This is a blog to discuss philosophy, chess, politics,
C. S. Lewis, or whatever it is that I'm in the mood to discuss.
Friday, October 09, 2015
Why aiming to marginalize is a self-defeating enterprise
One question that interests me is the question is whether debate of any kind can do anything to marginalize an opposing viewpoint, or whether there is a way of conducting discussion with the intent to marginalize, or whether all you can do in arguing against a position is to show that it is mistaken.
I am inclined to think the latter. If you are going to discuss something, you are required to be as fair and as respectful as you can be, as is required by the Principle of Charity.
I am familiar with Wolfgang Pauli's expression "not even wrong," but I think all that debate can do is establish wrongness. Now you might do so well in criticizing something that no one will ever again want to defend the opposing view, but there is nothing you can do to aim for that result. You just have to argue that you are right, and argue well.
That is what critiquing an opposing view involves. You have to work hard to understand your opponents. You will perhaps preach well to the choir, but your opponents will have every right to accuse you of the straw man fallacy. People who are informed about what they believe will look for misrepresentations in the work of people who are trying to ridicule them. And in my experience, they will typically find it.
For people who want to abolish philosophy of religion, for example, I am inclined to use a version of the pro-choice slogan: "If you don't believe in abortion, don't get one." If you can't find in yourself enough intellectual sympathy with an opposing viewpoint to deal with it fairly, you are probably better off leaving criticism of that viewpoint to others. Nothing requires you, as a theist or an atheist, to write argue for what you believe.
The predominance of religious believers in philosophy of religion, to me, has a pedestrian explanation, believers are articulating what they do believe, so they are more likely to do philosophy of religion. They think that religion holds the right answer to the basic questions of life. Atheists think that religious answers are the wrong answer, which means the right answer lies elsewhere. People may be concerned about answers they think wrong, but most people don't find it very exciting to devote themselves to wrong answers. They want to spell out the right answers.
It's not niceness, so if people ask "Why do we have to be so nice" they are missing the point. The issue is just doing the job of criticizing effectively. If you don't think you have to try to be fair, you probably won't do a good job.