Saturday, July 22, 2006

Complexity, good; inconsistency, bad.

I had one more thought about complexity. I consider myself a contextualist in philosophy, which means taking issues in context, which means trying to do some justice to their complexity rather than artificially simplifying matters. But the danger is that by recognizing complexity one is given a free pass to wallow in uncertainty, and that doesn't get us anywhere, not at all.

[There's also complexity for complexity's sake, of which in my opinion we see all too much. But that's different from recognizing a kind of real-world complexity, which is what I'm talking about here.]

But, again, there's an important difference between complexity and inconsistency. In my earlier post, I suggested that the architect of the Guantanamo force feedings is confusing the two: using the complexity of the situation to justify an inconsistent policy. Of course, he could argue that the policy isn't inconsistent - but I can't imagine anyone defending inconsistency as a good thing.

The reason inconsistency is bad is because it is constitutive of both rationality and justice: being rational means drawing similar conclusions from similar cases, just as being just means treating people fairly. That's an over-simplification, but I think the general idea is right. Inconsistency is just bad, bad, bad.

I can't make such a strong positive case for complexity - there are plenty of circumstances, after all, when simplicity is better - but I do believe that a certain receptiveness to real-world complexity is a sign of maturity, both philosophically and intellectually.


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