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Old 31st January 2019, 07:16 AM   #1
Robin
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Are the personal motivations of philosophers out of bounds?

It was put to me recently (by a philosophy professor) that it is bad practice to question the motives of philosophers putting "unpopular" arguments.

He had in mind Roger Scruton and his "Gay Reservations" essay, or Richard Swinburne in his "argument" that homosexuality is a disability and ought to be cured, even if the person did not wish to be cured.

This philosopher's point is that we should focus entirely on the argument as we should with any philosopher.

I am somewhat in favour of this approach, I don't want to give the impression that I am afraid of the arguments being put by these people.

And, especially as these arguments are so comically inept, we should shine a light on them and say "Here is the very best case that the intellectual conservative tradition has against gay rights - such as it is".

But I am somewhat puzzled at the idea that Scruton and Swinburne should not be considered in their political context, to have the suggestion made that they might simply be prejudiced.

After all, perhaps it is the most charitable interpretation for why clever people present such bad arguments, that they are simply suffering from a common human failing that probably affects us all in some way.
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Old 31st January 2019, 07:25 AM   #2
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It seems to me that there's a correct sequence to do this in, and that you're following that sequence. Demolish the arguments first; then, if and when it's clear that they have negligible merit, it seems reasonable to ask why intelligent people can make such poor arguments. The normal response of the prejudiced, in this as in everything else lacking intellectual rigour, is to pretend the first part hasn't been done, and then label the second an argumentum ad hominem, so it's important not to give them that ground to stand on. So I think that a better position is to focus initially, rather than entirely, on the argument.

Alternatively, while it's 'bad practice to question the motives of philosophers putting "unpopular" arguments,' it's not bad practice to question those of philosophers putting arguments they're intelligent enough to know are fatally flawed.

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Old 31st January 2019, 05:11 PM   #3
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It depends on the context.

The motives of a person are always irrelevant to the merits of their argument. In philosophy (and many other disciplines) it's important that you can assess an argument dispassionately and not be prejudiced by a distaste for the conclusion. If an argument is sound then you must always accept the conclusion whatever your feelings.

Another thing is that often in philosophy you will see attempts to make as strong an argument as possible for something absurd if only to highlight the absurdities (commonly in the form of a reductio). I highly recommend reading Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, in which he argues that the Irish lower class could solve their problems by selling their children as food. It's a fairly horrible idea, although somewhat well argued for, but it's purpose was to highlight the problems of British attitudes and policies toward the Irish people (a very serious point).

It's always worth having spaces where people are free to argue whatever they want, however unpleasant, if only to expose the flaws.

Now, all that said, I'll paraphrase something Slavoj Zizek has said; there is another sense in general society in which, as much as we might want free speech and thought, we'd quite like for a number of issues to be settled. We might want a free society, but I'm sure many of us would find it tiresome if everyday we had to engage in a full out debate on why homosexuality is okay, why eating your kids is wrong, and so on. I don't want to live in a society where it's commonplace for someone to tell me "You know what, I've been thinking and I reckon rape is probably okay". I think we've established long enough ago that rape is bad and I'd be immediately suspicious of anyone who made that argument outside of a bizarre thought experiment in a philosophy class.
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Old 31st January 2019, 06:01 PM   #4
sir drinks-a-lot
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
It was put to me recently (by a philosophy professor) that it is bad practice to question the motives of philosophers putting "unpopular" arguments.

He had in mind Roger Scruton and his "Gay Reservations" essay, or Richard Swinburne in his "argument" that homosexuality is a disability and ought to be cured, even if the person did not wish to be cured.

This philosopher's point is that we should focus entirely on the argument as we should with any philosopher.

I am somewhat in favour of this approach, I don't want to give the impression that I am afraid of the arguments being put by these people.

And, especially as these arguments are so comically inept, we should shine a light on them and say "Here is the very best case that the intellectual conservative tradition has against gay rights - such as it is".

But I am somewhat puzzled at the idea that Scruton and Swinburne should not be considered in their political context, to have the suggestion made that they might simply be prejudiced.

