LETTER: A message to Phil F.
Our exchange on the subject of the virtues and failings of anonymity caused me to pull Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do? off my bookshelf. I bought the book four years ago; you convinced me that it is time to take another look at it. The following excerpts (p. 28-29) will explain why:
“We start with an opinion, or a conviction, about the right thing to do … Then we reflect on the reason for our conviction, and seek out the principle on which it is based … Then, confronted with a situation that confounds the principle, we are pitched into confusion …Feeling the force of that confusion, and the pressure to sort it out, is the impulse to philosophy.
“Confronted with this tension, we may revise our judgment about the right thing to do, or rethink the principle we initially espoused. As we encounter new situations, we move back and forth between our judgments and our principles, revising each in light of the other. This turning of mind, from the world of action to the real of reasons and back again, is what moral reflection consists in.
“If more reflection consists in seeking a fit between the judgments we make and the principles we affirm, how can such reflection lead us to justice, or moral truth? Even if we succeed, over a lifetime, in bringing our moral intuitions and principled commitments into alignment, what confidence can we have that the result is anything more than a self-consistent skein of prejudice?
“The answer is that moral reflection is not a solidary pursuit but a public endeavor. It requires an interlocutor – a friend, a neighbor, a comrade, a fellow citizen. Sometimes the interlocutor can be imagined rather than real, as when we argue with ourselves. But we cannot discover the meaning of justice or the best way to live through introspection alone.”
You, Phil F., are the interlocutor who drove me to go back to Sandel to help me reflect on my judgments and the principles I affirm. And it all began with an argument over thumbs, so perhaps thumbs are not as useless as I thought them to be.