We hold these truths to be self-evident. . . .
- No statement is eo ipso self-evident. A statement may be admitted as an axiom, but only inasmuch as one acknowledges that it has indeed been admitted—or rather, permitted. An axiom is a chosen means to an end.
- Jefferson’s language in the Declaration of Independence exhibits this qualification: the self-evidence of his statements is not “found,” not “discovered,” not “revealed,” not even “known,” but “held.” If they were eo ipso self-evident, he would not need to “hold” them. Rather, they are submitted to the reader as premises: if the reader permits the statements in the abstract, then the reader should permit the conclusions in the concrete. Jefferson’s argument relies on an interpretation of the British king’s actions as tyrannical, so he begins with a series of axioms to facilitate such an interpretation.
- The Declaration of Independence furnishes a hermeneutic for defining tyranny. This hermeneutic is still in regular use today, applied to different particulars.
- American political discourse—no matter how secularized—often has a religious quality because of the application of various hermeneutics whose axioms are ideals separate from published laws.