After all, perhaps it is the most charitable interpretation for why clever people present such bad arguments, that they are simply suffering from a common human failing that probably affects us all in some way.
I agree with the Philosophy professor. Saying they are "comically inept" and that they are "such bad arguments" doesn't really give us any information other than your view on the arguments.

Instead, dissociate the arguments from Scruton and Swinburne and just think of them as arguments out there to be considered. As if they were written on a blackboard somewhere and being presented as pure arguments. See if you can refute them and, if not, take their conclusions on board.
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Old 31st January 2019, 06:20 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by sir drinks-a-lot View Post
I agree with the Philosophy professor. Saying they are "comically inept" and that they are "such bad arguments" doesn't really give us any information other than your view on the arguments.



Instead, dissociate the arguments from Scruton and Swinburne and just think of them as arguments out there to be considered. As if they were written on a blackboard somewhere and being presented as pure arguments. See if you can refute them and, if not, take their conclusions on board.
I have already agreed that the arguments should be analysed on their own merits.

But are you saying that, having analysed the argument, it is completely out of bounds in any case to ask about the context and motives of anyone who presents any argument?

That, for example, there should never be declarations of interest attached to any academic paper?
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Old 31st January 2019, 06:35 PM   #6
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Motivations are often intersting to examine when looking at why importance was given to a personal project or movement. Ideas don’t just spring from nowhere. They are born out of the cultures of the people who give them voice.

The inevitability and even indispensability of prejudice is a large part of postmodern philosophical discussion.
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Old 31st January 2019, 06:39 PM   #7
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Even outside of postmodern discussion, if a scientist publishes a paper purporting to show that a certain product can cause cancer, he would be expected to disclose that fact if he had a consultancy position with a competing organisation.
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Old 31st January 2019, 06:48 PM   #8
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That’s the ideal expressed in the Feynman speech linked in my singature.

At a lower level of abstraction there are the built in prejudices that enable us to make sense of the world.
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Old 31st January 2019, 07:54 PM   #9
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There's a place for considering the source of an argument.

Otherwise, every time you walked past a homeless guy ranting that the world would end tomorrow, you'd need to rigorously examine his claim for a few hours before continuing with your day.

There has to be a place for considering motives and speakers even before addressing arguments. Without that, you'd spend your whole life wrapped up in every fish gallop floating out there.

To be perfectly honest, this forum could be a much more pleasant and interesting place if posters considered the motivations of those who are clearly not interested in good faith discussion.
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Old 31st January 2019, 08:04 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
This philosopher's point is that we should focus entirely on the argument as we should with any philosopher.
You should start by considering the merits of the argument. If the philosopher is wrong, then you might consider his/her biases to determine why they might have gone wrong. If the philosopher is right, what does it matter what their biases are?
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Old 1st February 2019, 02:36 AM   #11
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Why do philosophers merit this special protection? What about the philosophers who monetise their "just putting it out there?"
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Old 1st February 2019, 02:44 AM   #12
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I don't think it's just about philosophy, really. Either you can demolish an argument on its own merits, or you don't. It could be about philosophy, or economics, or medicine, or whatever. It still stands or falls on its own merits. Launching into considerations as to why someone might put forth that argument, just gets you a variety of fallacies, including appeal to motive (which seems to be the theme of the thread), ad hominem circumstantial, bulverism or even ad baculum (essentially "I'll attack your reputation if you don't stop.") But there's a reason why those are fallacies.

The reason being that it has no bearing at all on whether the guy is right or wrong. Wanting it to be true, and having reasons to want it to be true, don't mean the guy can't actually be right. E.g., Galileo seemed pretty passionate about wanting heliocentrism to be true, considering he even flamed the pope over it, but he was nevertheless right. And even when someone is wrong, adding personal considerations won't make him any more wrong.

That said, it seems to me like it also depends on where you're arguing it. If you're on an internet forum where all the cool kids are calling each other names, sure, go for it. If you're doing a paper or having an academic debate, then please do stick to the facts.
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Old 1st February 2019, 03:01 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
Even outside of postmodern discussion, if a scientist publishes a paper purporting to show that a certain product can cause cancer, he would be expected to disclose that fact if he had a consultancy position with a competing organisation.
A scientific paper isn't just an argument though. If you are writing a paper purporting to show that a certain product can cause cancer, you collected data about that product in some way. Your data collection may be biased or even fraudulent. The former can be avoided somewhat with proper controls and those can be described in your paper, but knowing that the bias is likely might make us more vigilant in ascertaining the strictness of your protocols. It can also make us a little more hesitant to accept your conclusions until your results have been independently replicated because, again, we don't have access to everything necessary to determine your honesty or competence ourselves.

