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“Testing” in the IF Discussion Process: Consequences, Values and Purposes

IF’s Citizen Discussion Reports call on participants in public discussions to “test” conceptual possibilities by exploring their consequences.   But this does mean that other considerations are irrelevant to testing.

Consider “values,” for instance.  IF founder Jay Stern found it useful to focus on consequences because, as he once put it in a 2004 internal memo, “‘Consequences carries much less baggage than ‘values’–particularly less than ‘moral values.'” Nevertheless, as Jay went on to say in the same memo, possible future consequences “are often ‘memorialized’ as ‘moral values’ for present or future usability/application.”  And Jay had a very broad understanding of “values,” describing them as “normative ‘standards’/’criteria’/principles’ (and perhaps even ‘laws’).”  Certainly this would include “purposes,” a category that figures prominently in the history of moral philosophy and many laypersons’ ethical thinking.  Indeed, Jay often insisted that the IF Discussion Process be open to all sorts of considerations, including emotions.  All of these were important because they were indispensable in both judging consequences and making choices.

The reason for this “tolerant” approach to the ethical side of public policy wasn’t and isn’t logical but, rather ,”political”–Jay believed, and we continue to believe, that the IF Process should be democratic rather than exclusive.  It should be open to all citizens, whatever their particular approach to thinking about consequences.  However you tend to evaluate the consequences of public policy, whether by reference to the public purpose, rules, values, principles, relationships, God, self-interest, history, or something else, you’ll find IF public discussions a useful forum in which to expand your thinking.