Common Consent, Consensus Formation and Habermas

August 16, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 11:57 am   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics

Is there anything that you would be more willing to purchase when your mother is not present?  What about your father?  What about your children? What about an attractive young adult with whom you’re on a second date?  Does this person’s presence effect how you treat a homeless person that asks you for change?  Does his/her presence effect which jokes or stories you are willing to tell?  Which moral values you are and are not willing to take a stand on?  I think the standard answer to most of these questions is: yes, of course.  It is perfectly normal and healthy to adapt one’s behavior to those who are present.  In this post I wish to approach the ways in which public acclamations of “common consent” in the form of sustaining our leaders differ from other forms of “consensus” and the means (both private and public) by which they are formed and maintained.

For starters, almost every type of community holds some type of “consensus” or “common consent” in high esteem.  It is in this sense that many consensus theories of truth (where “truth” is the “consensus” that is arrived at at the end of “inquiry” under “ideal” conditions) and many appeals to “common consent” within the church can often be quite bereft of content.  Jürgen Habermas, however, is a clear exception to this tendency in his defense of a participatory democracy in which the consensus reached at the end of “communicative action” ought to determine collective action.  While I do have serious reservations about his theory, it is certainly not empty and will thus serve as a convenient entry point to the discussion.

Habermas’ account draws some very important distinctions, while strategically eliding others. I will begin by drawing out (what I perceive to be) his shortcomings.  While he is very strongly influenced by American pragmatism and ordinary language philosophy (he loves J. L. Austin’s theory of speech acts), it is unclear whether he is sufficiently pragmatic in his definition of a morally binding “consensus”.  As a rough sketch, he holds that communicative deliberation begins when there is a disagreement regarding collective action and ends when consensus is sufficiently met such that we can move forward by implementing the agreed upon course of collective action.  The problem is that consensus, so defined, is by no means homogeneous: there are many, varied means by which disagreements can be voluntarily removed as barriers to collective action.

Habermas has little regard for most of these diverse forms of “consensus” (that I will describe shortly) because he insists that a consensus based in communicative action is totally distinct from one based in strategic, goal-directed action.  True communicative action, according to Habermas, has mutual understanding as its sole end purpose, something which has zero overlap with the pursuit of one’s own particularistic goals.  This point is where most of his critics disagree with him – myself included.

Communication, by my lights, is a social process wherein we marshal and dissolve moral coalitions with and against other people.  Morals and truths are the norms by which we actively constrain and are constrained by others within our shared social environment and moral coalitions.  There are, then, three different stances that we can take to any moral coalition: we can support it (typically by calling it “true” or “right”), we can resist it (typically by calling it “false” or “wrong”) or we can be relatively neutral towards it (typically by remaining silent or ambivalent about it).

There are two points at which my account differs from that of Habermas.  First, I take the possibility of neutrality much more seriously than Habermas does.  Second, while Habermas must draw a strict line between a consensus that is based in “strategy” and one that is based in “communication”, my account resists any such distinction, it being strategic through and though.  I thus replace his distinction with my own between “interest-oriented” consensus and “obligation-oriented” consensus.  Our attempts at picking and choosing which moral coalitions we will support, resist or remain neutral toward is thus inescapably strategic.  Habermas thinks all strategic uses of power are immoral forms of manipulation and alienation, but I see no reason (a) why some strategic uses of power cannot be more righteous than others, (b) why we would ever want morality and truth to be impotent, or (c) how such a version of morality could ever effectively resist evil, as we presumably want it to.