With an argument we can assess it completely independent of your honesty or competence. There's no trust to be broken, so no reason to tell us about things that would impact upon our ability to trust you.
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Old 1st February 2019, 03:48 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
That said, it seems to me like it also depends on where you're arguing it. If you're on an internet forum where all the cool kids are calling each other names, sure, go for it. If you're doing a paper or having an academic debate, then please do stick to the facts.
Why do you think the context and questions if motives won't involve facts?



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Old 1st February 2019, 04:29 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Roboramma View Post
With an argument we can assess it completely independent of your honesty or competence. There's no trust to be broken, so no reason to tell us about things that would impact upon our ability to trust you.
That might be true of a mathematical argument. But it would be a rare paper in philosophy which does not rely at least in part on some empirical matter of fact. Both the papers I mention in my OP do.

But even for mathematical papers, if you have a mathematical argument by William Dembski, wouldn't context and motivation be pertinent? What if you were trying to convince a lay audience that he was wrong, and they can't tell the difference between his arguments and yours?

Incidentally, I am not questioning anyone's honesty, nor even their general competence. One can be honest and competent and still allow oneself to be fooled by biases.

I don't doubt the honesty, nor the competence of Daryl Bem or Robert Jahn, but I don't lend any credence to their most famous claims.

Daryl Bem's competence with statistics was probably greater than that of most of his detractors.

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The non-theoretical character of metaphysics would not be in itself a defect; all arts have this non-theoretical character without thereby losing their high value for personal as well as for social life. The danger lies in the deceptive character of metaphysics; it gives the illusion of knowledge without actually giving any knowledge. This is the reason why we reject it. - Rudolf Carnap "Philosophy and Logical Syntax"
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Old 1st February 2019, 04:33 AM   #16
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To ascertain the hidden reasons behind a text --philosophical or not-- or an action is difficult even for ourselves and our near persons. It is more difficult for remote individuals. There is a danger of mere speculation and ad hominem arguments.

Take it easy, gentlemen.
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Old 1st February 2019, 05:22 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
That might be true of a mathematical argument. But it would be a rare paper in philosophy which does not rely at least in part on some empirical matter of fact. Both the papers I mention in my OP do.

But even for mathematical papers, if you have a mathematical argument by William Dembski, wouldn't context and motivation be pertinent? What if you were trying to convince a lay audience that he was wrong, and they can't tell the difference between his arguments and yours?

Incidentally, I am not questioning anyone's honesty, nor even their general competence. One can be honest and competent and still allow oneself to be fooled by biases.

I don't doubt the honesty, nor the competence of Daryl Bem or Robert Jahn, but I don't lend any credence to their most famous claims.

Daryl Bem's competence with statistics was probably greater than that of most of his detractors.

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You're talking about things in the abstract here and the lack of context makes it difficult to answer.

If we're talking about how to properly assess the merits of a piece of work or an individual argument, then the validity of it never rests on the motivations of the writer.

Of course you're right that outside of a classroom or a lab that motivations of people are of concern to us, you only have to live in the real world to figure that out.

If two people are trying to convince me of mutually exclusive solutions to a maths problem, and I'm not equipped to properly analyse either solution (which, given my maths skills, is quite possible) then I'd have to remain agnostic to the propositions. If you add some hypothetical context for which I'm forced to take a side, then I'd have to make some inferences about the qualifications or motivations of the two sides and take a best guess approach. At that point we're into pragmatism rather than ideal approaches to philosophy, maths, or anything else.

Actually, you haven't given us the context of what the professor told you in the OP. I doubt he was making a universal claim that motivations never matter.

