Research Portfolio Post #2: Culture, Politics, and Science

These authors are certainly of the opinion that a democratic society is in opposition to the phenomenon of making normative judgments. Plato points out that the system to which you are raised largely contributes to your political beliefs, and thus one could recognize that those with different upbringings could have different beliefs that would be in contrast to any attempt at normative judgments. This view is echoed by the line “And what is the character of such a regime? For it’s plain that the man who is like it will turn b out to be democratic” in which Plato describes how a man raised in a democracy will likely believe it is the best system, though one can infer that this is not assumed to be universal.[1] Part of this avoidance of making normative judgments is in fact exhibited by the democratic Plato’s own avoidance of including normative judgments in his own works. Tocqueville also acknowledges the variety of beliefs that may validly exist in a political system in his lines “it is not probable that a great number of men would ever unite in any common belief.”[2] After addressing the variety of beliefs that exists, he goes on to stress the lack of need for normative judgments, by in fact saying that one need not prove that all his outlooks are true, and that thus multiple opinions can rightfully exists simultaneously. This sentiment is represented in Tocqueville’s lines “There is no philosopher in the world so great that he does not believe a million things on faith in others or does not suppose many more truths than he establishes.”[3] Finally, Johnson in fact bases her entire article on the very premise that society has evolved into an environment of normative free judgments to which she is opposed. Just one example of the phenomenon she criticizes is depicted in the quote “well, I think it’s wrong, that’s the value that I hold, but you can believe the exact opposite and that’s fine with me, too.”[4]

I agree that democracy is often adverse to normative judgments, as asserted by the previous authors. Having grown up in the system, I have grown used to being counseled as to how democracy is accepting, democracy is diverse, and that in a democracy multiple points of view and opinions can exist. However, if the entire system, a system that is often praised as the best in existence for governing man, is built around multiple beliefs coexisting, wouldn’t it lead observers to believe that multiple conflicting ideas can exists simultaneously and rightfully, if allowed for in such a great system. Would any system praised for its value and societal benefits allow for the inclusion of normatively wrong ideals. I would argue therefore that most raised in a democracy would be cautious to assign a normative judgment on other beliefs that they have been taught to respect. I would argue that this does not mean that normative truths should not be pursued, they should in fact still be the ultimate pursuit of research, for normative judgments do not require consensus, and often rightfully so. If one individual could break up society by stating that “murder at will” is ok, and no one would dare impose a majority held normative value, than anarchy would be all that could prevail. Therefore, I believe there is a place for normativity in decision making, researcher, and in life. While these judgments may not be held universally, it is far more dangerous to impose a system of no right and wrong, than one in which some may disagree with the prevailing sentiment.


[1] Allan Bloom, Plato’s Republic (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1968).

[2] Alexis de Tocqueville, “From Tocqueville “Democracy in America”,” 2, no. 1 (2000): 407.

[3] Ibid., 408.

[4] Leigh Johnson, “Lazy Relativism,” Read More Write More Think More, 2009, accessed,


Bloom, Allan. Plato’s Republic. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1968.

Johnson, Leigh. “Lazy Relativism.” Read More Write More Think More, 2009. Accessed.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. “From Tocqueville “Democracy in America”.” 2, no. 1 (2000).

1 Comment on Research Portfolio Post #2: Culture, Politics, and Science

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    February 13, 2017 at 4:53 pm


    This is a good post that offers some very interesting suggestions, especially towards your conclusion. Your initial overall general claim (that all three authors believe that democratic people are especially averse to making ethical judgments) is true, but I would push you to re-read the particular passages to revise your understanding of the more specific arguments they are making, and I would be happy to talk these through with you during office hours.

    Your conclusion is extremely thoughtful – and I think your practical point here is valuable and an argument that is too often overlooked. If we really believed that all possible value-claims were equal, then it could mean embracing anarchy, or something far worse. To the extent that we don’t advocate for that, we are making real claims about good and bad, better and worse – and such claims are not necessarily inconsistent with a great deal of pluralism and tolerance.


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