Sometime after Socrates spoke with a grocery shopper, a nurse, a government clerk, and a pastor about the community’s early responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, he paid a visit to the human resources office of the company where he had recently gotten a job at $15/hour plus $3,000 startup bonus, while most everyone else was collecting bonus unemployment instead. The Athenian philosopher was especially perplexed by the recently announced vaccine mandate.
HR DIRECTOR: Can I help you?
SOCRATES: That is precisely the question I would like to have answered.
HR DIRECTOR: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: It is what you mean that concerns me. I received this notice from you yesterday, stating that I must receive an injection, concocted from mutant hereditary material, to supposedly protect me against an illness that in many people shows few symptoms, that for nearly all people is non-fatal, and which I myself have contracted previously and recovered—or nearly recovered, as my sense of smell continues to be slightly askew. I suppose you did not know about my own case history, so now I am informing you. Surely you find my medical status relevant to this medical issue, don’t you?
HR DIRECTOR: You still must receive the shot. Everyone has to.
SOCRATES: One of us must be grossly mistaken. I, for example, had been under the impression that the purpose for which this injection is administered is to prevent the illness, but since I already have contracted and recovered from the illness, and since contracting and then recovering from an illness is widely known to confer immunity against the infectious agent, then it is obvious that the end toward which the injection strives already has been reached in my case. Far from being necessary, the injection is at best superfluous; worse, the injection confers certain side-effects not present with the disease itself—have not some lost time at work recovering from the injection? Therefore, the injection is not only unhelpful but also potentially harmful to persons in my situation. Or, have I reasoned somehow amiss?
HR DIRECTOR: Your reasons do not matter. This is a legal mandate.
SOCRATES: Is it, then, a matter not of medicine but of law? Well, that surely could change things.
HR DIRECTOR: Indeed, it does. You see, the letter I sent to you was based on the letter that OSHA sent to me. Since OSHA is part of the federal government, we had better both take this seriously and comply without further complaint.
SOCRATES: How can you be so sure about your major premise?
HR DIRECTOR: My major what?
SOCRATES: Your major premise. As for your minor premise, I take you at your word: you claim that you received instructions from the federal government, telling you to in turn instruct me to receive the injection. You seem like an honest man, and one capable of understanding simple instructions, so I will take you at your word as to that minor premise: The federal government has told you to tell me to get injected. There remains, however, the other premise, the major premise, which although unstated up until this point, nonetheless is playing a pivotal role in your argument.
HR DIRECTOR: But I’m not trying to argue with you. I’m merely doing my job.
SOCRATES: Nor do I wish to argue against you at all. What I meant by “argument” was simply a logical arrangement of a major premise plus a minor premise that together lead to a conclusion. If you prefer, we can all it by its specific name, syllogism, rather than its generic name, argument. In any case, I really expect that you and I will be on the same side in this matter, as should everyone else.
HR DIRECTOR: And which side is that?
SOCRATES: The side of truth, of course. We are seeking to know whether the conclusion—that I should get injected—is true. The conclusion would absolutely have to be true if both premises in this argument are true: first, the major premise, that all government mandates should be obeyed; second, the minor premise, that there is a government mandate for me to get injected; and, finally, the conclusion, that therefore I should obey that mandate.
HR DIRECTOR: Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to say. So, we’re agreed then, and you’ll get the shot?
SOCRATES: No. We are agreed only as to what the two premises state, and how those premises logically entail the conclusion. We have not broached the more important issue of whether those premises are in fact true.
HR DIRECTOR: I’m losing you. Why does your concern about the truth of the premises have to do with the obvious fact that the government has required you to get the injection?
SOCRATES: Again, my friend, I question the major premise—and, on second thought, also the minor one, but let us take each up in turn. The major premise states that all government mandates must be obeyed. I used to believe this to be true. In fact, when a friend of mine tried to persuade me to disregard the government’s own death sentence against me, and to escape for my life, I refused, on purely logical grounds. Have you read Plato’s Crito? Then you’d know exactly my line of thinking. But since then some other intelligent people have come along. Thomas Aquinas, for instance.
HR DIRECTOR: I’m sorry, but we’ll have to leave religion out if this.
SOCRATES: No worries. I have no intention to invoke the gods today.