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Old 1st February 2019, 05:48 AM   #18
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Doesn't it depend on what the philosopher in question is saying? If it's something abstract it would be one matter to drag their personal life into it, but if it's something with concrete and controversial political applications it would be another. For instance, someone waffling on about metempsychosis and Gnosticism and the soul wouldn't merit the same level of attention to their personal motivations as someone arguing that human consciousness begins at conception and by the way they're being paid by an anti-abortion PAC. An economic theorist who has a new take on the Pirenne Thesis wouldn't merit the personal-life attention as a new Ayn Rand who extols the harm of charity while gladly living off other people's money.

I guess I agree in theory that the argument is more important, but if the argument itself has ulterior motivations beyond the abstract than that opens the arguer's own motivations to be questioned.
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Old 1st February 2019, 05:56 AM   #19
Robin
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Originally Posted by Bladesman87 View Post
You're talking about things in the abstract here and the lack of context makes it difficult to answer.
Actually I have given a number of examples for context. But I am not talking just about those examples.

Quote:
If we're talking about how to properly assess the merits of a piece of work or an individual argument, then the validity of it never rests on the motivations of the writer.
And I never suggested that it did. As I said in the OP I think any argument should be analysed on its own merits. But then, as a separate matter, the context and motivations are also a valid area of interest.

Quote:
Actually, you haven't given us the context of what the professor told you in the OP. I doubt he was making a universal claim that motivations never matter.
And I don't think that he would appreciate me naming him and perhaps bringing unwanted attention to him. I did question him closely on his blog about whether the biases and motivations of the arguer might be considered as a subject in their own right and he was quite adamant that this could never be the case and even the discussion at the meta level about whether biases and motivations can be discussed was out of bounds.

Admittedly this probably does not represent the way the majority of philosophers feel.
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Old 1st February 2019, 06:07 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
That might be true of a mathematical argument. But it would be a rare paper in philosophy which does not rely at least in part on some empirical matter of fact. Both the papers I mention in my OP do.

But even for mathematical papers, if you have a mathematical argument by William Dembski, wouldn't context and motivation be pertinent? What if you were trying to convince a lay audience that he was wrong, and they can't tell the difference between his arguments and yours?

Incidentally, I am not questioning anyone's honesty, nor even their general competence. One can be honest and competent and still allow oneself to be fooled by biases.

I don't doubt the honesty, nor the competence of Daryl Bem or Robert Jahn, but I don't lend any credence to their most famous claims.

Daryl Bem's competence with statistics was probably greater than that of most of his detractors.
Indeed if these people were fools or charlatans then the question of context and motivation would be quite uninteresting.

The fact that, for example, Roger Scruton is a highly intelligent man capable of great subtlety and insight and humanity makes the context and motivation an interesting question.
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The non-theoretical character of metaphysics would not be in itself a defect; all arts have this non-theoretical character without thereby losing their high value for personal as well as for social life. The danger lies in the deceptive character of metaphysics; it gives the illusion of knowledge without actually giving any knowledge. This is the reason why we reject it. - Rudolf Carnap "Philosophy and Logical Syntax"
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Old 1st February 2019, 06:10 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
Actually I have given a number of examples for context. But I am not talking just about those examples.


And I never suggested that it did. As I said in the OP I think any argument should be analysed on its own merits. But then, as a separate matter, the context and motivations are also a valid area of interest.


And I don't think that he would appreciate me naming him and perhaps bringing unwanted attention to him. I did question him closely on his blog about whether the biases and motivations of the arguer might be considered as a subject in their own right and he was quite adamant that this could never be the case and even the discussion at the meta level about whether biases and motivations can be discussed was out of bounds.

Admittedly this probably does not represent the way the majority of philosophers feel.
I know you've given examples, I'm wanting you to flesh out the context of them further. I mean the context within which I would be analysing, to use one of your examples, Scruton's argument against homosexuality.

If I'm sat in a philosophy tutorial then questioning his motivations is one of the last things I'll do, because it very likely doesn't matter in that context. I would also consider it "bad practice".

As an example, I once argued in a philosophy tutorial that murder wasn't immoral. I did this because I was, at the time, arguing for some form of moral nihilism. It would've been "bad practice" for someone to say "You just hate Kant". It might have been somewhat true, I did hate Kantian ethics, but it would've been irrelevant. They could also have said "You're not really a moral nihilist!" and that would've been just as true and just as irrelevant as well. That's the kind of context I was looking for, not just an example, but an example with more context than you've given.