There are, then, four different types of consensus which would allow collective action to move forward in the way that Habermas suggests and each of them involves some amount of strategy:

Consensus Type

Support: Neutrality: Resistance:




Interest-Oriented: Endorse Indifferent

  • The interest-oriented neutrality of “indifference”: The fact that I feel no need or urge to resist (or support) the church’s campaigns against SSM means that a consensus is preserved. This absence of overt support or resistance to the church’s actions basically amounts to “going with the flow”.
  • The interest-oriented support of “endorsement”: This is when I support a collective action because I want the action to happen. This is when a cab-driver attempts to impose restrictions on Uber or Lyft solely because the latter are hurting his business.  (Some OW supporters will insist that this must be *the* reason why a male – especially church leaders – within the church does not support them and will thus ignore all of the other 3 explanations.)
  • The obligation-oriented neutrality of “concession”: This is when we keep silent on an issue, not because “I don’t care either way,” but because taking an overt position for or against it will attract moral censure.  A great example of this would be when I receive personal revelation in support of SSM, but I keep it to myself precisely because the revelation was personal.  In this, I “concede” the church’s position out of an obligation not to resist it, even while I cannot support it, again, out of obligation.
  • The obligation-oriented support of “sustaining”: This is when we sustain a course of action, even though it might work against our interests. To use the example above, this is when a church member distributes Prop-8 literature within their own university-town neighborhood, knowing full well that by doing so they will be socially alienated by their secular neighbors and colleagues.

All four of the above are cases in which collective action moves forward with “common consent” due to an absence of overt objections or resistance within the group.  In other words, unless one adds a great deal of content to the consensus theory of truth or to the proof-text appeals to “common consent”, such appeals simply haven’t ruled much out.  For example, by ignoring the possibility of neutrality, Habermas effectively marginalizes the roles that concession and indifference both play in any consensus.  His distinction between strategic and communicative action is also aimed at marginalizing endorsement (and, again, indifference) as a morally inadequate form of consensus.  Since I reject his theory of communicative action, I find these all-or-nothing to be largely unhelpful.

Switching gears somewhat, not only are there various types of “common consent” which allow collective action to move forward, but there are also various means by which such a consensus is formed and maintained.  I wish here to discuss four such mechanisms that I will, again, classify along two different dimensions.  There are two premodern forms of consensus formation.  These have typically been public in that support/resistance to a position takes place within the public view and thus exposes it to a second order of support/resistance from a third party.  Modern, liberal society, by contrast, has two forms of consensus formation that tend to be private in that our support or resistance to some collective action can be hidden from the public view and thus protected from the second order evaluations mentioned above, if we so choose.  Within these two types (premodern and modern) of societies there have also been centralized and decentralized mechanisms by which a consensus is formed and reinforced:

Types of Consensus Formation Decentralized: Centralized:
Public (obligation-oriented): Morals Acclamation
Private (interest-oriented): Markets Elections
  • The decentralized publicity of “morals”: These are the public evaluations that make up everyday life in which neighbors and family members morally condemn an offense for two purposes: (a) to warn, condemn or punish the offender and/or (b) to be known as somebody who warns, condemns or punishes offenders. These are evaluations that are themselves evaluated.
  • The centralized publicity of the “acclamation”: This is when signals of support or resistance are publicly displayed within a large, centralized gathering – thus making them common knowledge. Practicality dictates that such forms of consensus formation will almost always consist in the public acceptance or rejection of a very small set of predetermined options.  The sustaining of priesthood leaders and King Benjamin’s speech are the clearest examples of this.
  • The decentralized privacy of “markets”: This is where production, exchange and consumption of goods in based in how much doing so serves the interests of one or two parties – regardless of what the public thinks about it. The only evaluation that is intrinsic to this is the price – an unevaluated evaluation.  The private nature of these transactions places them outside the reach of public morality, thus throwing the door wide open to i) private vices and ii) conspicuous consumption.
  • The centralized privacy of “elections”: The other modern means by which we decide collective action is the election, where my vote is “nobody else’s business” unless I allow it to be. In this way, my vote is, again, shielded from public scrutiny and moral evaluation, thus becoming an unevaluated evaluation.

