We typically assume when arguing political and economic problems that arguments may be won
or lost in terms of the topic at hand. We nevertheless observe "the recurring antagonism of
individuals and groups on multiple, unrelated matters" despite the fact that there is a lot of debate
that appears to be pertinent and is based on theory and facts (Al-Ars et al, 2019). Thomas So-well
examines the philosophical causes of why "the same familiar faces can be observed gazing at
each other from opposite sides of the political fence, again and again" in A Conflict of Visions:
Ideological Origins of Political Struggle.
According to Sowell's theory, the great political conflicts of our day are a reflection of two
widely held but opposing conceptions of what it is to be human (Carden, 2021). However, the
majority of conflicts are discussed on a different plane without any mention of these visions.
Because the exact same terms of discourse represent many different things, "people with
different viewpoints often argue past each other, even when they accept the same norms of logic
and utilize the same material."
The two forms of dichotomy focused by Sowell are the constrained/limited and unconstrained
dichotomy. Between "limited" and "unconstrained" conceptions of man's moral and mental
natures and capacities, Sowell proposes a contradiction (Earley, 2021). According to Adam
Smith's restricted vision, there are unavoidable constraints on man. Man is morally egocentric,
with each person primarily interested in his or her own self-interest. Smith just accepted it as a
"inherent reality of life, the fundamental restriction in his perspective," which is neither
regrettable nor changeable (Gray, 2019).
The same can be said regarding the idea that "any individual's knowledge is utterly inadequate
for communal decision-making." One person may amass expertise in a particular field, but
knowledge that is socially useful takes the form of social experience—traditions, habits, skills,
and tools, as F. A. Hayek has long argued. Utopia is impossible due to a mixture of human
failings. When he described "a basic weakness in all human contrivances," Edmund Burke
encapsulated the constricted political vision (Hsu, 2021).
Man's moral nature is basically "generous and magnanimous," according to the unrestricted
vision. The intellectual potential of man is also restricted but "indefinite." According to this
perspective, "knowledge is equivalent with articulated rationality," the kind of enduring armchair
knowledge possessed by humanist thinkers, Sowell notes (Sowell, 2020). With these tools at his
disposal, Godwin came to the conclusion that "reason is sufficient to regulate the activities of
Despite their divergent guiding principles, both philosophies prioritize the general good over
private interests. However, their views on how to pursue the common good are wholly divergent.
According to the restricted vision, people pursuing their own self-interests within the parameters
established by law and custom have systemic repercussions that lead to communal advantages.
Beneficial impacts largely come up accidentally (Sowell, 2021). When males with intrinsic flaws
push their overbearing confidence on society, good intentions are likely to be positively deadly.
Man's moral and intellectual capacities enable him to set aside self-interest and actively
contribute to the common good in the unrestricted vision. The current social structure, according
to George Bernard Shaw, is "simply an artificial framework susceptible of nearly limitless
alteration in readjustment—nay, of practical demolition and substitution at the whim of Man."
Politically, the contrast between the two views can be seen in the restrained acceptance of "trade-
offs" and the unrestrained insistence for "solutions." For instance, the restricted vision accepts
"unmerited" economic disparities in a market economy as a compromise for the market's
systemic provision of the common goods of overall prosperity and freedom, which egalitarian
central planning would obliterate. However, in pure, unrestricted imaginations, direct action can
achieve equality without compromising freedom or overall success. Inequality is a problem that
can be solved.
It is astonishing what these polar viewpoints do not always imply given the broad contours of
such disputes. Sowell demonstrates that "the restricted vision [is] not identical with… acceptance
of the existing quo." Smith supported American independence, condemned slavery, and fought
for a number of internal changes. Furthermore, the unrestrained viewpoint need not be radical.
Sowell notes that Godwin "was at one with Smith, Hayek, and modern libertarianism" in his
support for private property and a free market.
It is amazing what these diametrically opposed points of view do not usually mean given the
general framework of such disputes. According to Sowell, "the constricted view is not
synonymous with support of the status quo." Smith advocated for a number of internal reforms,
backed American independence, and denounced slavery (Zellner, 2019). Additionally, the
unrestricted perspective need not be radical. Sowell says that in supporting private property and a
free market, Godwin "was at one with Smith, Hayek, and modern libertarianism."
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