On Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg addresses the “considerable fractures” that continue to divide conservative and libertarian positions on significant policy issues as well as on “deeper philosophical questions.” He pulls apart the “often tortuously drawn distinctions” surrounding the political labels and then offers some reasons why the “often unconscious but sometimes deliberate embrace of philosophical skepticism by some conservatives and libertarians should be challenged.”

Perceptive critics of skepticism have illustrated that the concern to be reasonable and avoid self-deception about reality is the starting point of any quest for philosophical truth: i.e., the very knowledge that skeptics believe we can’t know. What reason could skeptics therefore have for desiring to comprehend that, in the final analysis, all is unknowable, unless they are engaged in a quest for truth? In other words, skeptics draw their deduction that we should be philosophical skeptics from foundational assumptions they cannot doubt.

Also self-refuting is the common skeptic claim that reason is purely instrumental. For to defend this position, the skeptic’s reason necessarily engages in a non-instrumental task. He presumes it is good to know the truth of skepticism, and on grounds of reason rather than feelings. It is thus inconsistent for skeptics to assert that all philosophical viewpoints are arbitrary opinions. When skeptics posit that humans can only be motivated by sentiment rather than reason, they are not proposing this statement as their own impetuous preference. They claim to be making a rational judgment.

Read “Beyond Conservatism and Libertarianism” on Public Discourse by Samuel Gregg.

  • Roger McKinney

    Christians should never be skeptics about reason or truth. That kind of skepticism birthed socialism, and Hayek was never that kind of skeptic. Hayek was a skeptic about what reason unaided by tradition and religion could achieve. In Fatal Conceit Hayek applauded religion for encouraging people to follow good ideas for which people could provide no immediate rationale. Hayek opposed what he called the pseudo-rationalism of the Enlightenment, not reason.

    Enlightenment pseudo-rationalism and fake individualism (libertinism) insisted that nothing was true unless the rationalist could understand it, justify it and grasp all of the implications of it.

    Hayek wrote that the purpose of economics is to teach us how little we know about what we think we can control. He was skeptical about how much we could know and what we could control. He favored limited experimentation within the boundaries of tradition and religion which formed the foundation for true liberty.