HR DIRECTOR: But Aquinas, wasn’t he a Roman Catholic theologian?
SOCRATES: Yes, but he also was a fine philosopher. The conjunction of those two truths—Aquinas was a theologian and Aquinas was a philosopher—contradicts the claim you were insinuating, namely, that no theologian can be a philosopher. Clearly, at least some theologians are philosophers, and Aquinas happens to have been excellent in both of those arts. In any case, even if he was a total scoundrel of a theologian (as his more extreme critics are wont to suggest), that deficiency does not in itself suffice to render his philosophical conclusions false. To dismiss what he says about philosophy, particularly when he explains it so carefully and defends it so well, on the grounds that you take him for a scoundrel in theology is just another instance of that rude fallacy known in the Latin tongue as ad hominem.
HR DIRECTOR: Yes, I know that one: attacking the person, instead of addressing the merits of the person’s argument.
SOCRATES: Precisely. So, as I was about to say, Aquinas identified two forms of tyranny: a ruler who does not properly have authority but exercises it anyway, is a tyrant; and, a ruler who does properly have authority but then exercises it improperly, also is a tyrant.
HR DIRECTOR: That almost sounds poetic, but what does it have to do with vaccine mandates?
SOCRATES: Why, everything, my friend! Who issued the mandate, and under what authority?
HR DIRECTOR: I already told you: it came from OSHA, part of the federal government.
SOCRATES: But that precisely is the problem: being part of the government does not suffice to establish that one has authority over a given matter, unless one belongs to precisely that part of the government which has been conferred such power by the constitution of that domain.
HR DIRECTOR: You’ve lost me there.
SOCRATES: And your ignorance is endangering all whom you purport to serve.
HR DIRECTOR: What?!
SOCRATES: It’s simple, really. Anyone who can count to three can follow along. One, some parts of the government have authority over some things. Two, other parts of the government have authority over other things. And, three, still other matters are left entirely to the people, with no part of the government having authority.
HR DIRECTOR: That’s sounding simpler than what you said a few moments ago, but I’m still not sure what it has to do with the OSHA mandate.
SOCRATES: Consider the speed limit. That’s a matter for state legislatures to establish, and for state highway patrol officers to enforce, right?
HR DIRECTOR: Of course.
SOCRATES: Now consider the national defense—funding and training and equipping and deploying the military, declaring times of war and times of peace—that’s a matter for the federal government, not for the state legislature, nor for state troopers.
HR DIRECTOR: Absolutely clear.
SOCRATES: Two down, and now the third piece remains: Did you brush your teeth this morning?
HR DIRECTOR: Excuse me?
SOCRATES: Exactly. You’re offended that I should even ask. Nearly everyone agrees that brushing one’s teeth is good for one’s own hygiene, and nearly everyone prefers when other people brush their teeth, since that tends to reduce the likelihood of socially offensive foul breath resulting from the consumption of meat, or of unsightly pieces of spinach remaining between one’s teeth after eating salad, right?
HR DIRECTOR: No quarrel with you there!
SOCRATES: And yet, as important as teeth brushing is, both for ourselves and for those in our midst—
HR DIRECTOR:—especially now that the mask mandate has been lifted, and we again are exposed to each other’s breath—
SOCRATES:—yes, especially now, but also at any time, neither the local police nor the state legislature nor the federal government nor the armed forces get involved. Whether you brushed your teeth this morning was left entirely up to you as a free and autonomous individual.
HR DIRECTOR: Box Three—not this part of the government, nor that part of the government, but reserved for the people.
SOCRATES: Exactly. There’s an entire constitutional amendment on this very point.
HR DIRECTOR: Let me guess: the third box is established under the Third Amendment.
SOCRATES: No, it’s actually the Tenth Amendment, but we’ve digressed. Back to my point: getting an injection or not getting an injection is not something that just any part of the government can enforce.
HR DIRECTOR: But where have you been this past century? School children across the nation are required to get vaccinated. The Supreme Court upheld compulsory vaccination policies in the Jacobson case of 1905.