And when I ask for more context around your professor's comment, I have no idea why you'd think I meant his name or location or any other personal information that could possibly identify him. I obviously mean the context of the conversation and the subject your were discussing at the time.

It sounds like he's right in the sense that the content of an argument is always more important than the person making it. The motivations of a person are, of course, relevant to how we might treat that person in society. You can't actually say whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want, and hide behind the label of "philosopher" for protection.
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Old 1st February 2019, 06:19 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Bladesman87 View Post
I know you've given examples, I'm wanting you to flesh out the context of them further. I mean the context within which I would be analysing, to use one of your examples, Scruton's argument against homosexuality.
I didn't want to make this a discussion of the merits or otherwise of those arguments. I will start threads about both of those arguments soon.
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Old 1st February 2019, 06:25 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
I didn't want to make this a discussion of the merits or otherwise of those arguments. I will start threads about both of those arguments soon.
I'm not asking you to actually litigate those arguments here, I'm asking in what context (what time and place) we might hypothetically be considering either the arguments or the authors, because that's what determines whether I think motivation is relevant.

I'll use my own example to clarify. I'm not going to reiterate my argument in favour of murder here, but the context of that argument was a tutorial on ethical philosophy and the recent reading and lectures had been on Kant. We were discussing what Kant's view might have been on different ideas and up came murder. I chose to attack this from a moral nihilist pov. Now, within this context I don't think anyone would argue that my motivations matter. If I were to make this pro-murder argument while running as a candidate for local MP then I think a few people might be justified in questioning why my campaign speech involved a pro-murder spiel.
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Old 1st February 2019, 06:30 AM   #24
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Another set of examples is the tendency of some scientists to misrepresent philosophers.

Thus Richard Dawkins will claim that Aristotle was a supporter of the Platonic Theory of Forms, which is not the case.

Or Hawking and Mlodinov (probably more Mlodinov) claiming that Aristotle said that objects become more 'jubilant' as they come near to their natural home. I have never found where Aristotle has said that. It is not even the kind of thing he says.

Or Krauss claiming that philosophers have naive ideas about the concept of "nothing". Has he not read, for example, Aristotle's treatment of the "something from nothing" question in Physics? Or noticed that even Aquinas is careful to state that empty space is a material thing with material properties and not "nothing"?

Or Ernst Mayr claiming that Platonism was the dominant ideology of the 16th and 17th century and was thus responsible for delaying the discovery of the theory of evolution.

Competent and substantial scientists, all of them. But they appear to have forgotten quite a good deal about evidence when they reach this particular subject.

Is there a pattern here? The dismissal of philosophy based on a misrepresentation of philosophy by certain scientists.

Wouldn't it be useful to discuss the reasons for this?
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Old 1st February 2019, 06:40 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by Bladesman87 View Post
I'm not asking you to actually litigate those arguments here, I'm asking in what context (what time and place) we might hypothetically be considering either the arguments or the authors, because that's what determines whether I think motivation is relevant.
For Scruton and Swinburne I am suggesting the context is that if Christian conservative politics. After all the so called "conversion therapy" is a big hobby horse of the Christian right and it has the potential for great harm.

And here is an eminent Oxbridge philosopher lending his academic reputation to the idea. Knowingly? I don't know. But I would like to be able to discuss that.

Is Roger Scruton engaged in conservative political activism here? The philosopher of whom I speak was very resistant to the idea that Swinburne or Scruton could be considered to be activists. But why not? After all Scruton spoke against marriage equality in the media when the idea was being considered for Parliament.
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Old 1st February 2019, 06:51 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by Bladesman87 View Post
I highly recommend reading Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, in which he argues that the Irish lower class could solve their problems by selling their children as food.
You definitely need to question Swift's motives when he wrote that. You can't just "assess the argument dispassionately and not be prejudiced by a distaste for the conclusion."

Robin, I strongly disagree with your professor. Not only do I think one should consider the motives of the person making the argument, I think it should be the very first thing you do. And not just to consider whether the arguer is being satyrical.

