The Beauty of Consistency

Instructor:  Sara Shute

Did Thomas Jefferson really believe that all men were created equal and endowed by their “Creator” with unalienable rights? Apart from women, how could Jefferson not have believed that adult male slaves or adult Native American males were men? In terms of logic, how are we to understand this? Or when Barack Obama in 2011 authorized the killings, in Yemen, of American citizen Al-Awlaki, and his 16 yr. old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also an American citizen, did Obama also believe in the Constitutional right of all American citizens to a fair trial and due process? Or when Trump said in July, 2018, “I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia interfering in US elections]” and then followed it the next day with “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why … it wouldn’t be Russia.’” Would be? Wouldn’t be? Orwellian “doublethink”?

When one tries to “have it both ways,” one is being inconsistent. But what’s so bad about inconsistency? And is consistency always a good thing (how about Emerson’s “foolish consistencies”)? We will try to answer these questions in this course, while we explore what consistency is, why it is essential, and how ubiquitous it is: all the following depend on consistency (or its opposite, inconsistency): rationality, understanding, making sense; rules, the rule of law, due process, and fairness; lying, hypocrisy, and conflict of interest. Moreover, consistency can help us to understand what’s wrong with identity politics, racism, sexism, or nationalism. One can even use it to critique the virtue of loyalty.

Class format will be an extended Powerpoint presentation, using many examples from current events, with opportunities for discussion.

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Sara Shute received her Ph.D. in philosophy in 1977 from Washington University in St. Louis. She taught philosophy for 26 years at Marietta College, in southeast Ohio, and was an adjunct professor of philosophy at four of the University of Maine campuses and Colby College. She has taught many philosophy courses at Senior College