SOCRATES: The same case to which you cite also states that if ever a vaccine mandate conflicts with a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, then the courts must rule in favor of protecting that right. In the 116 years since Jacobson, the Supreme Court has ruled often concerning fundamental rights, firmly establishing the legal principles that the state must have a legitimate interest, the state’s policy must be narrowly tailored to promote a secular purpose, the courts must follow heightened rules of scrutiny when reviewing the policy, and a person’s sincerely and deeply held religious beliefs must be protected by either striking down the encroaching policy or at the very least providing that person with a reasonable accommodation that results in an equal access to public services in comparison with those whose consciences permit them to comply with the policy.
HR DIRECTOR: “Sincerely and deeply held religious beliefs … conscience”? I thought we had agreed to leave religion out of this.
SOCRATES: We previously agreed to evaluate Aquinas’s philosophical claims by the standards of philosophy, rather than allowing your antipathy to his religious convictions to color your view of his philosophy concerning tyranny. We are doing quite the same thing again. Whether the courts agree with or disagree with the religious content of a person’s conscientiously held beliefs is not relevant. The Supreme Court has ruled that the government should not probe into the rationality of one’s doctrine, but only inquire whether it is sincerely and deeply held, and whether the state’s policy demonstrably offends against it. The classic case had to do with the Amish: it matters not whether any of us want to live in our own secluded community, wear old style clothing, ride in a horse-drawn carriage rather than drive an automobile, and refrain not only from the new and highly addictive smartphones but also from the old and far less addictive telephones. The point is, the Amish do this, have done this, have long done this consistently, and so as a matter of raw historical fact, those activities are part and parcel of their sincerely and deeply held beliefs. They train their young to mature into Amish-style adulthood, and this has worked well for them for numerous generations. Therefore the state has no right to force their children to attend a state school that would fail to train them for an Amish life and instead would train them for a very different lifestyle by filling their minds with a very different worldview, contrary to their religion.
HR DIRECTOR: But you’re not Amish.
SOCRATES: Quite true. But truth is universal, even if its applications at times are particular. The same principle that protects the Amish in educating their children for life in their own communities also protects me from being forced to be injected against my will.
HR DIRECTOR: Because you have sincerely and deeply held religious beliefs? I thought you were skeptical concerning the gods.
SOCRATES: Indeed, very skeptical. I once was convicted for corrupting the youth, since I led so many of them to doubt the gods and to doubt so much more as well. I did not express regret for it then, nor do I express regret for it now. The title of Plato’s work on this matter, Apology, means “giving a defense,” not “saying one is sorry.” To this day, I defend my skepticism of religious claims. Here’s the deal: what people teach about the various gods is contradictory. Some religions say there is only one God. Others say there are many gods. Both sets of religious cannot be true. Even among those religious claiming there to be only one God, no two of them can be true. Christianity, for example, teaches that God is gracious and merciful, that God is mysteriously three Persons yet one God (an uncomfortable stretch to my reason, I’ll admit), and that the Son of God died and then came back to life.
HR DIRECTOR: Jesus.
SOCRATES: Yes, Jesus. Islam also teaches that there is only one god, but there the similarities end—or should I say the singular similarity ends. Islam calls Jesus a prophet, a lesser prophet to Muhammad, says that Jesus never died (contradicting all those historians of the first two centuries), and that Jesus never rose from the dead (logically consistent with the claim that Jesus never died, but contradicting the widespread eyewitness accounts of the first century). Ultimately, Allah, for that is the Muslim name for “God,” is not gracious and merciful like the God professed by Christians, but rather expects followers to achieve peace through submission.
HR DIRECTOR: So, you’re saying that Christianity and Islam are incompatible?
SOCRATES: Logic leaves no other option. At most, only one of them can be true. At least one of them must be false. Now, back to the point, it is not the government’s job to figure out which one is true and which one is false. The same First Amendment protects both. As I said before, the First Amendment lays down a broad principle, from which flow particular applications.
HR DIRECTOR: So, Christians are free to worship in their way, and Muslims are free to worship in their way, and the state should not favor one over the other? A very patriotic lesson, Socrates, but what does any of this have to do with the OSHA mandate?
SOCRATES: It means that OSHA should not promote a workplace that discriminates against Christians, against Muslims, or against any individual’s sincerely and deeply held religious beliefs—unless, of course, someone masquerades under the banner of “religious liberty” and is an axe murderer. OSHA would be quite reasonable in ordering coworkers not to kill each other on the job with axes. There may be a few other examples of that sort, but, generally, religious liberty ought to prevail over state policies.