As noted in the table above, the very privacy of private forms of consensus formation make them ideally suited to the interest-oriented forms of consensus above: endorsement and indifference.  Since the public is not aware of what producers or positions I am supporting with my dollars and ballots, there is no practical way for an obligation-orientation to gain any traction on such actions.  In other words, this opens the door to all the purchases and votes that I would not be willing to engage in with my parents present.  Similarly, the public nature of premodern society is exactly what made obligation-oriented forms of support so sustainable.

The widespread objection from socialists and romantics to modern society should be fairly obvious, given the above taxonomy.  The interest-oriented manner in which we decide collective action is totally drained of obligation-orientation in that all such “decisions” become nothing more than the negotiated allocation of “endorsement” and “indifference” among various self-interested parties of very different financial means and political influence.  This is in stark opposition to the premodern societies where production was aimed at the common good rather than self-interested profit and was regulated by evaluative, moral relations rather than merely enforced by the neutral, state judicial system.  (See Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation)

In today’s liberal society, by contrast, free market economists claim that markets serve the “dictates of the consumer” and thus reduce all “moral values” to “private preferences” that, as such, can be built into and quantified by the market.  The obvious objections to this are 1) due to its private nature, this is a replacement for morality rather than a mere quantification of morality, and 2) when some consumers get a billion more dollars with which to vote for what does and does not get produced, the idea that producers obey “the consumer” loses all of its moral content.  Yes, producers compete with each other to serve the consumer, but consumers also compete with one another for conspicuous (rather than morally evaluated) consumption. While the former might(!) be compatible with premodern morality, the latter is quite obviously not – and it’s not clear that we could ever separate the two.  The scriptures repeatedly warn us against allowing any form of interested-oriented consensus to guide our collective action.

What must also be noted is that one type of consensus formation may greatly influence another.  In modern society, for example, many leftists complain that the influence of the decentralized upon centralized elections is too great, and thus propose a “planned society” in which centralized elections constrain and shape the decentralized market. A similar tension exists between acclamation and morality.  Within premodern society (and the contemporary church) a traditional authority figure puts forth their own decision for public acclamation.  It is then expected that decentralized morality will be shaped and influenced by this centralized acclamation and not the other way around.  Habermas, by contrast, wants to reverse this relation by claiming that decentralized moral discourse (rather than the private “steering media” of money and power) will produce a consensus that authority figures will then implement.    Yes, Habermas’ vision would count as one version of “common consent”, but it is hardly the only version, nor is it the one advocated within the scriptures.

My taxonomy also brings to light other dangers and pitfalls of modern history.  Modernity evolved as traditional authorities and evaluative moralities came to be replaced by an elected state that exercised a monopoly on the legitimate use of force to protect and enforce (but not evaluate) market transactions.  This immensely powerful, centralized state was then taken up by various ideologies as the only weapon strong enough to compete with the a-morality of the decentralized market.  It was in this 20th century context, then, that some countries tried to reassert a particular set of moral values through the use of the centralized state – thus producing the totalitarianisms of the political left and right.  (It is absurd that this would ever lead to the “withering away” of the state.) Totalitarianism is thus a *very* modern invention that describes neither the traditional hierarchies nor the church of today.  Anybody who conflates these very different types of social organization is either 1) woefully uninformed and/or 2) trying to pull the wool over your eyes for the sake of the moral coalitions that they support.

In summary, I wish to return to the opening paragraph where I noted how the watchful and evaluative gaze of those with whom we regularly interact alters what we purchase, what we say and what we support.  In such cases, our spending is morally evaluated; Our speech acts are morally evaluated; Indeed, our moral evaluations and truth claims are themselves morally evaluated.  It is with this in mind that the worldview of traditional religion insists that all such acts and transactions are quasi-public in their being observed by God.

This moral influence of public evaluations is exactly why we publicly sustain church leaders, and why priesthood authority is needed to structure and organize God’s kingdom into wards that meet “often”.  The church is not organized according to market decisions or private elections.  Nor does it advocate a bottom-up (decentralization to centralization) process of consensus formation as advocated by Habermas, the free market fundamentalists or any other person that thinks that truth and goodness just are, as a matter of definition, the consensus that forms within any marketplace of ideas, no matter how idealized its conditions are supposed to be.

