Tuesday, February 01, 2005

George Soros

From a recent op-ed by George Soros1:
Paradoxically, the most successful open society in the world, the U.S., does not properly understand the first principles of an open society; indeed, its current leadership actively disavows them. The concept of open society is based on recognition that nobody possesses the ultimate truth, that one may be wrong. Yet being wrong is precisely the possibility that Bush refuses to acknowledge, and his denial appeals to a significant segment of the American public. An equally significant segment is appalled. This has left the U.S. not only deeply divided, but also at loggerheads with much of the rest of the world, which considers its policies high-handed and arbitrary.
"Nobody possesses the ultimate truth," and everybody "may be wrong." The obvious problem with any form of universal skepticism is that it undermines itself: Soros himself doesn't possess the ultimate truth, and if he is wrong in his views, then an "open society" does not have the virtues that he claims.

The same is true for the "rest of the world." According to Soros, the "rest of the world" thinks that Bush's policies have been "high-handed and arbitrary." That's fine and well as far as it goes, but according to Soros' own principles, the "rest of the world" has just as much obligation to consider the fact that they do not possess "ultimate truth" and that they may have misjudged Bush. Oddly enough, Soros never -- whether in this column or in any other op-ed of his that I've seen -- even hints at the possibility that the "rest of the world" may be anything other than infallible in their estimation of President Bush.

1Disclosure: I'm acquainted with his son Jonathan, who was in my class at Harvard Law School and who clerked for Judge Stephen Williams the year before me.

Stuart Buck


Blogger Michael Drake said...

That everybody "may be wrong" isn't a statement of universal skepticism. It's a statement of fallibilism. And while fallibilists might be wrong about fallibilism (that's just a corollary of fallibilism), fallibilism itself doesn't entail that fallibilists are wrong about fallibilism, or that they can't know (without certainty) that fallibilism is true.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

Whether you call it "skepticism" or "fallibilism" (I suppose the former would be more ontological and the latter epistemological), the fact remains that Soros contradicts himself. His constant refrain is that the central principle of human conduct is that we should all be aware that we might be wrong. Yet he never applies this fallibilism to his OWN beliefs -- including the belief in fallibilism, much less his beliefs that Bush is a failure, the rest of the world doesn't like us, our foreign policy isn't working, etc. He never gives even a hint of an acknowledgment that he might be wrong, i.e., "I might be wrong, however, and the Bush doctrine might be the one thing that eventually leads to a more stable and democratic Middle East."

1:59 PM  
Blogger Tim McNabb said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Tim McNabb said...

Soros, like so much of his fellow leftists, are interested in self-justification at any cost, not logical consistency.

I am amazed at how many people who insist that I, a fairly confident evangelical, lack requisite humility when I quickly abandon notions that are clearly and obviously falsified, whereas they cling to dogmas that are utterly unfalsifiable.

Finally, I think we are taking Soros' blather a little too seriously. Take away his billions, and we'd see this as thrid rate Freshman quad dribble.

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Radical skepticism doesn't undermine itself. The radical skeptic simply must acknowledge that even his position of radical skepticism is not immune from doubt--that even the skeptic could be wrong in his avowal of skepticism. Once he freely acknowledges this, there is nothing inconsistent about his beliefs.


12:12 PM  
Blogger Michael Drake said...

Radical skepticism is the thesis that there can be no knowledge. As such, the thesis is at least arguably incoherent: it is a knowledge claim that categorically denies the possibility of knowledge.

But fallibilism is merely the thesis that there can be no certainty. As far as I can tell, there is nothing remotely incoherent about the that proposition.

Radical fallibilism doesn't preclude holding firm beliefs, either. For example, I hold (with Quine) that even what we take to be the truths of arithmetic or laws of logic are possibly subject to correction. But that doesn't mean I'd be obliged to take seriously someone who claimed that 2+2=37.

So while Soros might not always proceed with the epistemic humility proper to a radical fallibilist (but then so few of us do), it's a mistake to suppose that because he is a fallibilist he has some sort of duty to respect all ideas equally.

1:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have got to be kidding me. Is this what you learn at Harvard Law?

Do really not uderstand what Soros means? Let me give you an analogy, a torpedo finds its target by constantly correcting its course. A torpedo that doesn't correct navigational mistakes misses the target. For Bush, by his own account, it is more important to "stay the course" than to correct the course.

It is true that Bush's policies could work out, but at this point there does not seem to be much chance of this occuring. Why? Because the planners are not flexible enough to change course when reality shows their plans to be on a path to failure.

6:43 PM  

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