HR DIRECTOR: Actually, Socrates, your outlandish example of the axe murderer is not so far fetched. We are in the midst of a pandemic. Failing to get vaccinated could result in infecting one’s coworker. That’s why OSHA wants everyone to get vaccinated. You said yourself that the state trooper holds a constitutional office for enforcing the speed limit in the interest of public safety. OSHA’s mandate is the same thing.
SOCRATES: Any such similarities are merely superficial. As I mentioned before, I have natural immunity. Meanwhile, some vaccinated people have contracted the illness after being fully vaccinated. Therefore, the claim that the unvaccinated workers are a threat to their coworkers, and vaccinated workers are not a threat, is spurious. The correlation between vaccination and protection to oneself or one’s neighbor is weak at best, and perhaps even backwards in some instances: some post-vaccinated infections have proven more severe in the hospital records. With the speed limit, however, there is a strong correlation between higher speeds and greater dangers. I do not know the statistics concerning axe murderers, but contemplating the nature of the act, I would expect a nearly 100% fatality rate. That’s a far cry from the 99.9% survival rate for COVID infections, though, of course, I patiently realize that many of my neighbors will not quite grasp this distinction, since they styled themselves “not a math person” during their formative years and never again returned to the study of numbers.
HR DIRECTOR: Right, like me, for example. I majored in business because I figured math was difficult, boring, and irrelevant to my chosen career. But I think I managed to understand you anyway. Your point is that OSHA does have a duty to keep people safe at work, but does not have a right to force vaccinations, since vaccinations are not so clearly helpful, might in fact be harmful, and also offend against people’s religious convictions?
SOCRATES: Yes, since it is part of many religions that one should not harm one’s self, nor should one seek personal or even public advantage at the expense of others. The side effects that are known, as well as the potential side effects that remain unknown since this new mRNA technology has not been tested long-term, offend against the first principle. The use of human fetal tissue from aborted and vivisected children-in-the-womb offends against the second principle.
HR DIRECTOR: But I thought abortion was acceptable among the Greeks. Didn’t your student Plato even recommend it in some cases?
SOCRATES: Oh, yes, the Greeks and the Americans hold a lot in common in that regard, as do the Canaanites who burned their children alive on altars to Molech. But the point is not really about my own religious or moral beliefs.
HR DIRECTOR: It’s not? I thought you had a conscientious objection.
SOCRATES: Indeed, I do. The conscience, however, is broader than than morals, since the conscience involves truth—morality is the species, but truth is the genus. Either way, personal integrity is at stake. For me to insist upon the religion of my Athenian contemporaries, but to deny today’s American Christian the right to articulate a worldview that challenges the Athenian consensus—this would be a grave injustice, and it is the nature of injustice to suppress both goodness and truth.
HR DIRECTOR: Do you mean to imply that today’s conservative pro-life Christians might be correct, and the enlightened Greek philosophers might be incorrect, concerning the moral status of abortion?
SOCRATES: Precisely. Nor should you think me inconsistent. I always stood for healthy skepticism, for intellectual humility, for a willingness to learn. I got in trouble with the city-state not because of the conclusions upon which I insisted, but because of the questions I raised about the conclusions upon which other people insisted—other people insisting so firmly without ever providing clear reasoning as to why.
HR DIRECTOR: You mean as in true premises to support their conclusion?
SOCRATES: Yes, that and also valid logic, the thread that connects the premises to the conclusion, weaving their truth into a strong cord of certainty.
HR DIRECTOR: So your point with the OSHA mandate is that the first premise—what did you call it?
SOCRATES: The major premise—although not because it is first, but because it contains the major term, that is, the predicate of the conclusion.
HR DIRECTOR: What was the conclusion, again?
SOCRATES: Why, the conclusion is where you began—you began, as it were, at the end. In standard logical form, your conclusion was: “Therefore, the OSHA mandate is that which I should obey.”
HR DIRECTOR: Well, it’s about time we come back to that!
SOCRATES: The major premise is: “All government mandates are that which I should obey.” The minor premise is: “The OSHA mandate is a government mandate.” From those flow the conclusion, quite logically.
HR DIRECTOR: So you admit, then, that the logic is valid?
SOCRATES: Beyond dispute. It is only the truth of the premises that I question.
