I was reminded today that, no matter how long-abandoned or recognized as fallacious an argument has become, there will always be someone to bring it up again.  Most especially if the topic under discussion is a ‘philosophical’ one – people who fancy themselves philosophers never seem to discard arguments.

Today I saw someone break out the “extremes are bad, mediums are good” moral argument.  As archaic as the ancient Greeks, and just as dead, but out it stumbles like a reanimated corpse to devour brains.

Thing is, always avoiding extremes is extreme.  Where’s the happy medium between always seeking out happy mediums, and never doing so?  Rigid adherence to the principle requires not rigidly adhering to it… which poses a bit of a problem in application.

It seems to me that the universal rules people are seeking for don’t necessarily need to point to themselves, but they do need to be self-consistent.  And stay that way, no matter how many levels of analysis you put them through, or however many times you recursively apply them to themselves.


2 Responses to “Consistency”

  1. It doesn’t seem to me that progress ever gets made in philosophy. I have a riff on why that is in my preface to the republished edition of The Myth of Natural Rights, which should go into print in about a week.

  2. I want to suggest a form of this argument that argues for striving to avoid extremes and justifying that striving as a compensation for a bias toward extremes (this is how I interpret the strongest form of the argument.

    I’d like to distinguish that from the argument “extremes are bad.” I’ve never seen the latter proposed by a philosopher, although I probably wouldn’t remember such silliness if I had. It surely isn’t part of Aristotle’s argument from anything I’ve come across. I have however seen it superficially argued in popular culture, and I have a similar reaction of disdain. Moderation in all things, including moderation, perhaps is a better way to translate the concept for the masses.

    Here is a take on Aristotle that argues for a similar interpretation of the doctrine of the mean:

    “Hitting the mean is not so much a matter of hitting one particular point on a target as it is a matter of avoiding the variety of mistakes it is possible to make in a complex situation. Observing the mean — and so virtue or excellence — is primarily a matter of careful awareness and avoidance of errors. Excellence of character, like health, involves a balance of opposite tendencies to act and react, a capacity to respond in various ways when and as occasions demand. This is the crux of Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean.”

    In case you’re curious, I came across this via a link in the comments to an article about philosophy on “LessWrong.”

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