“Common consent” within the church is when we sustain (or, if needs be, concede to) our church leaders through the obligation-oriented support of acclamation, and then adjust our moral evaluations, market transactions and (dare I say it?) electoral votes to that acclamation.  To be sure, the church does not tell us what party to vote for any more than it tells us what store to shop at – it tells us “what” we should and should not purchase or vote for, not “who”.  Common consent is and ought to be broken within the church, however, only in the case of wickedness on the part of our leaders.  Personal revelation justifies concession, not resistance to our leaders.  Merely disagreeing with them, no matter how well reasoned, justifies neither resistance nor concession – although the latter is certainly preferable to the former.  To fully sustain them means to fully support the moral coalition they are leading, regardless of what our own human-reasoning is on the matter.


  1. I’d like to ask how this connects to the scriptures. In other words, which scriptures describe this process of leadership and moral evaluation and which scriptures do not. I’m not sure when you talk about the scriptures when you are talking about the OT, NT, D&C, BOM or PoGP.
    There are some places where this moral evaluation is described positively and others where it is described negatively.
    If we did a textual analysis and put scripture into various categories like history, prescriptive rules, stories, descriptions of church structure, descriptions of God etc, how much would be in each area?
    I wouldn’t call your approach proof texting because you leave out the citations.
    Basically, it seems odd to use historical sociological practices to argue for current religious practices. Your only separation is to make God part of the historical community. This “de-transcendence” seems pretty romantic and modern. It is the sociological equivalent of a Wordsworth poem about leadership.

    Comment by Martin James — August 16, 2016 @ 1:23 pm

  2. “There are some places where this moral evaluation is described positively and others where it is described negatively.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here, so I’ll have to assume that your sticking to my verbiage. A major point of the post is that centralized acclamation determines and corrects the ways in which decentralized moral evaluation can go astray.

    “Basically, it seems odd to use historical sociological practices to argue for current religious practices.”

    That’s not really what I’m doing. Rather, I am isolating different meanings of “common consent” which many moderns (both on the political left and right) strategically conflate in order to build their own political values into the scriptures.

    Consider the premodern structure where acclamation structures moral evaluation. I did not draw a sharp distinction as to whether this centralized acclamation centers around a traditional authority figure or a charismatic figure. Thus, the idea that public deliberation is NOT the foundation of any kind of morally binding “common consent” within the scriptures. Habermas (and many who want to democratize the church, or who try to define gospel truth as the end of “inquiry”) are trying to get the tail to wag the dog.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 16, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

  3. Why do the scriptures use the term “common consent”? What is its etymology? I have never, ever heard a mormon advocate for “democratizing the Church”, so I guess I don’t understand the target audience.

    Comment by Martin James — August 16, 2016 @ 2:39 pm

  4. Of course they don’t say that this is what they’re doing. Indeed, that’s the whole point!

    It’s when people wield the phrase “by common consent” in an effort open up church direction to open discussion and deliberation – as if common consent were something other than a public acclamation – that they trying to democratize the church, without ever specifically saying that this is what they are doing.

    Sunstone Symposia with their panel-discussion are probably the most obvious offenders. A lot of blog posts and Op-Eds (pretty much anything that is pro-OW, pro-SSM or anti-censorship) also count. Howard has specifically used this phrase in this democratizing way on this very blog on several occasions. Others have falsely insisted that there is a tension between “doing all things by common consent,” on the one hand, and “the church is not a democracy,” on the other. The very fact that these people see any such tension means that they are inclined to democratize the church!

    All such people have justified “giving their opinion” on some church matter within a public forum as an expression of doing things “by common consent” – thus acting as if the meaning of this phrase were obvious. The main points of the post are, then, 1) that the meaning is not at all obvious, since pretty much any community says essentially the same thing, and 2) that their specific interpretation of the phrase comes more from modern political theorists such as Habermas, rather than from the premodern scriptures.