HR DIRECTOR: And you reject the major premise on the grounds that at least some government mandates are invalid since they violate the First Amendment or the Tenth Amendment or some other constitutional provision?
SOCRATES: I couldn’t have said it better myself!
HR DIRECTOR: But you accept the minor premise, the one about the OSHA mandate being a government mandate?
SOCRATES: Mind your verb tense, please. I accepted the minor premise, initially, but then I began to doubt myself.
HR DIRECTOR: How can you ever be sure of anything if you’re always doubting yourself?
SOCRATES: Not always, but often enough—I doubt myself just as I doubt everyone, and I hold each of us, yes, also myself, to the same standards: I ask for true premises and for valid logic. Would you have me ask for anything less?
HR DIRECTOR: Okay, then, you initially accepted but later you came to doubt the minor premise, the one about the OSHA mandate being a government mandate.
SOCRATES: You summarize so well. You might make a better teacher than an HR director.
HR DIRECTOR: How so?
SOCRATES: Well, to summarize what others know is the art of teaching, but to know something oneself is the art of expertise—whether as a carpenter, or a veterinarian, or, in your case, an HR director.
HR DIRECTOR: I don’t suppose a carpenter knows much about horses, or a veterinarian knows much about OSHA policies.
SOCRATES: Exactly. Each trade has its own expertise, and yours is to know about OSHA mandates, right?
HR DIRECTOR: That’s precisely why I’m expecting you to take my word for it: OSHA requires you to get the injection.
SOCRATES: Quo warranto?
HR DIRECTOR: What?
SOCRATES: It’s Latin, from that empire that conquered what was left of Greece in the centuries of decline that followed the death of my pupil’s pupil’s pupil—you know, I taught Plato, Plato taught Aristotle, and Aristotle taught Alexander of Macedon.
HR DIRECTOR: Alexander the Great?
SOCRATES: Yes, but not great enough. He conquered the world, but left no clear successor, so in time the Romans conquered the four kingdoms that emerged from Alexander’s empire. Anyway, it was the Romans that provided 60% of the vocabulary of the English language, together with the broad structure of Anglo-American government, and so on.
HR DIRECTOR: So I should have learned more Latin in business school?
SOCRATES: Whether in business school or not, all would do well to know Latin.
HR DIRECTOR: Because understanding “quo warranto” is the key to this whole debate?
SOCRATES: The key to unlocking both premises, and revealing their mutual falsity.
HR DIRECTOR: The suspense overwhelms me.
SOCRATES: Then wait no longer: “quo warranto?” means “by what authority?” Is this so-called OSHA mandate really a mandate, really a federal mandate, bearing upon each worker the full force of law?
HR DIRECTOR: Why of course it is! It’s all over the news! Don’t you pay attention to current events?
SOCRATES: I distinguish carefully between events and tales concerning them, and for that matter, tales concerning things that are not events at all but are entirely fictitious. The news, most confusingly, comprises both sorts of tales, and thereby becomes a new sort of event in its own right. Perhaps someday someone will tell the tale of the news itself—and tell it truthfully, we may hope.
HR DIRECTOR: Well, if you won’t trust the media, then look at this notice I received from OSHA, with the government’s seal right here at the top. This is as real as it gets.
SOCRATES: Reality was never in doubt. It is neither the existence of this document, nor the the placement of an official seal upon it, that I questioned, but only the propriety of its contents. As my pupil’s pupil—Aristotle—so clearly distinguished, the document must be legal not only in form but also in substance.
HR DIRECTOR: And how do you purport to know whether it is legal in substance?
SOCRATES: By reading it, of course, and comparing what it states with known laws. Though it is not I who purport to know, but you, for you have been insisting this whole time that you know what it means and I have merely been inquiring of you whether you really know.
HR DIRECTOR: Read it for yourself, right here in black and white—oh, wait, I’m sorry. As I read it again, I see your point. The document does not say there is a mandate. The document says that the president has announced an intention for OSHA to promulgate a mandate, and in preparation for all of that, businesses are asked to comply with the following guidelines.
SOCRATES: Asked? Guidelines? No mandate? No law? At least not until after promulgated?
HR DIRECTOR: Well, it sure sounded serious when I first read it.
