The etiquette of arguments.

Kevin Vallier invokes John Rawls’ theory of reasonable pluralism to call for less hostility in the blogosphere:

Reasonable pluralism is the state of a society that obtains when rational, honest and thoughtful individuals disagree about even the most significant matters in life. Rawls believed that reasonable pluralism was the natural “outcome of the free exercise of human reason under conditions of liberty”… I find that most people reject implicitly reasonable pluralism. When they attempt to explain why others disagree with them on moral, religious or political matters or even interpretations of data and models, they point to some blind spot, culpable ignorance or character flaw in their opponent.

This is, of course, an appropriate principle for discussion in all aspects of life. It’s certainly crucial to progress in philosophy. If you discredit a dissenter by assuming from the outset that they are evil or idiotic, that’s a recipe for failing to see any insights that they may have. And that their arguments rest on at least semi-plausible claims is, after all, most likely when they share the same dedication to the goal of truth as you.

It’s hard to live up to this. I know I certainly fail on many occasions when it comes to matters of religion. But with regards to moral and political philosophy, at least, despite what are now some pretty devout Kantian convictions on my part, I like to think I’m more than open to the reality that some deeply intelligent people disagree with me, and humans have been split on these questions after thousands of years of thought. And regardless of whether consequentialism often seems maddeningly repulsive, a little reflection can lead me to enter that mindset and at least partially sympathise with the logic. My ongoing target to look more kindly at? Conservatism.

(Hat tip: Zack Beauchamp.)


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