    While you may not think that I have adequately defended my own interpretation of the phrase (I can definitely see that), my primary target was more the obnoxious use of that phrase as a trump card within the bloggernacle.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 16, 2016 @ 3:04 pm

  5. I would say that if you are really a SSM supporter you need leadership rather than democracy to accomplish a change. See Supreme Court.

    Comment by Martin James — August 16, 2016 @ 3:40 pm

  6. Like I said in the OP – Habermas wants democratic deliberation to lead and steer the leadership rather than the other way around.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 16, 2016 @ 4:03 pm

  7. “democratic” implies more than just bottom up. It also implies broad participation. Sunstone has no realistic prospect of broad participation.

    Comment by Martin James — August 16, 2016 @ 5:13 pm

  8. So, you think that Sunstone isn’t striving to open up and influence church direction, policy and doctrine to greater deliberation and discussion from a broader group of people!?!

    To quote their own mission statement:

    “We encourage humanitarian service, honest inquiry, and responsible interchange of ideas that is respectful of all people and what they hold sacred.”

    While they do not openly say that they are interested in “influencing” the direction of the church (unlike OW and other Op-Ed pieces), doesn’t a commitment to an ever-larger and more diversified conversation regarding the validity of any church policy or doctrine accomplish exactly that? This is exactly how Habermas defined the public sphere that he envisions.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 16, 2016 @ 5:42 pm

  9. I think Sunstone understands what a limited role they play in the direction of the church. I would liken them to a foreign language branch in the USA. If they think otherwise, they are completely insane.

    Comment by Martin James — August 17, 2016 @ 9:04 am

  10. I agree with much or even most you say. I think in particular the Progressive moves against traditional US democracy are quite interesting here. (Think Teddy Rosevelt or Woodrow Wilson to put technocrats not as beholden to democracy in power) Admittedly this was in opposition to totalitarianism on the one hand (the remnants of kings and empires) and communists/socialists on the other.

    With regards to the Church while I think there’s an element to what you say, I also think there’s considerable bottom up influence in practice that determines in part what the brethren concern themselves with. (But just in part – I don’t think in the least it dominates things)

    Comment by Clark — August 18, 2016 @ 9:34 am

  11. One thing that I should have made much more explicit in the post was Habermas’ distinction between linguistic and de-linguistified steering media.

    Habermas sees quantification as lying at the very heart of strategic action, and it is an appeal to quantified media (dollars and votes) that – by my lights – allows private means of consensus formation to remain private. He thinks that public, collective action should be evaluated rather than calculated.

    He assumes, then, that a qualitative appeal to linguistic communication necessarily entails democratic, moral deliberation as the most legitimate means by which a consensus is formed. The problem is that while acclamation clearly does not involved linguistic deliberation in any democratic sense, it is not an act of quantification or calculation either. It is a second, qualitative/evaluative/public type of consensus formation that (I claim) lies at the heart of LDS doctrine.

    His claim that evaluation rather than calculation is the primary means of legitimacy (in truth, norms and aesthetics) is spot on. The difference is that while he think that strategy is the aspect of calculation that makes it morally bankrupt, I insist that the lack of public evaluation (which will always be somewhat strategic in nature) that is the problem.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 18, 2016 @ 9:38 am

  12. “I also think there’s considerable bottom up influence in practice that determines in part what the brethren concern themselves with.”

    I absolutely agree.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 18, 2016 @ 9:39 am

  13. Jeff,
    I’m interested in how your theories apply to the CES and the PR portions of the church. These groups seem to have considerably more influence apart from religious authority than people like Sunstone and the Bloggernacle. What do you make of the influence of these bureaucracies on church doctrine?

    Comment by Martin James — August 19, 2016 @ 9:11 am

  14. As long as they are intstituted, regulated and justified by the 12, there is no problem at all. They are no different than when C.S. Lewis is quoted in GC.