SOCRATES: Serious, indeed—a serious abuse of power, aiming to persuade by intimidation rather than by rule of law. And they duped you into doing their dirty work. Unfortunately, such injustice is observed commonly around the world.
HR DIRECTOR: Such as?
SOCRATES: Don’t they teach any history in business school? Think of Hitler. He came to power. A law was promulgated expelling Jews from government positions. The law did not technically require the expulsion of ethnically Jewish persons from Christian clergy rosters, but some churches began to act as if it did. Or, again, Mao Zedong in China. The communist revolution brought in a whole new pattern of living, some of it enforced by laws, with the police arresting offenders, but much of it enforced by neighbors, with the photos of persons suspected to be dissidents published in the newspapers so the “good” citizens would know whom to shun.
HR DIRECTOR: So, you’re saying America has gone communist?
SOCRATES: The verb tense again may need clarifying: “is going,” not quite “has gone,” but yes.
HR DIRECTOR: That’s absurd! America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” as we sing at sporting events?
SOCRATES: Not everyone sings the national anthem anymore. Some refuse. Some have offered a new song instead. In any case, if tsarist Russia could go communist, then why couldn’t republican America do the same? Republican Rome became an empire, you know, despite Cicero’s eloquent warnings. My own democratic Athens formed the Delian League, became too big for its britches, as they say, and soon resorted to despotism all in the name of fighting despotism. This brings me another ingredient in my technique for sorting out truth from error: not only do I seek valid logic and true premises, but also clear terms—to call something “constitutional” or “just” or “non-communism” does not thereby make it so, nor can mere name-calling keep it so. We must examine carefully as to whether those words faithfully describe what actually is, not merely what we want our listeners to think is actual.
HR DIRECTOR: So you’re saying there’s a lot more to making an official government policy than just having government officers call it an official government policy?
SOCRATES: Exactly so. Unless, of course, we were to be governed by the Christian God, for who else can merely speak and then it become so? None of the Greek gods could do that, but the Bible describes God thus: He spoke, and it came to be. Indeed, that’s precisely the problem about tyranny: its nature is to establish idolatry, state worship in this case, as if the state speaks, and then whatever the state has said must forever be true.
HR DIRECTOR: I’m fascinated and confused and frustrated all at the same time. Where does this leave us, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Closer to the truth, I hope. Let’s review. You began with a conclusion, right?
HR DIRECTOR: As you rephrased it: “Therefore, the OSHA mandate is that which I should obey.”
SOCRATES: And I helped you to recognize that your conclusion was supported by two premises, correct?
HR DIRECTOR: The one you called major: “All government mandates are that which I should obey.” Plus, the one you called minor: “The OSHA mandate is a government mandate.”
SOCRATES: And then we realized that both premises were false, didn’t we?
HR DIRECTOR: The minor premise, because OSHA has not yet officially promulgated any mandate. And the major premise, because some government mandates are patently unjust—or, as you philosophers would prefer to phrase it, “unworthy of a virtuous person’s obedience.”
SOCRATES: Therefore, the argument is unsound, the conclusion is unsupported, and no citizen is bound to obey the non-mandate concerning this injection.
HR DIRECTOR: But that all may change in a matter of days. OSHA is expected to complete all the official steps for a genuine government mandate. Will you at that time comply?
SOCRATES: To do so would be to violate my own integrity, which in turn is an echo—however imperfect—of justice itself.
HR DIRECTOR: I don’t follow.
SOCRATES: It is I who seek to follow someone, and it would be my pleasure to find someone to lead. The problem is that all would-be leaders I’ve ever encountered, have failed to lead me to the truth—whether because of ignorance or malice, I’m not always sure, for both conditions seem to plague humankind.
HR DIRECTOR: The more immediate plague, however, is the whole reason why we need everyone to get injected. So, again, once OSHA’s mandate is official, why won’t you comply?
SOCRATES: Comply with what, your mandate as my employer? Here’s the thing: an employer has no official status by which to order an employee to subject himself to a medical procedure to which that employee does not wish to consent. Nor does the employer have any official status according to which the employer has a right to know about the private medical records of the employee. Now, arguably, the government might have such authority, if properly articulated in relationship to the First and Fourteenth Amendments, surviving a strict scrutiny test by the Supreme Court, and so on, but a mere HR director—no, that person’s office has no such authority.
