribe agency to people.
5) There are no values, unless there are people to whom things matter.
6) People matter more than animals (that are not people).
7) In our most common, superficial, public interactions with one another, manners are more important than morals.
8) In a liberal society, if harm is to be used as a condition for the suppression of or punishment for individuals’ behavior, then it has to be of a sort that is publicly observable and at least somewhat quantifiable.
9) If one does not make a relatively firm distinction between speech and violence, one cannot make sense of the idea of a civil society.
10) No one who attends Harvard or Yale (0r a comparable institution) or who is a professional athlete in the U.S. today is oppressed, in any ordinary (or credible) sense of the term.
11) To the extent that one can speak reasonably of “privilege,” it can only be at the level of the individual.
12) ‘Not oppressed’ is not synonymous or coextensive with ‘privileged.’
13) That someone is privileged (or not) has no bearing on whether what he or she has said is true or false on any subject.
14) The intensity and aggressiveness of activism must be commensurate with the actual condition of its object, and that condition can only be evaluated in relation to its prior states.
15) If we expunge the works of morally compromised artists from the cultural landscape there will be little that remains of the canon of great works.
16) There is no good reason to expect that in the absence of discrimination, people will sort into professions in a way that is proportional to their representation in the population, under various ethnic, sexual, religious or other social, cultural, or biological descriptions.
17) There are no peoples on the earth who have not been wronged or wronged others.
18) Any judgment as to the goodness or badness of a country is only plausibly made in relation to that of other countries.
19) One can be a citizen of a country or some other political entity, but not of a geological object, like an island or a planet.
20) The existence of a “community” depends upon a degree of commonality or kinship that is somewhat specific and cannot be grounded in vast, indiscriminate groupings like species membership or sex.
21) Both a healthy individual life and a healthy civil society require a balance of contractual and non-contractual relationships.
22) There are no stupid or wicked things done by children that have not been done – and done worse – by adults.
23) In the course of a typical, ordinary person’s life, parenting is the most important thing he or she will do.
24) Health and safety are instrumental goods.