Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Nothing is a Panacea

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A rather common rhetorical move is the announce that some action that others wish to take is “no panacea.” This move has the upside of literally being true, all the time. The downside is that this, alone, isn’t very useful.

‘Panacea’ is defined as “a remedy for all ills or difficulties.” The point is that nothing is. There is no cure-all. Many of courses of action are helpful, or even necessary, without being a panacea.

That doesn’t make the word useless. But it requires us to use it with more care. The issue is not whether a thing is a panacea (it’s not!) but rather whether someone is acting or talking as it if is.

Unlike the statement “X is not panacea” which requires not evidence (because it is definitionally true), “you are treating X as a panacea” requires some evidence or argument. Ideally, this evidence would go beyond pointing that someone has talked about or even started to take a course of action, or simply assertions of what we believe the other person believes. The latter is a fairly common trope in political arguments, despite being largely unknowable. To the extent that it is knowable, it is usually because of a pattern of behavior, which is observable. We might best skip the middleman and focus on the patterns of observable activity over unobservable mental states.

This shift encourages more productive conflict. It is no panacea, of course, but it tends to increase thinking that is more rooted in the facts.

Written by David Kaib

October 22, 2020 at 5:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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