liberals believe

Stanley Fish, from How Milton Works

Liberals believe that knowledge of an object (be it a piece of data, a person, a concept) is one thing and evaluation of it is another, so that it makes perfect sense to say, as Satan does, I know what the good is — I just choose another path (as if knowledge and inclination could be severed from each other and opposed). Liberals believe that facts (of history, justice, science) are independent of the knower, and that it is the knower’s obligation to approach the task of knowing with as few preconceptions as possible so that the understanding he finally achieves is impersonal rather than a reflection of his antecedently held views and preferences; one must come to any situation calling for a decision (about what to think or what to say or what to do) with an open mind, a mind prepared to jettison its most cherished convictions should the evidence tell against them. Liberals believe that evidence lies about in the world waiting to be gathered and then arranged in patterns it itself suggests. Liberals believe that if we are sufficiently careful in our gathering of evidence (careful, that is, to keep ourselves and our desires out of the process) the truth will will finally emerge in a form everyone (whose mind is open) acknowledge. Liberals believe that when the truth to be determined is the meaning (political, moral, legal) of an action, the previous history of the actor — whether he has in the past been a good or bad man — is largely irrelevant and that we should look only to the shape of the present circumstances when assessing him. And because liberals believe in all of the above, they believe in the efficacy of procedures — scientific, parliamentary, judicial — designed to protect us from the overhasty judgments we make when we allow our commitments and allegiances to blind us. Liberals believe that the most important of these procedures is the machinery of rationality, of those laws of logic attached to to no agenda or vision, but sufficiently general in their scope as provide a normative perspective from the vantage point of which any agenda or vision can be assessed and, if necessary, corrected. Liberals believe that communication and persuasion take place (or should take place) in the context of that rationality and that it is possible to bring anyone — except, perhaps, the mentally impaired — to a clear understanding, so long as he or she is willing to set aside or bracket all biases and preconceptions.

Milton believes none of these things.