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What Sort of Delict is Logical Rudeness?

Let me summarize the species of rudeness sketched in Section 2. The primary type is probably the application of a theory of justified dismissal, such as a theory of error or insanity, to critics and dissenters. Another major type is the interpretation of criticism as behavior to be explained rather than answered. This is closely connected to the type that refuses to see a meta-level in the critic's criticism, and will not allow critics to escape the object-language of the theory. A rude theory may reinterpret criticism as a special kind of noise, or as unwitting corroboration. A theory may evade criticism without rudeness by postponing as answer or referring the critic to the answer of another. The abuse of postponement may be rude, however, as when the motions of postponement are made shorthand for dismissal, or when the subsumption of an objection under a larger system of belief is made shorthand for refutation. A rude theory may be held for reasons other than its correctness, such as the support for the believer shown by voters or grant-giving agencies. A weak sort of rudeness lies in any unfalsifiable theory, and a strong sort lies in boon theories which identify critics as nonpossessors of a special boon. The theories of justified dismissal and the boon theories tell critics that they are disqualified from knowing truth or even deserving answers because of some well-explained foible or fault in themselves. All the types have in common an evasion of a responsibility to answer criticism on the merits, when that evasion is authorized by the theory criticized. All types are triggered only by expounded criticism, and only insulate the proponent from conversion or capitulation, not the theory from refutation.

Only one type was found fallacious, the dismissal of an objection on grounds that would suffice to dismiss the theory itself. Such dismissal is self-referentially inconsistent unless the theory is made an exception to its own tenets, a move which usually cures inconsistency at the price of implausibility. The kinds of rudeness seen here may apparently be used with true beliefs as well as false, unless one is already a partisan of theories which would make any rude theory false. If we admit the adaptability of rudeness to true and false theories, then we must find another avenue of complaint. What is wrong with it?

The only obvious delict of non-fallacious rude defenses is that they separate the believer from the belief in such a way that the belief may be criticized or refuted and the believer left smug and unswayed. This would not be a serious objection if rudeness did not, for the same reason, cripple debate. A rude defense terminates all debate with the rude theorist. Critics see that they can make no progress against rude believers, and turn to fellow travelers and journals. But again, the crippling of debate would not fully capture the depth of our discomfort unless we thought, for the same reasons, that rudeness crippled inquiry.

Does rudeness cripple inquiry? Does the crippling of debate cripple inquiry? Is rudeness an epistemic sin or just plain impolite?



With these questions in the background I would like to start off on an apparent digression with the aim of returning to them shortly. Rudeness insulates the believer from expounded criticism. The rude believer need not answer criticism, but may deflect or explain it away. In legal terms, the rude believer's refusal to answer his opponent is a refusal to recognize a burden of going forward created by the critic's criticism.

Anglo-American law distinguishes the burden of proof from the burden of going forward. The burden of proof is a tie-breaker rule; when the evidence and arguments on each side seem balanced, then the party with the burden of proof loses. The burden of going forward is the obligation to respond after the opponent has made a preliminary case. When a philosophical inquirer puts forth a theory, and when critics publish their disagreement along with erudite arsenals of evidence and arguments, then can we say that the "burden of going forward" has "shifted" to the theorist? Do those who publish theories, in print or orally, have a duty to respond to critics who make a minimally plausible case that they are wrong? What we have called rude defenses seem reducible to different ways of shirking a supposed burden of going forward. Is there such a burden in philosophy?

We should remember that the use of burdens in law furthers certain policies. When one party in court has made a case for herself, the judge turns to the other, in effect, and says, "Your turn! I have to decide this case and cannot wait forever. I want to be fair. Speak now or forever hold your peace." This boils down to, "Your turn or you lose!" Parties that fail to meet their burden, either of proof or of going forward, will normally lose the case, either by judgment or by default. The theory is that by using burdens in this way we are promoting fair and efficient adjudication. First, judges must decide the cases before them. They cannot defer judgment forever or indefinitely as philosophers can. Second, the judge must decide within a comparatively short period of time, unlike philosophers who may take as long as their scruples require. Third, the judge may (and usually does) have to decide on imperfect information, when some facts are missing or contested or both. Fourth, the judge wants her judgment to be informed by the merits of each side as they are perceived by each side. All these policies are served by compelling one party to speak or suffer default when the other has spoken.

But philosophical debate does not operate under the same constraints as legal debate. Nobody has to decide philosophical questions at all, let alone soon or on imperfect information. At least the sense in which people "must" answer philosophical questions (such as, when pregnant, the morality of abortion, or when terminally ill, the morality of suicide) does not give rise to prudential, procedural rules for allocating burdens of proof and going forward in the same way as in law. Moreover, there is no adversarial process in the same sense. Hence, there appears to be no comparable reason why philosophers must speak up after their opponents have made a preliminary or even a formidable case against them.

Is this equivalent to saying that there is no logical reason why we must answer our critics? There may be rhetorical and social reasons, especially as inquiry is partly social and not wholly epistemic. We do not exclusively strive for true knowledge in inquiry, but also for social integration, the cooperation of different inquirers, the communication and application of results, the preservation of a milieu in which inquiry is free and fruitful, and the satisfaction of the human purposes in having knowledge or ideas at all. Logical rudeness is certainly not prohibited by logic; it is prohibited, I maintain, only by social norms. It is objectionable, but not in the manner of illogic or hypocrisy. It is objectionable more in the manner of refusing to speak to one's spouse, putting urgent callers "on hold", or meeting student questions with sardonic laughter.

Philosophers have no equivalent of default except the presumption that the silent or rude theorist has no answer on the merits to offer, and (qua individual proponent) may be presumed ignorant or incorrect and dismissed. This presumption, however, is very legalistic, and in many cases will be false. The limits of the applicability of legal procedures to philosophical argument may lead us to rethink this presumption. At the moment, however, the presumption looks like a theory of justified dismissal: theorists who resort to rude defenses may be dismissed; their theories may be true, but we must await another proponent to find out how that position responds to certain questions and objections before we can judge it fairly on the merits.

Courteous or erudite philosophers tend to use the concept of burden. Indeed, the concept of a burden of going forward is an element of the positive system of logical etiquette that defines rudeness. It is not a part of logic itself, but part of the practical implementation of logical courtesy and social norms in debate. It furthers social policies and inquiry, but its absence would also serve inquiry, though to a different degree. The truth-value of a rude theory is not affected by the silence or rudeness of its proponents in the face of disagreement. In short, philosophical inquiry may be crippled by logical rudeness, but the legalistic remedy of a burden of going forward would cripple philosophical inquiry even more. Rudeness cripples inquiry by obstructing cooperation, not by silencing contenders for truth or by deceiving inquirers. Rudeness, like a boulder in a stream, makes inquiry pass around it. If inquiry proceeds without debate, something is lost. But because falsehood cannot be inferred from rudeness, much more would be lost if we dismissed rude proponents, as if in error, for violating some imported rules of procedure. Legal inquiry is successful when it is both fair and probative. Philosophical inquiry may be successful if it is only probative, that is, if it only brings us closer to truth. Respect for the parties is secondary; to put it higher is to put persons on a par with truth, which may be proper for every purpose except inquiry for truth.


Date: 2015-02-16; view: 124


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But holding a theory of justified dismissal also seems harmless. In fact, in philosophy it is almost obligatory. | Must Some Theories Be Rude?
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