For too long, I believed this was a cop-out, a rationalization to avoid the hard work of getting to the truth of the matter or about ourselves. If reasonable people disagree, it could only be because at least one of us (not me) is mistaken . You need to be better informed, clarify concepts, self-assess for biases or, worse…emotion.
I came to this simple truth after spending sustained amounts of time disagreeing with otherwise reasonable people. That disagreement, when not due to error, was due to differing commitments to important related matters. This attempt to integrate what looked, from our own points of view, to be incompatible or irrelevant is an indication of our respective efforts to be reasonable. Acknowledging these commitments is a matter of respect for each other’s intellectual and emotional dignity. Only then can we resume the shared task of building truths from disparate sources of knowledge and live together such that we can engage in the deliberative project at all.
Written into the dysfunction that characterizes Congress is the failure to appreciate that legislating, as reasonable discourse, demands respect, mutually. If I can claim that our disagreement is the result of your failure to be reasonable, I don’t have to do anything – you must change for progress to be made… and we get no gun legislation, no revision to the tax code, no marriage equality, and everyone in Florida gets to stand their ground or die trying... or while eating popcorn.
Jonathan Chen: Philosophy actually is worthwhile
It’s always nice to remind ourselves of why we do philosophy and how it contributes to our well-being. This is perhaps the simplest truth that I often overlook, but one that I take joy in when I am reminded of it.
Authors like Arthur Clarke, Philip Dick, and Isaac Asimov have given us futuristic worlds that spark our imagination with scientific developments such as satellites, space travel, cyberspace, and a coexistence with robots. And with our rapid technological advancements, these science fiction writers seem all too prophetic. Their fictional worlds have become our reality.
As magnificent as these inventions are, however, what they entail is what really saturates me with fear and awe. In Asimov’s “Bicentennial Man,” we are given a futuristic world where anthropomorphous robots live among humans, existing solely as their instruments. When one of these robots, Andrew, acts contrary to its deterministic programming by showing a sign of creativity (entailing self-development), we are challenged with how we should identify it. Afterward, Andrew decides he wants to be free. When asked what difference it would make, he responds, “It has been said that only a human being can be free. It seems to me that only someone who wishes freedom can be free.”
This can be seen as an exercise to point out our general prejudices towards others. As Bertrand Russell suggests, sometimes the world tends to become too obvious for us, and we go through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from our habitual beliefs.
I took an embarrassingly long time, like years, maybe decades, to realize that people, including philosophers, typically don’t gather evidence, reason carefully about it, and then draw the conclusion that is best supported. I think I sort of knew this intuitively but it took me a long time to really put my finger on it; we are all guilty of what psychologists call motivated reasoning regarding a lot more of our beliefs than we think. This is the mistake of criticizing new information that is inconsistent with our prior beliefs more severely, and then relaxing those skeptical standards when the information is “preference consistent.” Put another way, we have a belief first, and then we generate reasoning to support or defend it instead of making a better effort to gather all of the relevant information, and then accepting whatever conclusion is indicated. You’ve seen this in action when the fans of rival football teams all watch the same game and both groups are utterly convinced that the referees are making calls that are biased against their personal team. And the really deceptive thing about this cognitive quirk is that when we are doing it, it doesn’t really feel like we are doing it. When I’m defending that view that I hold dear and that I’m emotionally and psychologically invested in, it really feels like I am giving a powerful, compelling, rational argument for it. I have resolved to distrust that feeling whenever I have it.
Brad Dowden: It is possible to go back in time
I eventually came to realize that in principle we can travel back in time and participate in an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the 1940s. I once mistakenly believed that doing this is impossible.
The situation required for travel to the past is much more exotic than merely having a fast spaceship, but scientists do know how you could get back to Hitler’s office in Berlin in a manner consistent with the laws of science. Unfortunately, you cannot do anything that hasn’t already been done, or else there would be a contradiction. In fact, if you did go back, then you would already have been back there. So, you can participate in a Hitler assassination attempt, but you cannot change its outcome.
Randy Mayes: The tads accrue
That's a saying I made up to obscure its embarrassingly simple meaning: Little things add up to big things. There is so much that interests me, which I have simply not pursued (or, worse, begun to pursue and then simply quit) because the time to fruition seemed so onerous. Are you, like me, still angry that your parents let you quit guitar or dance lessons? Look where I would be now if I had stayed with it, practicing just a tiny bit each day! Why did they knuckle under to that whiny brat who just wanted to play baseball and watch The Three Stooges? Yep, This Be the Verse. Of course, the tads accrue to the bad as well. Obesity, drug addiction, credit card debt, ocean acidification, extinction. They seal our fate in painless, even soothing little baby steps.
Economists call it hyperbolic time discount. Resisting it requires us to be able to defer gratification, an ability which, in children, turns out to be a depressingly accurate predictor of life outcomes. Our inability to imagine what can be accomplished in tiny steps is the subject of timeless allegories. It is also what has made it so difficult for us to comprehend the universe, which evolves at a pace so slow that until recently we were certain that it did not evolve at all.
Maybe this video will inspire you to believe in the power of baby steps. But that's really the problem in a nutshell: Inspiration doesn't last.
Russell DiSilvestro: Apparently atomic things can be molecular
An example: when I was a child, for a long time I thought that the title of the movie "A Miracle on 34th Street" began with the single word "Amiracle." Eventually, someone pointed out to me (over my repeated protests) that it's actually "A"—an indefinite article—plus "Miracle"—a common noun.
I don't recall how someone figured out that I needed the lesson—"Daddy, is the Amiracle in that story like the Amiracle in the Santa Claus movie?"—but one thing it impressed me with, even then, was how an apparently simple thing (on the surface) could actually have a deeper structure that is more complex (even if its complexity went unrecognized for a long time).
The philosophical payoffs of this “simple” (!) truth took a long time for me to learn, and I am still learning. I can have a concept and use it for a long time—justice, or God, or science, and so on—without anyone noticing that it is not a simple concept but a complex concept; not an atomic (not divisible) thing but a molecular (divisible, with interlocking parts) thing. I think this explains where some of our beliefs do not fit together well, or do not agree with the beliefs of others. One small part may be to blame (or praise!) for the perplexing situation.
By the way, I also think that apparently molecular things can be atomic. But that’s a “simple” truth for another post…
Many like me have libertarian views because they take seriously liberalism's presumption against coercion. When you coerce others, you interfere with them and force them in ways that violate their agency. Ordinarily, and other things being equal, these are things you shouldn't do. Therefore, if coercion is legitimate, it requires special justification. Whoever is advancing a coercive policy undertakes a burden to justify their interference and, according to libertarians, this is a lot more difficult a burden to discharge than many people seem to think. "Taxation is theft," libertarians sometimes say. "How do you get to take my stuff?" But this just means that libertarians want their (rather strong) interpretation of property rules to be enforced coercively. Is the coercion of these rules justified? Well maybe not if holding everyone accountable to them would lead to some people’s ruination. For a property-rights regime to be justified as legitimate, for it to be reasonable for me to demand of everyone that they comply with the coercion of its rules, it should work out reasonably well for everyone. What kind of property regime is necessary for that in the world we live in? I’m not totally sure, but whatever it is it’s unlikely to perfectly match the libertarian ideal.
Scott Merlino: True love and truth telling are uncorrelated