Excluded Middle by Michael Cochrane

The Constitution of the United States is such a fundamental and influential document that it is completely understandable that it would be the center of attention and controversy with respect to the nature of what we believe to be true and significant as a people. As such, the Constitution is subject to a scrutiny that suggests that its propositions and proscriptions are open to interpretation.
Over the last two centuries, there has arisen a concept of political ideology that appears to dispose itself along a spectrum from extreme to extreme – extreme right (facism) to extreme left (communism). Well meaning people from both “extremes” have attempted to make their case for the truth of their position. The so-called “moderate” individual might “split the difference”, and find a middle position that seems to be reasonable and truthful at the same time.
Thus, a common response to the daily back and forth of views on the left and the right is to think that the “Truth” lies somewhere in the “reasonable” middle; the centrist viewpoint. Such a position is considered unassailable and more than likely where the real answers to problems lie. That mode of thinking may pass the test of political correctness, but it doesn’t pass the test of philosophical scrutiny.
The Truth lies where it is – objectively – regardless of where we are positioned on the spectrum of political or ideological views. I’m reminded of the concept of statistical sampling: The mean of the population is a parameter one can never know exactly, but it is “true”. We take a random sample of that population and derive the statistic, the sample mean, which is an estimate of the “true” population mean. From there we can build a 95% confidence interval for the location of this true value. But this interval may or may not enclose the true population parameter. All this tells us is that if we were to construct 100 intervals from 100 random samples, that 95 of them would enclose the “true” population mean. It’s possible (with a 5% chance) that we’re wrong.
Therefore a search for Truth should not be driven to the center from the “extremes”; it should be undertaken objectively, without regard for what society deems far right or left. The Founders, in their wisdom, created a document that attempted to derive a basic set of laws for the nation based on the objectively true principles of liberty and justice as authored by God. But, since it is a creature of man, the Constitution is not perfect. So it allows for amendment. Even the Declaration suggests that a free people reserve the right to overthrow a government destructive of those basic God given rights and start over.
The notion of a “living” Constitution suggests to me that it is possible to ascribe more or less (or different) power and authority to the words of the document based on the exigencies of a particular societal problem. To return to my statistics analogy, this is like constructing a 100% confidence interval: we fit the “Truth” to a space between the extremes we have settled on. The problem with this is that there is no such thing as a 100% confidence interval (unless, of course, your “sample” is the entire population, in which case you would *know* the truth because you had perfect information).
Truth exists. It may actually lie outside the boundaries with which human beings have constrained it. The truly virtuous person will pursue it wherever it may lead, and will not be constrained by boundaries imposed by a fickle society.
Copyright 2010 by Michael Cochrane.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved


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