A Dialogue: At the Demonstration. Part II

This is the second part of a short, introductory dialogue. For the first part go here.


G: So do you agree with the following: You believe that one ought to act with the safe belief that there is a clearly right path in public matter, which is a political position, while I hold that one ought not to act with such a safe belief, which is political position insofar it denies your political position?

L: That is a completely different matter, not a political disagreement. This is disagreement between us is all about belief and certitude, not about how to spend one’s life. The disagreement is only about what to believe and so on, not about what one ought to do.

G: Are you not here at this demonstration because you believe the government ought not to act the way it does?

L: Yes, but…

G: And would you not have stayed at home, if you were to believe that the government ought to act in this way?

L: Yes and yes again! Of course our beliefs affect our actions. I did not mean to deny that. But you only argue that one ought not to hold this or that belief, you do not claim that the effect is objectionable in general, ought not to be the case.

G: How well you have grasped my position, L! Indeed, the assumption you and the government make, that everyone has to agree that matters ought to be governed and ought to be governed in a specific way rather than any other that pleases someone else, appears unjustified to me and you rightly see that I refrain from judging the consequences of these unjustified assumptions.

L: Which is the reason that you are misplaced at this or any other political demonstration!

G: Do I understand you correctly that – according to you – a political demonstration is only for those, who have disagreements which make them object to the actions someone takes because of their beliefs, rather than for those, who object only to the beliefs themselves?

L: That sound about right, yes, that is what I was getting at.

G: So if the government, or anyone else powerful, had the belief, that the right political order was to subdue everyone else and kill anyone who stands in their way, but failed to realise their beliefs in their actions, then this would not be a reason for a political demonstration?

L: Well, we have to be sure that nothing comes of their beliefs!

G: Very good. Let’s assume just that! The government believes that people like you, L, ought to be killed, but reliably fails to do so. In this case there is no reason for you to join a political demonstration? That is, you would be misplaced at any political demonstration if you were in disagreement just with this belief?

L: No. You must have misconstrued my position before! What I wanted to say is something different.

G: That might be so. I am afraid, however, that I still do not what kind of disagreement you take to be the proper basis for participating in a political demonstration.

L: Look, G, I might demonstrate again the powerfuls’ belief that I ought to be killed, but only because it points to a specific course of action that ought to be taken. You, in contrast, disagree that there is any course of action – including refraining from action – which is one that ought to be taken over any other.

G: Almost, my dear L. There are some courses of action, which are more to my liking than others – of course I want them to be taken and so from my perspective they ought to be taken, all other things being equal. But I do not claim that anyone else has to consider these courses as one that ought to be taken.

L: A rather shallow “ought”! The point stands that I object to beliefs that specific courses ought to be taken – in a strong sense, a sense according to which all have to agree that they ought and if they fail to do so they commit a mistake – while you object to any beliefs which make such claim, irrespective of the specific course of action.

G: You have uncovered why my disagreement is so much more radical than yours!

The disagreement between L and G was still developing and I was listening attentively, when the demonstration started. People began to shout slogans against this or that policy and calling for social justice. G suddenly bid us farewell and was about to leave, only to be stopped for a moment by a question of L: I thought you wanted to demonstrate?

G: I wanted to express my disagreement and this I have done. If I were to stay any longer my disagreement would be drowned in all these shouted assertions.

So G went his way.

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