“At 20, if your not a liberal, you don’t have a heart,” Churchill said, “but at 40, if your not a conservative, you don’t have a head.” So very true. Unfortunately this can only be understood when you’re 40.

This comment was found on an earlier post, and it maintains that there is certain political knowledge that cannot obtain until one has reached a certain age. I have several ways of explaining why this is false.

In general, arguments from private knowledge claim that it is impossible to obtain the source of private knowledge, while simultaneously holding that this knowledge is justified. It is the equivalent of saying “I know bogons exist, and you can’t know this fact because you’re not a moron like me.”

This is a contradiction. We are owed an account of how that knowledge is obtained, and more importantly whether that knowledge is justified true belief. To say that justified true belief — the definition of knowledge — only comes at a certain age is simply not true. I may learn discrete mathematics at an early age and no 40-year old, no matter how conservative or liberal, can tell me that this knowledge is false simply because I am young. Age itself has nothing to do with the truth-value of knowledge.

I must say that the argument from Winston Churchill has been reduced to a form of semantic masturbation, a form of coercive private knowledge abuse, which gives no compelling reason to believe it is true.

So if the person making this claim wants to masturbate on the faculties of reason like this, it can equally be applied the other way: because I am younger and therefore do not understand conservativism, as the claim goes, it can equally be replied that the author is older and therefore does not understand liberalism.

If there is private knowledge that exists at the age of 40, then there is reason to believe there must be private knowledge that exists at the age of 20. The 40-year old does not know what-it-is-like to be a 20-year old anymore, and the 20-year old does not yet know what-it-is-like to be a 40-year old. Neither understands the other anymore so than one can know what-it-is-like to be a bat. Knowledge is completely subjective. And there is no point in assigning truth-values to each of these subjective states, since neither of them can know what-it-is-like to be the other, and therefore neither has basis for refuting the position of the other. Further, to assume that time is a function of truth would also make no sense due to the fact that neither can know what-it-is-like to be at various different points along the time continuum.

How different, in all honesty, is this situation from what the born-again says to the unconvinced atheist? “I was once an atheist, and now I’m born-again. I know what it was like to be an atheist but I have somehow become born-again and that refutes atheism”. Arguments like this are unconvincing, and should never be convincing, since they address social comparisons, instead of faculties of reason. They neglect all other factors, including reason, that are involved in the conversion process, such as Erikson-style stages of life, subconscious acts, and various neuro-physiological inputs.

But the most basic point of my objection to this semantic abuse is to point to the Toulmin model of argumentation, where one basically refuses to respond since the burden of the opposition has not been met.