The Leiter Manifesto
Brian Leiter is one of my blogging role models. In this post, he outlines the basis for his approach to blogging.
It has, on occasion, been noted that gentleness is not the hallmark of my postings on this blog, at least on matters of a political nature ... When it comes to politics ... reasons and evidence appear to play almost no role in changing anyone's views.
... I am sometimes presented with the following criticism: "Your rhetorical style won't persuade anyone who doesn't already agree with you." That is no doubt true, but, as we've just remarked, it is quite rare to persuade anyone by a careful, reasoned argument ...
I shall let the readers in on a secret (though I suspect it is obvious to my regular readers): I am not interested in persuading anyone. ... my goal in posting on various political topics is simply to alert like-minded readers to ideas and evidence and arguments which help strengthen their convictions regarding the truths they've already understood or glimpsed, as well as to give some expression to our collective outrage and dismay. I really wish that the unlike-minded folks would simply "go away."
...Against this cultural backdrop, it is important, in my view, not to adopt a moderate and temperate tone with respect to the purveyors of lies and half-truths, however earnest they may be. ... To treat them with civility is to dignify their pretense that they are really interested in ... honest intellectual inquiry. So, too, one should not be respectful and calm when talking about crytpo-fascists and grinning apologists for inhumanity ... Respectful, dispassionate treatment dignifies them, legitimates them, gives them a foothold in the space of reasons....
But there is a more general point here, though it is one that may be hard to impress on those of limited intellectual ability or parochial horizons: not all topics are of equal intellectual merit, and not every issue has "two sides" with equal epistemic merits. There are, to be sure, tons of "hard questions" with multiple serious answers in contention; but most of the discussion on the blog (especially the political discussion) pertains to what are "easy questions."
Start with some examples of hard questions, the kinds of questions I largely avoid on the blog (though some of them are the subject of my scholarly work):
- Does the now orthodox thesis of the token-identity of the mental and the physical (the supervenience of the mental on the physical) have the unintended consequence that the mental is epiphenomenal? (Relatedly: is there really an intelligble kind of metaphysical relationship between properties [i.e., supervenience] that is intermediate between property-dualism and type-identity?)
- ...What exactly is Nietzsche's doctrine of the will to power, and what role is it playing in the argument of the Genealogy?
- ...Is it an obstacle to descriptive jurisprudence that the concepts central to law are (as I have called them) hermeneutic concepts, i.e., concepts whose extension is supposed to be fixed by the role they play in how people understand themselves and their social world?
...By contrast, here are some easy questions:
These questions, and many others, are easily addressed in the blogosphere, since there is no serious--or at least no honest or intelligent--dispute about the epistemic merits of the possible answers.
- Was the U.S. justified in invading Iraq?
- Are Bush's economic policies in the interests of most people?
- Is Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection a well-confirmed scientific theory?
- Is there a social security "crisis"?
... unsurprisingly, intellectual lightweights with trite opinions, and limited analytical skills, take offense when I make it all too clear what the answers to the easy questions are. Many of these folks are no doubt honest, well-intentioned, decent people, who have been led down unhappy paths by circumstances or indoctrination. It is an important question, far beyond my ken, what can be done to set them straight. But it is not the aim of this blog to do so.
Read the whole thing here.