    (I must say, that I’m not totally sure what to make of the PR department, though. I had always assumed that being a prophet just was a calling to PR.)

    Comment by Jeff G — August 19, 2016 @ 9:14 am

  15. “As long as they are intstituted, regulated and justified by the 12, there is no problem at all. They are no different than when C.S. Lewis is quoted in GC.”

    Here are a couple of threads that I’m trying to bring out.
    1. Is your position on morals just that in matters of morals church authority decides. Or is it that in matters of morals it is important that not only does church authority decide but that in the process up to that decision, the principle that church authority decides should be recognized.
    What empirical evidence do you have of the way they “regulate” CES? Does that regulation follow moral principles of authority or enlightenment values with regard to, say, pedagogy or font size of texts?
    Why do you say “the 12” instead of the Prophet? Is that ancient scripture or modern scripture or modern prophets?
    So that thread is really about how thoroughly you apply your structure to things that are not your target( those that don’t use church authorities as the moral basis of moral reasoning?)
    The other thread is what you are really saying about the “is/ought” distinction. In some places, you clearly think that ought and is are distinct and no knowledge of is can tell us what “ought” we “ought” comply with.
    But I can’t figure out how you know what “ought” is, other than using ought and is tools that seem to blur ought and is.
    I hold the position that ought and is are distinct but that all of our uses of and discovery of “ought” are infected by “is” in a way that we can’t get rid of. this is what it means that God’s ways are not man’s ways and why conscience and the experience of “ought” is an individual gift from God as the pure light of Christ. All of the ways you argue seem worldly and an attempt to substitute an “is” worldly behavior in the place of “ought” through authority.

    Comment by Martin James — August 19, 2016 @ 12:43 pm

  16. 1. I reject any “method” based approach. Moral are ascribed to us from above, not something that any individual could know or achieve by simply by more rational or methodical than other people.

    2. They assign the curriculum.

    3. “The 12” was simply short-hand for priesthood leaders.

    4. “Is” is a description that is the constituted product of various oughts. Without oughts, there are no descriptions and thus no “is” to talk about.

    5. Again, you’re trying to reduce ascription to some method. What oughts allow or even prescribe such a move?

    6. Where, exactly, do you go to discover “oughts” for yourself?

    7. “the experience of “ought” is an individual gift from God” You’re just making this up.

    8. “All of the ways you argue seem worldly and an attempt to substitute an “is” worldly behavior in the place of “ought” through authority.” You have is backwards. Modernity just was the replacement of all ought through authority with is statements that could be arrived at by any individual who follows the “proper” method. I’m simply undoing this substitution, thus rejecting man’s ways in order to re-embrace God’s ways.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 19, 2016 @ 1:18 pm

  17. Getting back to the op, both Habermas and I reject any method as giving us truth, morals or beauty. He thinks communicative deliberation between equals (no authority) gives us those things. I think that authoritative ascription and public affirmation give us such things.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 19, 2016 @ 1:38 pm

  18. Is it correct that you don’t think there is an is/ought distinction because ought are the basis of all descriptions?
    As for making 7 up, in your version everybody is making up oughts in every statement they make. I’ll take it as a compliment.
    What about a barter economy with no words? Are those trades a basis of “is” even with no descriptions? Basing morality on description just seems silly. (ok, I did make that up.)

    Comment by Martin James — August 19, 2016 @ 1:40 pm

  19. By the way, what does “above” mean? Isn’t that a metaphor that comes from a pre-linguistic sense of direction?

    Comment by Martin James — August 19, 2016 @ 1:44 pm

  20. An I think neither you or habermas are “real mormons. :)

    Comment by Martin James — August 19, 2016 @ 1:45 pm

  21. These seem like questions we’ve been over before… so many times.

    1. Yes. I cannot be a little boy that describes a wolf just outside the village without thereby subjecting myself to a moral evaluation by my audience.