HR DIRECTOR: So you won’t obey my enforcement of an OSHA order because I’m a private business manager, not a government official?
SOCRATES: Precisely. On the other hand, perhaps OSHA intends to deputize you and all other HR directors—
HR DIRECTOR:—yes, yes, and then employees like yourself would have to comply.
SOCRATES: Not so fast. If you are to be deputized, then you must also swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, and if you do that, then you’d have to interpose between OSHA and me, refusing to enforce their order on the grounds that their order runs afoul of the Constitution, which you will have sworn to “support and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic.”
HR DIRECTOR: But I thought you just conceded that the government might have authority, provided it passes muster under strict scrutiny with the Supreme Court.
SOCRATES: Yes, you are right, but surely in view of our conversation, you now have every reason to doubt that it could ever pass muster with the Supreme Court. And, even if the Supreme Court were to surprise us, and rule in such a way as to deny religious liberty, freedom of conscience, medical privacy, and host of other rights from all American workers, surely then you would still recognize that the Supreme Court’s words to do not speak truth for the obvious reason that they do not conform to reality.
HR DIRECTOR: And which reality is that?
SOCRATES: Your question is ill-formed, since “which” implies “among several,” but there are not several realities, just one.
HR DIRECTOR: But not everyone perceives reality the same way.
SOCRATES: Sadly true, and it’s getting worse, I’m afraid, but multiplicity of perception does not mean multiplicity of truth. Though the gap between perception and truth may be great in some fields—astrophysics, for example, for who can rightly understand that?—yet, the relation must be close in other areas.
HR DIRECTOR: You really think so?
SOCRATES: My thinking is not relevant. The matter is self-evident. Have you not read your nation’s own founding document: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and—”
HR DIRECTOR: You still believe in all that garbage that a white, male, slave-owning Euro-American wrote?
SOCRATES: I certainly don’t agree with your line of questioning. Garbage is not the content of belief, for belief by its nature consists of ideas, whether true or false. Whether an idea is asserted by a white, male, slave-owning Euro-American neither guarantees its veracity nor guarantees its falsity. Jefferson, while owning slaves, also strongly criticized the institution of slavery and asserted that African-descended persons would have been equal to European-descended persons were it not for generations of social conditions that had forced an inequality between them. Furthermore, he identified slavery as a grave evil and warned of impending divine judgment unless Americans would soon amend their ways. Those convictions, expressed in his Notes on the State of Virginia, demonstrate that at least some ideas expressed by slave-holders are expressed not because of their ownership of slaves but rather despite their ownership of slaves. Here, once again, is another example illustrating that ad hominem attacks are fallacious, concealing the truth by distraction rather than revealing the truth by reasoning. Jefferson failed to live by what he wrote, but his critics have failed to write anything better. Those of us who cannot write better than Jefferson should edit our lives to match his words, not his words to match our lives, for writing is easier than living (as much as saying a promise is easier than keeping a promise), so if we cannot write better than Jefferson, then surely we cannot live better than Jefferson. Calling him a hypocrite offers no excuse for becoming bigger hypocrites ourselves.
HR DIRECTOR: I just don’t feel we’re getting any closer to you accepting a vaccine mandate.
SOCRATES: Nor do I have any hope left that your initial question can be answered in the affirmative.
HR DIRECTOR: Initial question? Talking with you has been so long and winding that I forget where we started!
SOCRATES: We started when you asked me: “Can I help you?” Now, at long last, we have arrived at the answer. Since you cannot help me, would you please direct me to someone who can?
After this conversation took place, the mandate was indeed officially promulgated by OSHA and then quickly put on hold by federal judges, pending further court proceedings. The outcome of those proceedings, while interesting for history’s sake and much discussed among news reporters, bears no importance for the philosophical position staked out by Socrates. Philosophy aims to discover eternal truths, not fickle ideas subject to the fleeting theatrics of bureaucrats and judges—nor the feigned authority of overzealous HR directors.
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of Into Your Hands LLC and the author of several books, including Rediscovering the American Republic (2 vols.) and Debating Evolution before Darwinism. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschooled children in Casper, Wyoming, where he serves as Academic Dean at Luther Classical College. He previously taught American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College, 2003–2023 He also serves as President of the Hausvater Project, which mentors Christian parents. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.