The same post I mentioned yesterday ends with a question: “If you’re going to argue that the case for property rights rests only upon consequentialist arguments…then the difference between classical liberals and revolutionary Marxists such as myself comes down largely to merely empirical questions. Is this really the case?”
It’s an interesting question – both specifically about liberalism and Marxism/communism, and also more generally.
We can express the more general question rather like this: take some person whose beliefs you profoundly disagree with. Now take the most outrageous but still factual claims that they make. ‘If organised religion decays, society will descend into chaos’; ‘if the races are mixed too much, intellectual acheivement will come to a near-complete halt’; ‘if the rightful king is replaced by a government of mere commoners, their incompetence will lead to famine after famine’.
Now, suppose that this were factually true. If it seems (as I think it would) that you would then, in good conscience, have to accept at least the essentials of their position, then doesn’t that mean that your disagreement is based merely on the empirical fact that these things happen not to be true?
What this illustrates of course is that a distinction between ‘factual’ and ‘evaluative’ beliefs is at most a way of talking hypothetically about abstract extremes. That is, ‘factual beliefs’ are those things that hypothetically, people can all come to believe regardless of their values, and values are those things which, hypothetically, would divide people even if they both knew every single fact. But in practice we’re never anywhere close to either situation, so the two are all manged up together.