Ideologues and Principled Pragmatists

Every now and then I fall into the trap of getting into an argument with an ideologue – I did so the other night on Twitter. While it’s not the quite a case of “you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into”, it can be a very frustrating experience indeed. One of the characteristics of ideologues is that they seem to exhibit very little doubt about whatever their pet cause is. People at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, whether it be socialists, conservatives or libertarians, always seem to be very sure of their own particular political philosophy.

The opposite of the ideologue is the pragmatist but many pragmatists are actually better described as principled pragmatists. They want to do the right thing but recognise that if the right thing is ever to be done, it has to be achievable. Indeed, one could argue that the only moral approach to many of life’s problems is to adopt the philosophy of the principled pragmatist.

The on-going conflict between the ideologue and the principled pragmatist is seen quite clearly in the world of education. There are still many academics and commentators who insist that the challenges facing education can be solved by simply pumping more resources (provided courtesy of the taxpayer) into education. There is never any attempt to engage with the realities of economics as currently constructed or with the precise mechanism by which providing more resources will actually make the system better. Indeed much of what those of a (very) left-wing persuasion propose seems to presume a political revolution of some kind. At the same time, there is an irritating tendency to claim the  moral high ground as if those with contrary views have some sort of amoral or even immoral agenda. The word ‘neoliberal’ is typically thrown about with abandon and not meant as a compliment.

This blog will continue to promote the idea of principled pragmatism. And the reader should realise that everything I write here is as much an internal discussion with myself as it is with the readership. If truth be told, I’m not sure of much because an awful lot of the challenges in the world today are just very complicated.

Don’t be fooled by the simplistic ‘solutions’ of the ideologue.


About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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One Response to Ideologues and Principled Pragmatists

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Ideologues and Principled Pragmatists

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