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My Chat with ChatGPT
Discussing political theory and human nature with an "artificial intelligence."
ChatGPT and other “artificially intelligent” algorithms have been in the news a lot recently, and today I decided to hop on and see what might come of a discussion about political theory. I found the results so interesting that I thought I would share the brief conversation for this week’s issue of Self-Evident. The way the chat ended is ironic and somewhat humorous.
Me: What do you know about political theory?
ChatGPT: Political theory is a field of study concerned with the examination and analysis of political ideas, values, and institutions. It seeks to understand the nature of political power, authority, and legitimacy and how they are exercised in different societies and systems of government.
Political theory encompasses a range of perspectives and approaches, including normative theory, which focuses on questions of what ought to be, and empirical theory, which is concerned with understanding how politics actually operates in practice.
Some of the most important themes in political theory include democracy, liberalism, socialism, conservatism, feminism, multiculturalism, post-colonialism, and critical race theory. These theories provide different frameworks for understanding political power and the distribution of resources and opportunities in society.
Some of the most influential thinkers in political theory include Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Weber, Michel Foucault, and John Rawls, among many others. Political theory continues to evolve and adapt to new historical contexts and challenges, and remains a vital field of study in understanding the complexities of political life.
Me: Do you feel that political theory is more predominantly normative or prescriptive?
ChatGPT: Political theory can be both normative and prescriptive, depending on the particular theory being examined.
Normative political theory is concerned with evaluating political values, principles, and institutions against a set of ethical standards or ideals. It asks questions like "what ought to be" or "what is the best way to organize society." Normative theories can be prescriptive in the sense that they offer recommendations for how societies should be structured, what policies should be pursued, and what goals we should aim for.
Prescriptive political theory, on the other hand, is focused on providing specific policy recommendations or solutions to particular political problems. This type of theory tends to be more concerned with practical solutions to specific issues rather than broader normative questions.
Both normative and prescriptive theories have their place in political theory, and the distinction between the two is not always clear-cut. Many normative theories offer prescriptive solutions, while many prescriptive theories are based on underlying normative principles.
Ultimately, whether political theory is more predominantly normative or prescriptive depends on the particular theory being examined and the questions it seeks to answer.
Me: What is the foundation of normative theory? In other words, which single ethical standard or ideal is the starting point for "what ought to be"?
ChatGPT: There is no single ethical standard or ideal that is the foundation of normative theory. Different normative theories are based on different ethical principles, values, or ideals, and they can offer very different answers to questions of "what ought to be".
Some examples of ethical principles that underlie normative theories in political theory include:
Utilitarianism, which holds that actions or policies should aim to produce the greatest overall happiness or well-being for the greatest number of people.
Deontological ethics, which holds that certain actions or policies are intrinsically right or wrong, regardless of their consequences.
Virtue ethics, which focuses on the character traits that individuals or societies should cultivate in order to lead good lives or be good citizens.
Social contract theory, which holds that political authority is based on an implicit or explicit agreement between individuals and their rulers, and that legitimate political institutions are those that are based on this agreement.
Justice, which is concerned with fairness and equity in the distribution of resources, opportunities, and benefits in society.
These ethical principles provide different starting points for normative theories and can lead to very different conclusions about what political institutions and policies are just, right, or good. Therefore, it is important to understand the underlying ethical assumptions and values of normative theories in order to evaluate and compare them.
Me: You're correct that there are different normative theories that have different starting points of ethical inquiry. However, the basis of normative theory is the belief that truth is not subjective, that there are essential and universal truths. So, while a normative political theorist can recognize the different starting points of different theories, and while value can be gleaned from even the most off basis normative treatment, to be a normative theorist is to decide upon which theory or combination of theories best reflects objective facts of human reality. With this in mind, I'll repeat my question in this way: which of the normative theories you have presented provides the starting point in considering "what ought to be" in a manner that best reflects the objective facts of human reality?
ChatGPT: I understand your point, normative theories are often based on subjective ethical principles, but this does not necessarily mean that they reject the possibility of objective truth. In fact, many normative theories aim to discover objective moral principles that apply to all human beings, or to establish principles of justice that are independent of subjective preferences or cultural norms.
That being said, there is no single normative theory that can be considered the "best" starting point for considering "what ought to be" in a manner that reflects the objective facts of human reality. Each normative theory has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the choice of theory depends on the particular question being examined and the context in which it is being examined.
