Social Theory and Unproven (and Unprovable) Assumptions


I talk about this a lot, so I may as well write something about it too. Actually, I’ve already written about it, in my book . . . on the first page: that all thinking is based upon unproven and unprovable assumptions.

Because this is the case, all social thinking—or social theory construction—is based upon unproven and unprovable assumptions too; therefore a good social theory simply needs to be the best, or the most workable, social theory possible.

Think of it like this, mathematics, which is nothing if not rational and logical, is based upon the unproven and unprovable assumption that the invisible laws of logic (somehow) prevent 2 + 2 from visibly equaling 5. The law of non-contradiction seems, somehow, to exist, but it’s not provable as to how or why it exists, it’s just assumed to be true, because it works. Likewise, the assumption of an invisible divine being—God—is not provable, but we cannot escape the visible phenomenal world in which we exist, and this world testifies to the existence of a divine being who is greater than the world, through whom the world came to be, and who sustains the very existence of the world.

As I’ve said elsewhere, we have only two social theories from which to choose today: natural law or the will to power.

While I’m on this subject, let me say this: social theories premised upon atheism, humanism, or agnosticism begin and end with the will to power; and with people (i.e., humankind) as the highest (ultimate) authority. There is no higher standard to which a person can be held (legally) than to a human standard and to positive law alone, which reigns supreme (i.e., the decrees of human legislatures and the decisions of human courts).

Social theories which are premised upon God and the natural law (i.e., divine, eternal, moral laws of the universe) provide a standard above that which is human, which transcends humankind and positive law; positive law must live up to the natural law standard.

When I discuss this with people I try to get at the heart of the matter by asking: What are the unproven and unprovable assumptions that you’re basing your social theory upon, and do they work, for a society, better than mine work? Would a society based upon your assumptions be more or less just? If the person is an atheist, antitheist, humanist, or agnostic I will always point out the fact that neither of our assumptions, which we base our social theories upon, are provable, but that one of our social theories works, as a social theory, better than the other: mine (i.e., natural law). So, since mine works better than yours does—because mine better conceptualizes justice, as justice applies to society—mine wins.

People may not like to hear this, but it’s true. And, when it comes to constructing social theories, I’m nothing if not pragmatic.

This makes natural law somewhat of a “right makes might” position; rather the opposite of the “might makes right” position, which, ultimately, is the only logical conclusion of the will to power philosophy.

I have total confidence that, in any debate concerning social theory, natural law will beat the will to power as the better philosophical foundation for social theory construction; hands down. Natural law was good enough for 2,000 years of Western Civilization, for the author of the Declaration of Independence, for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and natural law is certainly good enough for us, today; because it beats the will to power, any day.

So, when it comes to social theory . . . may the best (i.e., most just and workable) unproven and unprovable assumption—natural law—win

About ajmacdonaldjr

writer, author, blogger
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2 Responses to Social Theory and Unproven (and Unprovable) Assumptions

  1. jonvagg says:

    Hmm… sounds like a cross between Nietzsche and positivism? I’m picking up on the ‘will to power’ and the ‘unverifiable assumptions’ parts of the post.

    Had you considered something closer to a existentialist approach (along the lines of individuals need to make their own meanings) or, in more sociological terms, an approach like ethnomethodology which looks at how people ‘do’ common sense and rely on ‘what everybody knows’ even if that knowledge is completely unverifiable?

    I’m not sure it’s feasible to ask people, in essence, ‘what are the assumptions you’re relying on that you don’t know you’re relying on’. It’s the kind of thing that needs to be deduced from observation.

  2. I’m thinking of commonly perceived immoral behaviors, which are common to virtually all human societies. An innate, subjective, moral rule that works well, as a standard, in a society (e.g., don’t rape, murder, steal . . .) In social theory we need universals, not particulars. Individuals (particulars) cannot make the moral rule that applies to all ( = universal).

    I do think we should challenge people to recognize (i.e., know) what their presuppositions are, especially if people are not sure what they are. People should always know what assumptions they’re making.

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