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A Theory of of Political Correctness

The Fundamental Principles that Form the Foundation of “What is Politically Correct”

The concept of political correctness can be understood as an excess or deficiency of a few key virtues. Here is a model of “the virtues of political correctness” based on Aristotle’s virtue theory of means.

The “foundational principles” or “virtues” of political correctness can be understood like this:

SPHERE OF ACTION VICE OF DEFICIENCY POLITICALLY CORRECT “VIRTUOUS” MEAN VICE OF EXCESS
Sensitivity Insensitive Sensitive Overly sensitive
Tolerance Intolerant Tolerant Overly tolerant
Liberty Overly authoritative Liberal Overly liberal
Equality Unequal Equal Overly equal

Then “censorship” must be applied to each principle to keep it in moderation or balance (as this is “justice”). That then brings up the paradoxes and questions related to “how much state or self censorship is correct in which settings?” That then brings up the concept went csll political correctness today (the philosophy of tolerance).

With that in mind, looking at the above chart we can extrapolate the idea that:

One should not be too intolerant of tolerance, or too intolerant of intolerance, or too tolerant of tolerance, or too tolerant of intolerance.

All present different problems, but each pairing of extremes and deficiencies is a “vice of sorts.”

That is right, I am suggesting that this conversation that comes in the form of “PC” today has not one vice but four… and that is just pertaining to the concept of tolerance alone!

So it is for the other aspects (or properties) of this system. So that goes for liberty, equality, censorship, sensitivity and their abstracted antitheses.

TIP: We can summarize “the virtuous mean” simply as “using proper restraint and showing proper respect” (qualities most people inherently see as virtues, but qualities that are analogous to the termcensorship“).

The chart above can be used to see how the different types of political correctness and incorrectness arise.

Here we aren’t just talking about what is politically expedient for a politician in terms of language, but instead are speaking to the core of the foundational principles behind that practicing of self-censorship.

If one’s social policy, policy of expression, or censorship policy (either as an individual, faction, or state) strikes a true balance between sensitive and insensitive, it can be said to be generally “correct” (AKA politically correct in the true non-talking point sense). The same is true for tolerance (and for liberty and equality, the principles of democracy and liberalism).

If however, one has a deficiency or excess of these virtues, their policy (or self or state censorship, or their social policy, or their policy of expression) is subject to “incorrectness”.

Sometimes, as is the case with satire, we push the bounds of correctness to counter imbalance or to simply shed light on its absurdity, but generally balances and not extremes is “correct”.

Balance (AKA moderation AKA temperance AKA justice) is a core concept of moral philosophy adopted by many including America’s founders, Aristotle’s “mean” theory, Plato’s Republic, and Montesquieu’s separation of powers. And just like it applies when discussing the structure of powers in government, or a balance of majority political party views in a nation, it applies when discussing stance’s on foundational virtues.

Thus, while “what is correct for politics” may sometimes be an overly sanitized [and sometimes spun] version of PC meant only to avoid the ire of some overly sensitive groups, the core of political correctness speaks to finding a balanced and thus truly correct position on some foundational principles at the heart of the human experience.

With the above in mind, we can expand on this theory by giving a name to each potential mix of correct and incorrect positions. For example:

  • The Social Justice Warrior: Overly sensitive and overly tolerant of “others” (out-groups), but intolerant of intolerant views. A position of authority in which inequality is not accepted.
  • The Patriotically Correct: Insensitive and intolerant of others, but overly tolerant of those who share their views. A position of authority in which inequality is accepted.
  • The Laissez-faire Libertarian: Insensitive and overly tolerant. A position of total liberty where inequality is accepted.

Likewise, we could say:

  • A Type of Right-Wing Tyrant: Insensitive, intolerant, authoritative, and favors inequality.
  • A Type of Left-Wing Tyrant: Overly sensitive, intolerant, authoritative, and favors equality (of all but them, the authoritarian).
  • Anarchy: Pure liberty and equality, but insensitive and overly tolerant.

As you can see, if self or state censorship either fails to restrict a virtue or restricts the virtue too much, we get incorrectness.

Here, censorship is analogous with the process of moderation, and finding a perfect alchemic balance is a complex art / science (thus, detecting the basic principles is one thing, applying them in an ideal way is another).

I strongly suspect that a full and perfect theory includes a few additional elements… but this is the gist of a model that explains the underlying foundation of political correctness.

The Bottom line on correct behavior and language: Correctness exists in a range, probably somewhere between “locker room talk” and how on would conduct themselves teaching a Kindergarten class, with the exact sweet spot depending on context. Tolerance is all about accepting the linguistic and behavioral liberalism of others, respect is all about using speech and behavior to display sensitivity (especially to those who belong to historically oppressed groups that aren’t our own). Incorrectness is all about not getting the balance right. Applying critical thought and balancing all the moving pieces is a bit of an art form, and things can get messy in a liberal society… which is one why tolerance is important. As illustrated above, it has been long known that ensuring the values of liberty and equality in a society is a balancing act and that even these fundamental virtues don’t work well in extremes.

Aristotle & Virtue Theory: Crash Course Philosophy #38.

NOTE: Sometimes the human condition expresses itself as left and right, sometimes as liberal and conservative, sometimes as the forms of government, and sometimes as PC. In all cases, the same concepts and principles apply. In all cases, balance is a virtue and the extremes of excess and deficiency are corrupting. When people are free to express themselves, we see natural biases express themselves as opinions and ideologies. Here the conversation becomes about sensitivity, tolerance, and moderation as it relates to the basic left-right political forms.


"The Virtues of Political Correctness" is tagged with: Left–right Politics, Metaphysics, Politically Correct, Theories, Virtue Theory

What do you think?