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Rational policy-making

How can we formulate policies for the unknown? If we cannot derive them from our best existing knowledge, or from dogmatic rules of thumb like blind optimism or pessimism, where can we derive them from? Like scientific theories, policies cannot be derived from anything. They are conjectures. And we should choose between them not on the basis of their origin, but according to how good they are as explanations: how hard to vary. …

The question ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?’ is echoed by Feynman’s remark that ‘science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves’. And the answer is basically the same for human decision-­making as it is for science: it requires a tradition of criticism, in which good explanations are sought – for example, explanations of what has gone wrong, what would be better, what effect various policies have had in the past and would have in the future.

But what use are explanations if they cannot make predictions and so cannot be tested through experience, as they can be in science? This is really the question: how is progress possible in philosophy? As I discussed in Chapter 5, it is obtained by seeking good explanations. The misconception that evidence can play no legitimate role in philosophy is a relic of empiricism. Objective progress is indeed possible in politics just as it is in morality generally and in science. [208-9]

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