Every philosophical argument is based on (sometimes hidden, sometimes explicit) assumptions a philosopher considers axiomatically true. Those axioms are (in)formed by the philosopher's beliefs and motives. If you can show those to be untrue, or at least unprovable and not generally believed to be true, the whole philosophical argument becomes problematic. No matter how logically it follows from those assumptions.

For example, if someone were to argue that "homosexuality is a disability and ought to be cured, even if the person did not wish to be cured" there is the assumption that people with disabilities ought to be cured against their will.
Is that something that is provably true or something reasonable people generally agree on? No! Forced medical interventions violate the principle of bodily autonomy, something reasonable people generally do agree on. Medical treatments tend to have risks and side effects, so the person who might suffer those risks and side effects should have a large say in whether the disability is bad enough that they think it is worth the risk of curing it, or whether the disability is something they might be able to live with. Society should make sure disabled people feel free to make that choice for themselves and accomodate them whatever choice they make. In the case of homosexuality, all it takes for society to do that is accept that some people have a slightly different partner choice. Definitely easier than putting wheelchair ramps and braille markings everywhere.

The argument also assumes that there is or one day might be an effective cure for homosexuality. We should definitely question the motives of those who think there is, or who are trying to find one.
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Old 1st February 2019, 06:58 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by Bladesman87 View Post
And when I ask for more context around your professor's comment, I have no idea why you'd think I meant his name or location or any other personal information that could possibly identify him. I obviously mean the context of the conversation and the subject your were discussing at the time.
I had thought that you might have wanted to go and check what he said in his own words, which would have been perfectly reasonable thing to request.

Indeed I was thinking of linking his discussion for context but decided against it for the reasons stated.
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Old 1st February 2019, 07:03 AM   #28
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And let me add that I have a great deal of respect for the philosophy professor I mention in my OP, it should not be read as any sort of general criticism of the man or of philosophers in general.
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Old 1st February 2019, 07:28 AM   #29
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There are many questions of motivation that are certainly irrelevant.

When people say "Richard Dawkins just wants to sell more books to become even more rich", that has no value.

Although it is certainly not true, if it was true that Dawkins had only mercenary motives, it would not make anything he says any less true.
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Old 1st February 2019, 08:02 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
When people say "Richard Dawkins just wants to sell more books to become even more rich", that has no value.
Questioning motives in a philosophical context is of course not the same thing as dismissing someone by throwing out baseless accusations. Instead it requires a close examination of a thinker's motives.

Quote:
Although it is certainly not true, if it was true that Dawkins had only mercenary motives, it would not make anything he says any less true.
If it was true, it would certainly put into context his claims of "Selfish Genes". It would seem like he was trying to come with excuses for his own behaviour.
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Old 1st February 2019, 01:27 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
Is there a pattern here? The dismissal of philosophy based on a misrepresentation of philosophy by certain scientists.
There is a certain small irony that most of those scientists are PhDs ('Doctor of Philosophy'). Not that the 'philosophy' in 'Doctor of Philosophy' means the academic field of philosophy, but still.

Originally Posted by Robin View Post
Wouldn't it be useful to discuss the reasons for this?
Might it be because it still has a smell of theology about it?

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Old 1st February 2019, 01:29 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
Another set of examples is the tendency of some scientists to misrepresent philosophers.

Thus Richard Dawkins will claim that Aristotle was a supporter of the Platonic Theory of Forms, which is not the case.

Or Hawking and Mlodinov (probably more Mlodinov) claiming that Aristotle said that objects become more 'jubilant' as they come near to their natural home. I have never found where Aristotle has said that. It is not even the kind of thing he says.

Or Krauss claiming that philosophers have naive ideas about the concept of "nothing". Has he not read, for example, Aristotle's treatment of the "something from nothing" question in Physics? Or noticed that even Aquinas is careful to state that empty space is a material thing with material properties and not "nothing"?

Or Ernst Mayr claiming that Platonism was the dominant ideology of the 16th and 17th century and was thus responsible for delaying the discovery of the theory of evolution.

Competent and substantial scientists, all of them. But they appear to have forgotten quite a good deal about evidence when they reach this particular subject.

