On Fundamental Axioms

British philosopher Jeremy Bentham was a bit of an egomaniac. He had himself mummified into an “auto-icon” that could be kept around so that future generations could benefit from his physical presence. One can still benefit from the auto-icon at the University College of London should one feel so inclined, but Bentham’s head will not be there because they only bring that out once a year.

Bentham had another idea, “the fundamental axiom,” which for him was, “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” which isn’t bad but it is problematic. What do you mean by “happiness.” The greatest number of who? What extremes are permissible? And are there long and short-term tradeoffs? These are not deal breaker questions but the normal sorts of questions that philosophers consider.

The key point is that there is utility—itself a very Bentham term—in the consideration of fundamental axioms. When considering myriad questions and reading thousands of pages of philosophy, there is utility in keeping the “main thing” the main thing, though there is some debate about what the “main thing” is.

The fundamental axiom for your correspondent is from the Bible from Matthew 7:15–20 and  Luke 6:43-45—a tree is known by its fruits—which stresses the consequences of personal actions and public policies as well as how they are interpreted. In citing these Biblical verses as a fundamental axiom, your correspondent risks conflating philosophy with religion agains the advice of Biblical scholar Gordon Fee, but that’s an admitted and ongoing hazard.

Obama recently observed that, “the socialism label doesn’t make much sense,” a statement with which your correspondent disagrees. Recalling the fundamental axiom of Marx—from each according according to their ability, to each according to their need—shows that applying the socialism label to Obama does make sense because his redistributionist, social justice, and globalist policies adhere rigorously to that axiom. With regard to foreign policy, what an obviously infatuated Atlantic calls, “The Obama Doctrine” (if something so simplistic and problematic as, “doing whatever you feel like with no regard to the consequences,” could be called a “doctrine”), historian to the stars Niall Ferguson states Obama’s fundamental axiom is, “the foes shall become friends, and the friends foes,” which has a very Marxist ring to it.

The problem with Marx’s and Obama’s fundamental axioms is that the consequences don’t work out, which is why progressives, liberals, socialists, communists, Democrats, Fabians, etc. are constantly making excuses, blaming others, and changing they names by which they desire to be known. If the consequences worked out, then then would want to retain such names so they could bask in the reflected glory of their predecessors, but that’s not the way it works.

So if Marx’s and Obama’s fundamental axioms don’t lead to beneficial policy outcomes, then it stands to reason that the opposite of what they advocate would lead to beneficial policy outcomes, and what would that look like? What might be an appropriate policy refomulation that would provide better policy outcomes? Consider, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their ability,” or “To each according to their ability, regardless of need.” Not sure these suggestions are yet in their final form, but there’s only one way to find out: test these trees to find out what fruits they bear.

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