    2. ” in your version everybody is making up oughts in every statement they make.” That’s absurd. While I’m tempted to leave it at that, I’ll just say that on my account nobody, (except, perhaps, God) makes up oughts on the fly. Rather, they wield, appeal to, reinforce or subvert preexisting oughts toward some purpose.

    3. Again, what? What barter economy without words? Any economy just is structured by the linguistic allocation and reproduction of rules and regulations. If you’re just talking about a bee pollinating flower in exchange for nectar, that is only an economy in a very metaphorical sense.

    4. “Isn’t that a metaphor that comes from a pre-linguistic sense of direction?” Yet again, what are you talking about?

    Unless than you can provide a sustained and engaged argument rather than this “spray and prey” tactic where you just ask a million questions of marginal relevance and hope one sticks, I’m probably not going to respond much more.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 19, 2016 @ 2:31 pm

  22. Here’s a different way of looking at language use that, as always, correspond to three families of ideologies:

    Individualists see descriptions and propositions as being the paradigm of language use. Thus, their description are supposed to be universal, hypothetical imperatives; the sharing of useful information; a mirror of reality; a map that “corresponds” to the world as it is. Accuracy and precision, as measured by an isolated individual within a lab or factory, are what matter most – thus making mathematics and formalized logic especially well-suited for expressing truths.

    Fraternalists see language as serving two, mutually defining purposes: authentic expression and social integration. Thus, they want to “expose” and condemn “alienating language” by “speaking truth to power” with the goal of “emancipation” from “communicative distortions” to our “social solidarity” and “free expression” caused by “domination”. The emancipated goal, just is one of universal, authentic expression of our socially integrated being. The traditional metaphor is a lamp rather than a mirror, where our interests determine where we shine the light and different perspective shine the light differently. Another metaphor would be a campfire (drum) circle in which each person openly expresses their feelings and perspectives on what they see around them. No spot around that circle is better than any other, nor does it exactly match that of any other.

    Paternalists see language in terms of direction/legislation as well as affirmation/deference. Whereas the individualist spoke universal, hypothetical imperatives, the paternalist speaks bounded, categorical imperatives. Thus, truth is not a map/mirror that corresponds in some objective sense, nor is it a lamp that we can all move around as we see fit. Rather, it is a compass which points a bounded audience in a particular direction – toward some end totally independent of their choosing. Think of the scriptural metaphors of the iron rod, the liahona, the way, etc. The bounded nature of these commands entail that some people are not allowed to say certain things. Indeed, the whole point of this structure is that no two people are ever equal in their rights to direct and legislate on one and the same issue.

    Thus, the paternalists’ view is totally different from the sharing of useful information about the world, or expressing authentic perspectives on the world. This is not to say that it totally disregards all such functions and purposes. Instead, each of the three perspectives is perfectly open to the other perspectives – but only so long and to the extent that they do not compromise the purposes which define their own perspective. The whole point, however, is that these three cannot be fully synthesized and integrated with each other. For example, individualism defines itself in terms of ignoring all social relations – but these social relations are exactly what define the other two positions. Similarly, fraternalism defines itself in terms of a rejection of all social asymmetries – but such asymmetries are exactly what define the paternalistic position.

    If anything, paternalism is actually more tolerant of the other two, since the other two were invented with the specific intention of subverting paternalism. Thus, prophets and priests aren’t at all against us expressing ourselves or exchanging useful information about the world… so long as it doesn’t interfere with those things that they legislate, direct, etc.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 19, 2016 @ 3:20 pm

  23. I take it as a given that we are both paternalists and that in one sense your message is just “follow the prophet.” My point is not to question paternalism or the follow the prophet message.
    My questions that come across as tangential are really just designed to figure out the consequences of the particular way that you go about justifying paternalism and to point out the ways it distorts mormon social practice.
    For example, Mormon paternalism includes much individualism in both theology and practice. Agency, education, punishment of ones own sins, etc. are not done in a paternalistic manner. Mormon legal theories don’t seem particularly paternalistic, for example.
    I’ll take a break from commenting because you don’t find it that useful.