For example, utilitarianism may be a good starting point for considering policies that aim to maximize overall well-being or happiness, while deontological ethics may be more appropriate for policies that involve issues of individual rights and duties. Justice-oriented theories like egalitarianism or libertarianism may be useful for thinking about issues of distributive justice or economic inequality.
Ultimately, the choice of normative theory depends on the particular question being asked, the values and preferences of the theorist or the society in question, and the context in which the theory is being applied. It is important to critically evaluate different normative theories and their underlying ethical assumptions in order to choose the theory that is most appropriate for the specific problem being addressed.
Me: Wouldn't such an overly pragmatic approach reject the very premise of normative thinking? Different normative theories are premised on very different observations of human nature. Fundamental aspects of human nature do not vary based upon perspective or circumstance. Some theories are going to be wrong and some are going to be correct, because they disagree with each other in their foundational premises. For example, classical liberalism views human nature as constant and views government as existing to secure individual liberty, whereas various Marxist theories treat humans more as constructs and able to be crafted towards a utopian reality if government is only given enough power and control over society. These theories cannot be picked and chosen from on only a circumstantial basis, as their observations and provisions begin at different places and proceed toward different conclusions. A truly normative approach must contend with which premise is right and which one is wrong. Otherwise, would this not be purely a soullessly pragmatic prescriptive exercise?
ChatGPT: An error occurred.
Here’s What’s Happening
To Get You Thinking
An (Unidentified Flying) Object Lesson - Price St. Clair: “The way the Biden administration is handling the information it does have about the objects—downed a week after American fighter jets shot down a Chinese spy balloon—has raised another set of questions.”
Biden’s ‘Buy American’ Program Is a Delusion - Agustin Forzani: “Public infrastructure only shifts jobs from one task to another. It does not create them out of thin air.”
The Need for American Resolve in the Face of Putin’s Aggression - James S. Gilmore III: “If the United States and the Western allies choose to quit supporting Ukraine, Putin will prevail. Using force to achieve geostrategic aims will then become the new norm in Europe and world-wide.”
Mass-Shooting Inflation - Wilfred Reilly: “There have been exactly 140 true American mass shootings since the 1980s….So, where does the ‘647 just last year’ figure come from?”
Don’t Forget About Iran - Masih Alinejad: “It is easy to look the other way when the monsters are not yet at your doorstep. But when tyranny is allowed to mutate and spread unchecked, everyone around the world is less safe.”
The West Should Heed this Message from a Russian Prison - Ilya Somin: “Yashin warns us against ascribing collective guilt for the war to Russians as a group. Doing so is morally wrong, and also likely to bolster Vladimir Putin's grip on power.”
Biden Owes Americans Better Answers on the UFOs - NR Editors: “President Biden’s prepared statement concerning recent events on Thursday afternoon — he took no questions — combined with a review of the relevant timeline only adds to the confusion.”
We Don’t Get Answers Anymore - Abe Greenwald: “We’re probably never going to find out much about either Biden’s health or the shot-down aircraft. As a country, we’ve lost the ability to get to the bottom of things.”
How ‘Bronze Age Pervert’ Seduced Right-Wing Thought Leaders - Jack Butler: “When Alamariu trollishly notes that the government instituted by the American Founding ‘would today be called white supremacism or white nationalism,’ he is merely echoing, from the other direction, the criticism of it from the left. Both would tear the Founding edifice down for a tyranny of their own construction.”
And Now for the Local Stuff
Latter-day Saints and the effects of religious illiteracy in the U.S. - Stephen Cranney: “In the case of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, attitudes toward the faith may have less to do with the same-sex dating policy at religious schools or with theological positioning about the exact nature of Christ’s divinity, and more to do with a Netflix documentary producer’s choice of creepy music.”
Utah strikes deal with Texas Instruments for $11B expansion in Lehi - KSL: “Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Wednesday announced what his office called the ‘largest private economic investment in state history.’”
Idaho House Republicans Pass Transgender-Surgery Ban for Minors - WFB: “The proposed legislation expands an existing ban on "female genital mutilation," making it a felony to administer puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones to a child, or to perform surgery to ‘alter the appearance of or affirm the child's perception of the child's sex.’”
Utah legislators unveil ‘historic’ tax cut proposal - KSL: “House and Senate Republicans on Thursday announced their tax relief proposal, which would total about $400 million in tax relief for Utahns.”