Is there a pattern here? The dismissal of philosophy based on a misrepresentation of philosophy by certain scientists.

Wouldn't it be useful to discuss the reasons for this?
No. I don't see any of that as even relevant to what Hawking ever wrote (about physics, anyway), much less what kind of literal bulverism you could pull out of the ass on the topic.

Also: Hanlon's Razor, "Never attribute to malice, that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Sometimes people just mis-remember a quote, or believe someone else who mis-quoted Aristotle, or whatever, and there is no particular intent to make Aristotle look good or bad.

Or in less flippant terms, you may want to check out the philosophical concept of HADD (Hyperactive Agency Detection.) We're all built to identify an agent and/or intent in places where there is none. It has a clear evolutionary advantage too: the guys who thought there was a tiger in the bushes when it was just the wind rustling the leaves only got a scare. Those who were inclined to make the opposite error ended up lunch.

So we continue to be inclined to find agency and intent everywhere. That's how we got gods, nature spirits, ghosts, elves, witches, or why it was CLEAR to someone that Socrates is CLEARLY trying to corrupt the minds of the youth with his ideas. Which is why it's no longer an advantage to just let your mouth go off half-cocked every time you think you identified such a pattern. The whole logic and later scientific method and such were in fact people inventing safeguards AGAINST just going off on half-baked ideas that something looks like agency and/or intent to you.
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Old 1st February 2019, 01:32 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
Why do you think the context and questions if motives won't involve facts?
Ok, my bad, lemme ammend it: "stick to the RELEVANT facts." As in, relevant to whether the conclusion is right or wrong.

Otherwise, let's just say that even the famous Chewbacca Defense IS based on facts. It is beyond any doubt, in fact, in canon that Chewbacca is an 8 ft Wookie living on Endor among a bunch of 2 ft Ewoks. It doesn't make it relevant.
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Old 1st February 2019, 08:27 PM   #34
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Hansmusterman

Maybe try applying Robin's Razor: "Don't apply a razor if the case is pretty straightforward.

Also, I don't think it is my imagination that a scientist has agency.

You are probably thinking about something similar to pareidolia.

But I have identified four examples of well known scientists putting down philosophers based on a misrepresentation of what philosophers have said. That *is* a pattern. That is what pattern means, same thing repeated.

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Old 1st February 2019, 08:33 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post

Also: Hanlon's Razor, "Never attribute to malice, that which is adequately explained by stupidity."
In my case I have attributed neither malice nor stupidity.

It is hardly a radical thesis that human beings, even very clever human beings have unconscious biases that can skew their reasoning.



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Old 1st February 2019, 08:46 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Ok, my bad, lemme ammend it: "stick to the RELEVANT facts." As in, relevant to whether the conclusion is right or wrong.

Facts about prejudices and biases are relevant when addressing the subject of prejudices and biases.

And sometimes they are relevant to analyses of the argument itself.

In an ideal world we would have time to follow up every study referenced in the footnotes. When we have good reason to suppose that the author will tend to prefer biased studies that will confirm his opinion, then we can skip that step

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Old 1st February 2019, 11:31 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by Earthborn View Post
Questioning motives in a philosophical context is of course not the same thing as dismissing someone by throwing out baseless accusations. Instead it requires a close examination of a thinker's motives.

If it was true, it would certainly put into context his claims of "Selfish Genes". It would seem like he was trying to come with excuses for his own behaviour.
I don't see that Dawkins' hypothetical mental problems are relevant to the real value of his memes theory.
You know, the truth is the truth, whether it was told by Agamemnon or his swineherd.
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Old 1st February 2019, 11:57 PM   #38
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I'm a bit ambivalent about this, I guess, as I think there's a difference between scientific conclusions and philosophical ones. I think in the case of philosophical arguments the best bet is to start at least with the statements themselves and see if they make sense, and if they contradict something you consider to be true. That's a bit different from scientific findings, where bias and funding and the like can taint results in ways that may not be evident to the person seeing them without knowledge of the pre-existing bias. When a scientist says sugar is good for you, it's really important to know at the start if he's funded by the sugar industry. It doesn't mean he must be wrong, but it certainly means one must look not just at the conclusions but at the process by which they're reached.

