Recently, James Comey, the current Director of the FBI, made some comments regarding the now infamous case of FBI v. Apple. But his comment about how this was the most difficult question he had ever seen in government wasn’t the most interesting thing to me as a political philosopher. I’ve long been of the opinion that it’s more important to ask the right questions than to merely point out the difficulties of answering them.
Fortunately, he asked the right questions: “who do we want to be, and how do we want to govern ourselves.”? These are indeed the central questions we ought to ask when deciding matter of political importance. It’s easy, especially for a person like me who wants to look at all the available evidence and reason my way to a conclusion, to get lost in the minutiae of legal precedents, to get caught up in questions about how to weight the evidence, or to get immersed so thoroughly in examining the arguments on all sides that the big questions are forgotten.
These questions which force us to re-examine an issue from first principles help us to clear away some the cobwebs of confirmation bias, seek common ground with others, and make sure that we are more true to our own values. The best way to approach a problem we have time to think through properly (which is often the case in matters of policy) is by checking our assumptions and working through it from the beginning.
I hope the Comey question is one that we ask over and over again as we decide how to live under the rule of law in the beautiful Republic we have inherited from our ancestors.