The biologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote that “[c]ategories often exert a tyranny over our perceptions and judgments,” adding that “[w]e do not ponder the bases of our classifications with sufficient scrutiny.”
Popular political debates have yet to fully appreciate this vital insight. Our political categorizations facilely conflate questions of fundamentally different kinds, leading to a conceptual confusion that hobbles constructive discourse. Clarity in this discourse requires a separation between two kinds of questions, those about means and those about ends.
Debates about the goals themselves are values questions, premised on our normative judgments, that is, our views on what ought to be—what makes a good society or political system.
These questions and our answers to them are importantly quite different from our arguments about the practical question of how to arrive at those goals once we’ve settled on them. And at a sufficiently general level of abstraction, there is actually a rather broad consensus as to ends, the goals at which public policy should aim.
Read more at The Hill.