When a philosopher says something about being or knowing or god, it matters less. It's often an open question whether the idea or the bias comes first. A person can think so and so about such and such because he's a Catholic or a communist, but it's also possible that he joined or stayed with some set of biases because it's what he thinks. Our appreciation of logical and philosophical issues is far more likely to be based on our own logical and philosophical understanding than on facts that are verifiable or falsifiable.

It gets a little fuzzier when a philosopher seems to be making a bad argument about something for which science exists - for example the idea that homosexuality is a disease. Or when someone misquotes or lies or is sloppy with evidence. I think one ought to argue the point first, but if one does not dismiss the philosopher right then as a fool it might be worthwhile to follow that with an analysis of the motivation, since a person who makes one obviously bad argument or mistake that you catch might well be doing so elsewhere, and though one must always beware of well-poisoning, it seems prudent to know where he's coming from so as to evaluate other arguments that can be bent by bias in ways that are not so evident.

I realize in rereading that I've probably not said much that differs from what Dave Rogers said, but add it anyway.
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Old 2nd February 2019, 12:13 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
Facts about prejudices and biases are relevant when addressing the subject of prejudices and biases.

And sometimes they are relevant to analyses of the argument itself.

In an ideal world we would have time to follow up every study referenced in the footnotes. When we have good reason to suppose that the author will tend to prefer biased studies that will confirm his opinion, then we can skip that step

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You're talking about two different situations.

In an academic work, personal prejudices are irrelevant to assessing the value of a thesis. The only exception is if you are analyzing the theory from a historical or similar point of view and need to establish the context.

In another special context, the particular interests and reasons of the proponent may lead to an assessment of the debate. For example, since the current President of the United States is a demagogue and an uneducated liar, it is irrelevant to discuss his denial of climate change among educated people. But the discussion becomes relevant to the general public, given the pernicious effects of his demagogy.

In other contexts, reasons and interests may be relevant. For example, the involvement of some prominent members of the Bush II administration with the oil industries may help explain the chain of absurd lies about Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction". But this is a political-historical question that does not affect the factual problem of the in/existence of these weapons. They are different contexts of debating.
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Old 2nd February 2019, 12:50 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by bruto View Post
I'm a bit ambivalent about this, I guess, as I think there's a difference between scientific conclusions and philosophical ones. I think in the case of philosophical arguments the best bet is to start at least with the statements themselves and see if they make sense, and if they contradict something you consider to be true. That's a bit different from scientific findings, where bias and funding and the like can taint results in ways that may not be evident to the person seeing them without knowledge of the pre-existing bias. When a scientist says sugar is good for you, it's really important to know at the start if he's funded by the sugar industry. It doesn't mean he must be wrong, but it certainly means one must look not just at the conclusions but at the process by which they're reached.

When a philosopher says something about being or knowing or god, it matters less. It's often an open question whether the idea or the bias comes first. A person can think so and so about such and such because he's a Catholic or a communist, but it's also possible that he joined or stayed with some set of biases because it's what he thinks. Our appreciation of logical and philosophical issues is far more likely to be based on our own logical and philosophical understanding than on facts that are verifiable or falsifiable.

It gets a little fuzzier when a philosopher seems to be making a bad argument about something for which science exists - for example the idea that homosexuality is a disease. Or when someone misquotes or lies or is sloppy with evidence. I think one ought to argue the point first, but if one does not dismiss the philosopher right then as a fool it might be worthwhile to follow that with an analysis of the motivation, since a person who makes one obviously bad argument or mistake that you catch might well be doing so elsewhere, and though one must always beware of well-poisoning, it seems prudent to know where he's coming from so as to evaluate other arguments that can be bent by bias in ways that are not so evident.

I realize in rereading that I've probably not said much that differs from what Dave Rogers said, but add it anyway.
I don't see the difference. Suspicions about private interests in the maintenance of a thesis reinforce the demand for solid evidence in both science and philosophy.
The only difference is that in philosophy solid evidence is limited. Therefore, the evidence of a strong personal bias casts doubts on the value of a thesis more intensely than in science.
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