Monday, December 08, 2008

intellectual dishonesty

Intellectual dishonesty charges (as opposed to simple charges of lying) require information about other people's internal states that I don't see how anyone other than the person can be privy to.

Let's take someone who believes, quite firmly, that abortion and infanticide are justified. These activities, according to Peter Singer, were attacked by people with Christian assumptions which need to be questioned. That is what the person says, that is what the person believes, that is what the person argues for. They offer criteria for personhood which fetuses and infants flunk, and they are bloody consistent about it. I may think they're cuckoo, but how do I get to intellectual dishonesty? What does the charge of intellectual dishonesty amount to here?

When John Beversluis's book C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion came out, a lot of people friendly to Lewis suspected some sort of dishonest effort on Beversluis's part. How could he say these things about Lewis? How could he fail to find in Lewis what we more sympathetic readers find? Beversluis's subsequent review of A. N. Wilson's biography, and his 2007 revision of his own book, make the charge of intellectual dishonesty very difficult to defend.

It's tempting to say to someone you disagree with, "surely you really know, deep down, that you're wrong about this." But how do you prove such claims? Intellectual dishonesty claims invariably poison dialogue, they make parties less willing to engage the discussion. A price in civilized discourse is paid when these charges are made. (Look at the quality of discussion in the Intelligent Design debate if you doubt me). That's why I think intellectual dishonesty charges carry with the a heavy burden of proof, and most of the time they are not worth making.

5 comments:

One Brow said...

Let me try out an example on you. Let's take the infamous violinist scenario, with a few differences.

You cause an injury to a person, intentionally or not. You offer to allow this person to be hooked up to your body for some finite duration of time, which is essential to their survival. However, at some future time you decide that you no longer wish to maintain this connection.

Now, there will of course be any sort or criminal and civil penalties that will apply to you for the initial attack. However, legally you can not be forced to continue this connection against your still. I would say that any person who supports your legal right to break this connection, but opposes abortion, is being intellectually dishonest. However, I am certainly willing to consider any key differences you might see.

Clayton said...

(Fwiw, I was kidding about the intellectual dishonesty bit. I figured you knew that, but I thought I'd just say it anyway.)

Hallq said...

Doesn't a charge of lying require knowledge of the other person's mental states too? The problem seems to be distinguishing the two, not proving one or the other. Sometimes, people are sufficiently unreliable that you can't trust them to come to a debate with their facts straight, and this is best explained on the hypothesis that they are either intellectually or consciously dishonest. That kind of charge is clearly relevant, even if its a matter of uncertain conjecture which you're dealing with.

Joe said...

An example of intellectual dishonesty is when you make arguments you don't really believe in to support a conclusion you hold dear.

I do think that killing disabled children is unethical and acknowledge that Peter Singer does not agree. Yes I it find it outrageous that he is teaching "ethics" at a College and consider this is a black mark on Princeton University. (But hey animal rights are all the rage so I'm sure Princeton will do just fine having him on staff.) This however does not make him intellectually dishonest.

I think there is intellectual dishonesty at work when he says the following:

"...So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living. That doesn’t mean that it is not almost always a terrible thing to do. It is, but that is because most infants are loved and cherished by their parents, and to kill an infant is usually to do a great wrong to its parents.
Sometimes, perhaps because the baby has a serious disability, parents think it better that their newborn infant should die. Many doctors will accept their wishes, to the extent of not giving the baby life-supporting medical treatment. That will often ensure that the baby dies. My view is different from this, only to the extent that if a decision is taken, by the parents and doctors, that it is better that a baby should die, I believe it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life-support – which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection - but also by taking active steps to end the baby’s life swiftly and humanely.

Q. What about a normal baby? Doesn’t your theory of personhood imply that parents can kill a healthy, normal baby that they do not want, because it has no sense of the future?

A. Most parents, fortunately, love their children and would be horrified by the idea of killing it. And that’s a good thing, of course. We want to encourage parents to care for their children, and help them to do so. Moreover, although a normal newborn baby has no sense of the future, and therefore is not a person, that does not mean that it is all right to kill such a baby. It only means that the wrong done to the infant is not as great as the wrong that would be done to a person who was killed. But in our society there are many couples who would be very happy to love and care for that child. Hence even if the parents do not want their own child, it would be wrong to kill it. "

http://www.princeton.edu/~psinger/faq.html

He says at first he *only* disagrees with current practice in that he thinks doctors should be able to take affirmative measures to kill a child when it is disabled to such an extent that they in effect do that now.

But then in answer to the next question about healthy babies he goes on about adoption. I mean clearly if his *only* difference of opinion about killing children has to do with how we go about it -and not the severity of the disability - then why not in answer to the next question simply say “healthy children are, well healthy, so I don't think they should be killed.“

Instead he goes into this whole deal about people wanting to adopt. So clearly that is not his *only* difference of opinion. Why portray his view that way to start then? He has in my view been taken to task by certain people comparing his views with action t4 and so this faq is sort of a candy coating. I think this sort of candy coating and clouding of his view is intellectually dishonest.

BTW: I never heard him explain what happens if our culture changes and there aren’t many people who want to adopt. Should parents then just be able to slaughter their children? Pretty obvious follow up isn’t it? Yet we don’t hear the answer. We get the “no” conclusion and it ends. That’s what we want to hear right? We don’t want to hear the monstrous implications of his views. So in the end when we read his faq we might get the completely false impression that his views are only different from the norm in that he thinks that in cases where the doctors currently may deny care to cause death he thinks Doctors should be able to take affirmative action to cause death. I consider that intellectually dishonest.

IlĂ­on said...

VR: "Intellectual dishonesty charges (as opposed to simple charges of lying) require information about other people's internal states that I don't see how anyone other than the person can be privy to."

You are quite incorrect in this assertion; you have it backwards.