Friday, June 5, 2020
I appreciated David Cloutier's piece in the current issue of Commonweal, "What the Experts Can't Tell Us." (In several respects, Cloutier's piece is consonant with the recent New York Times op-ed by the President of the University of Notre Dame, John Jenkins.) Here's a bit, from Cloutier:
. . . “What should we do?” is never just a scientific question; it’s also a moral one. The misleading identification of prudent public policy with attention to empirical data is deeply problematic in our present situation, for two reasons.
First, it obscures the uncertainty and provisionality of the data itself. Scientific research is a long, messy process of conjecture and refutation. . . .
Even if we had perfect data, however, governing would still require more than just public-health predictions. Some leaders confuse political prudence with what we might call “bureaucratic prudence,” or what Thomas Aquinas calls partial prudence: its error, Aquinas says, is to “take for an end not the common end of all human life, but of some particular affair.” The good bureaucrat is an expert narrowly concerned with his or her own area of expertise. We need good experts—good economists and doctors and statisticians. But such expertise, however necessary, is insufficient to answer questions that are properly political, questions that affect the whole community. For that, you also need political prudence.
To call it “political” is to say it is “for the polis,” which Aristotle defines as the “complete” community. What distinguishes the polis is that it is not a group or society aimed at some specific end, but includes all ends needed for human flourishing.