How many of us can say we really have a solid foundation for our thinking and values as we go out to shape our world by our lives? Until very recently, I could certainly anwer that question with a humbling and resounding “no.” Now, I can say that I am a discerning work in progress.
This is not to say I didn’t understand the issues that I wrote about and spoke about. In fact, on a lot of issues I’m passionate about, such as Islamic jihad and sharia, abortion, first and second amendment rights, the necessity of universal natural law, and other topics, I was and am quite knowledgeable.
But is that enough? I would say that without a firm understanding of why we think, we will never be able to argue what we think using our full potential.
What are first principles?
plural noun: first principles; noun: first principle
the fundamental concepts or assumptions on which a theory, system, or method is based.
Though many of us may understand this idea best through the lens of our political beliefs (or, in my case, my recent conviction in my latent religious beliefs), the concept of first principles can theoretically apply to everything we believe.
We all posses, at some level, first principles – but for so many of us, we get lost in secondary arguments and lack an ability to articulate them. This raises another question.
Do we need to explain our first principles to others?
I would argue no – and yes. Firstly, we must be able to articulate our first principles within our own minds. We must know the ground upon which we stand, if we are to effectively debate secondary positions with clarity.
However, we also will often find ourselves in a position where we do have to explain our first principles, especially in dealing with other people. What will you say when someone follows your argument to its logical conclusion, and you realize your own inconsistency? You won’t have an answer. You’ll weaken your argument!
My personal experience with the question of abortion in the case of rape might prove a useful case study.
I am staunchly pro life. I believe all abortion is murder, evil, and wrong. However, until relatively recently, I was still willing to cede a “rape exception” in terms of morality. I wrote about my reasoning for that here.
Though I began to change my mind on this issue several months ago, due to simply a nagging feeling that I was wrong in my thinking, I haven’t yet explained publicly why. And of course, my hesitation makes sense: it’s embarrassing to have to admit I was wrong.
I not only have taken a position that I now disagree with – I have written an article defending my illogical thinking and claiming it as logical.