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Where I practice writing (because I sorely need to).

Grand Unified Theory Check

In some academic disciplines consistency and usefulness are key: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, and their derivatives depend upon those concepts for their primacy in the modern pantheon. One of the surest paths to scientific renown is to identify heretofore hidden inconsistencies, that the state of knowledge may be advanced. Reduction to practice is the other great path to scientific acclaim. Fame and fortune here rests on the benefits derived from technique, procedure, or invention founded in the scientific disciplines.    

Philosophy, the study of knowledge, mind, and ethics, intends to deliver both consistency (when possible; some of philosophy’s greatest contributions may consist in outlining the limits of consistency) and usefulness. Provided the basic necessities of survival are assured, guidance on a life well-lived would be of great use. Illuminating the limits of our cognition and understanding has some practical purpose, and admirable consistency. However, immediately beyond the barest fundamentals, most academic philosophy descends into a morass of arguments about terms. Precious little of worth is ever gleaned from the worked-over fields tended by philosophers, but one can usually count on the logic to be consistent (except where that is impossible).

Little in the way of consistency or material use comes from the fields which study the lived human experience. Examinations of prose, verse, or visual art may shed light on the ways in which people feel or interpret their worlds, but seldom give rise to new aesthetic objects–and rarely if ever are subjected to considerations of consistency. These academic fields are of a wholly different type: rooted in the subjective, descriptive in nature, their value is real but evanescent.

Various other normative and descriptive fields might also be identified: e.g., history, law, economics, and political theory. Here, accuracy of description and robustness of method are strongly emphasized. These fields, however, may also intersect with different subjective ethics of philosophy and the consistently irrational behavior of individuals and their groups. In some cases these hybrid fields might strive for consistency and fail. This is particularly the case of political theory.

The Western tradition of political theory has lived at the intersection between descriptive history and economics, and normative law. With strong influences from the Enlightenment, it has sought to apply scientific levels of reasoning and evidence gathering to the problems of governance. Some illuminating concepts have been developed… and largely ignored. It may be best that this is so: most episodes where rigorous application of deductively constructed ideology were attempted resulted in enormous grief and loss of life.

Perhaps the most successful strategy is the slow but responsive “muddling through” of the Anglosphere. Some attempts at bringing scientific rigor and well-developed theory to bear on the issues of government have been made. Some persisted and some have failed (e.g., separation of powers, rules of disintrest on the one hand, raw utilitarianism and extensive central economic planning on the other), but usually based on a piecemeal approach.

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