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First Principles – Open Thread

No good understanding of Conservatism can be had without studying what might be considered its first principles.  Philosophically, a first principle is a “basic, foundational proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.”[1] It is the foundation upon which an entire body of thought it based.

A great philosophical debate can and should be had on whether the list is to small or too great, distilled to priori status or still derived from more basic truths.  So let the debate ensue!  It’s an open thread, so comments and debate will be pulled into the post as merited.

First Principles Journal gives us a list from which to start our consideration.  While the list is intended to be of the core principles upon which the United States was founded, I believe it an excellent start on a list of Conservatism’s basic principles: limited government, the rule of law, individual liberty,personal responsibility, free-market economy, and the moral norms of Western civilization.  Now on to seeking the true first principles of Conservatism.  I believe the question to be answered is, are those the true first principles or can they be derived to other more basic principles.  Understanding this will help us develop better tools with which to discuss what has happened and is happening within our Country.

I’ll start things off with an outline of the principles and information that either supports it as a first principle, suggests it should be distilled further, or that it is otherwise inadequate.

Limited Government

  • Equality of Citizens and Sovereigns
  • Hobbes posited the opposite  - hand control to an unaccountable sovereign as a means to avoid what he felt would result in a “state of nature” resembling civil war

The Rule of Law

  • Natural Law (legal theory)
  • Absolute Truth
    • – existence and derivatives? (Descartes)
    • vs. the dangers of relativism
      • blurring of the truth, multiple conflicting truths, confusion and anxiety diminish will to improve methods of thinking
    • Unalterable facts, unalienable truths

Individual Liberty

  • Self-determination
  • Equality of Citizens and Sovereigns
  • Public Sphere
  • Property Rights (Locke – natural rights: life, liberty, estate)

Personal Responsibility

  • Self-determination

Free-Market Economy

  • Haven’t realized the philosophical basis for this principle
  • Property rights?

Moral Norms of Western Civilization

  • Natural Law (moral theory)

[1] Wikipedia – First Principles

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  1. To start the conversation I’ll ask, is limited government a conservative first principle or is limited government implementation of a different first principle? Perhaps the equality of citizens and sovereigns, or natural rights and that a government has power over those rights which man chooses to relinquish to it.

    I suppose then again, separating the principle from it’s implementation may raise quite a debate. I certainly hope so.