    Comment by Martin James — August 19, 2016 @ 5:01 pm

  24. “My questions that come across as tangential are really just designed to figure out the consequences of the particular way that you go about justifying paternalism”

    Again, you’re missing the point. Paternalism IS the justification! Moral justification is something that is ascribed by some paternalistic figure, not me or you, not nature, and not any cultural spirit.

    There are two issues that I think you’re utterly wrong about, both of which I described in the OP: motivation and obligation.

    Your question is no different than the 12 year who keeps asking “but where did THAT come from?” to every answer that is given to that question. You act as if there will eventually be some answer to which that question cannot possibly be answered, but this will never be the case. While the question always *can* be asked, the question is whether we ought or ought not ask it? But the answer to this question will depend upon where we and the person we are asking are, right then, when we ask it. The answer is historical in nature, not universal.

    Another big mistake that you’re making is in thinking that justification and explanation is reaching “backwards” towards some origin or foundation. This is totally wrong. Asking and answering questions are always aimed at creating some future result, not discovering something – anything – prior to the asking. Thus, whether we even want to ask “but where did *that* come from?” will be determined by what it is that we are trying to accomplish in the future. This too is historical rather than universal in nature.

    In summary, we can always ask that question. We will not always want to do so and we will not always be morally justified in doing so. When you ask “but what justifies paternalistic authority?” What are you trying to accomplish? What are the moral obligations that are at play when you ask that question? More importantly, where did those obligations come from? I’ll bet good money they did not come from a paternalistic authority!

    “Agency, education, punishment of ones own sins, etc. are not done in a paternalistic manner.”

    (citation needed)

    Again, you don’t have to stop comment, just actually formulate a real comment in which to develop a thoughtful point rather than just spraying and praying with a hundred versions of “but where did THAT come from?”

    Comment by Jeff G — August 19, 2016 @ 5:22 pm

  25. I just don’t think that saying morals are paternalistic does anything. It is all about what understanding what they are saying and you can’t understand them any better by knowing that they are authoritative. I just don’t know what you could possibly mean because of the questions I raise and you keep saying they aren’t significant and so I keep thinking I don’t know what you mean.

    Comment by Martin James — August 19, 2016 @ 7:14 pm

  26. I think the problem is that you see no difference between understanding somebody and deferring to somebody. You keep saying that unless I can explain the former, my claims regardless the latter are meaningless.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 19, 2016 @ 7:38 pm

  27. Yes, I’m saying one can’t defer to what one doesn’t understand.

    Comment by Martin James — August 20, 2016 @ 11:01 am

  28. I’m saying enculturation includes both in ways that matter. I think autism is a good example of how individual differences have social effects. Where we go around in circles is how much “normal” communication can be taken for granted in the deference. It seems you find the deference separable from the processes that create understanding and/or that that process is not that subject to individual differences.
    You sometimes say this as a disbelief in foundations yet you admit the necessity of these biological processes. I just don’t see that the theories make any practical difference because everyone can shoehorn their beliefs into a paternalistic wrapper because the dictates of paternalism are so broad. Basically one can “proof-text” paternal dictates however one wants. This is why I get back to understanding. If I can understand deference however I want the paternalism doesn’t make much of a difference. Hence the whole “teach them correct principles and they govern themselves” approach.

    Comment by Martin James — August 20, 2016 @ 11:15 am

  29. The logical mistake is pretty obvious: 1: (~a implies ~b) is not the same as 2: (b implies ~a) or 3: (b implies a) where A = understanding and B = deference.

    No matter how much you argue for (1), neither (2) nor (3) follow from it.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 20, 2016 @ 11:49 am

  30. My mistake, (3) does follow, but you’re arguing (2).

    Comment by Jeff G — August 20, 2016 @ 11:51 am