On theory and pragmatics

For some time the sharp disagreements — often ending up as slanging matches — between different members of this forum has intrigued me. If we are all part of the tiny community that is interested in, or even believes in, sortition, then why do we so often come to blows and indulge in name-calling? This post is an attempt to unpack this issue and, hopefully, help us deal with disagreements better in the future. That’s not to say that we should seek consensus, only that we should understand why others might find our own views difficult to stomach.


Let’s start with the name of this blog — Equality by Lot. Equality is a mathematical abstraction (“no equality without equations!”), which morphed, over time, into a normative ideal. The first philosopher to develop a normative understanding of equality was Plato, but his treatment of equality appears very strange to modern sensibilities. Plato distinguished “mere” arithmetic equality from equality of value, in which each person should receive according to his desert (geometric equality). This has some parallel in Christian thought via the Parable of the Talents (“For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn’t have, even that which he has will be taken away.”) However modern Christian sensibilities privilege the (alternative) biblical view that we are all (arithmetically) equal in the eyes of God. This is the view that Jefferson adopted for the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, but that wily old fox Franklin argued that a secular version would be better (“we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”). Of course this is complete nonsense as all the evidence points to the differences (biological and environmental) that we inherit at birth. But no matter, the transition was made from a religious gloss on a mathematical construction to a secular normative ideal.
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