Rationally speaking, is a presentation of New York City skeptics dedicated to promoting critical thinking, skeptical inquiry and science education. For more information, please visit us at NYC Skeptic's Doug. Welcome to Rationally became the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense, I am your host, Masimo Pollution. With me, as always, is my co-host, Julia Gillard. Julia, what are we going to talk about today?
Today, our episode is on philosophical shock tactics.
Oh, I'm shocked by what kind of tactics are talking about. So we're talking about philosophical arguments that lead to very shocking or absurd seeming conclusions, usually that that offend people or that offend our our moral intuitions or our natural sensibilities.
So these are kind of a favourite of of philosophers. And there's a bunch of examples we're going to touch on today. There are shocking philosophical arguments to the effect that we should that it's perfectly morally acceptable to kill young children, that no one should have any children, that it's immoral to have children, that we would all be better off if everyone were killed instantly tomorrow.
That's OK. Yeah. That bestiality is perfectly morally acceptable. The list goes on. So we're going to talk about why these arguments are compelling to philosophers and to what extent our emotional and moral reactions to those arguments indicate that there's something wrong with the arguments.
And, in fact, as we'll we'll talk about later. The reality is that these arguments are acceptable or compelling to some philosophers and particularly to what are called analytical philosophers.
That's what I mean when I say philosophers.
So I said, well, that actually tends to be what I mean, too. But we need not forget that there is a whole different tradition in modern philosophy called continental philosophy, where things go in a different way. Arguments are not really the point. Certainly logical arguments are not the point. So we'll talk about that, too, because that actually is the kind of argument of shocking tactics as you as you put them, that we're going to examine actually do highlight a major difference between continental legal philosophy.
They also, I think, highlight something about what is the point of doing philosophy to begin with, because frankly, you know, if your conclusions were not shocking or surprising or novel in some way, then why bother doing what it is that you're thinking you're doing? Right.
Right. So if you if you encounter an argument that's counterintuitive and you say, well, I reject this argument because it's it doesn't match my intuitions, which I had going into this situation, then. Yeah, then philosophy can almost by definition, never change your mind about anything. Yeah. Because you're committed to your or your intuitions. Correct.
Somebody is pointing out that philosophy is like water is good philosophy. It's like telling good jokes. You know, when you tell a joke, you, you lead your listener in one direction. He thinks you know where you're going. And then all of a sudden you turn you take a sharp turn. That's the punch line. Right. And it is funny because the person is not expecting you're going there. The idea is that similarly with good philosophical arguments, you build up something and you think your readers think that you're going in a particular direction, which is pretty charted territory.
And then all of a sudden there is sort of surprising conclusion or a surprising turn. That's what makes the argument interesting.
So we should we should start out with a couple of examples of. Yes, first. Yes.
Let's start with this reality. You may quote me on that.
Yes. So what's the argument there? What's the what's the problem with bestiality?
Well, there are what's the problem with this? You know, the number is that there is no problem with this reality. Peter Singer is famous for making this point. He has a well-known article from, I think like a decade ago called Heavy Petting.
And I mean, the Justice Peter Singer is a utilitarian and he argues that there are pretty reliable ways to tell whether the animal that you are interested in having relations with is also interested in having relations with you, or at least doesn't care. And that if that is the case, you know, reliably, that you can expect reliably for that to be the case, then there's no moral problem with this.
Reality isn't causing harm to anyone.
So and there are variations on this argument. I myself have been making the argument for years that the all of the standard condemnations of bestiality, all the standard reasons why people call it immoral, would also, if you accepted those those premises, they would also prohibit us from eating animals or from at the very least from buying animal products that have been raised in sort of the modern factory farm method. Correct.
And in fact, the last time you made that argument on this podcast, I mentioned that you just convinced me that the idea is inspiring.
Yeah. I mean, I guess I'm OK with either either conclusion.
Just as long as people are internally consistent, though, either you have to give up eating factory farmed animal products if you want to still maintain that bestiality is wrong because the animal can't consent because it causes suffering to the animal, or you have to accept that both are fine eating factory farm products.
This is reality. So before we get back to the bestiality, which I'm sure our listeners are definitely waiting as as the highlight of the of the episode, but so you just mentioned something that actually is going to be fundamental to this discussion, which is coherence and internal consistency. So the idea is, of course, that it good argument ought to be coherent. Right. That if you if you find inconsistencies or self contradictions or internal things that don't work logically and so forth, then you've got a bad argument.
Now, I think that pretty much every philosopher, certainly every analytical philosopher would agree that that is the case. However, it is also true that coherence in and of itself is not sufficient. Right. I mean, you can have a completely coherent argument that is nonetheless wrong because, for instance, it starts with wrong premises. Right. So you can make an argument that, well, if bald men are immortal and, you know, Aristotle was was was a bald man, then nobody thought it was important.
Yeah, OK. That is actually a perfectly valid argument from a logical perspective, except the premise is one of the premises is wrong. It's actually wrong because I don't think he thought it was bold. But anyway. Right.
So Coogan's is not our internal consistency is not sufficient for correct. True conclusions, but it is necessary for two conclusions, right?
I would think so. Now, I would say that that is actually one of the things that differentiates science from philosophy. Right. That is in philosophy is actually interesting sometimes to to pursue arguments in terms of coherence, regardless of whether the premises may or may not be true, because in fact, sometimes what are the premises are true is an empirical matter and therefore it's up to science to decide. Right. So the philosopher could even do experiments, say, well, if this premise where if this were the case, then it would follow then X and Y, in which case even a coherent argument and may based on on incorrect premises or premises that it might turn out to be incorrect.
In the end. It's actually still interesting for a philosopher and a science perspective. That's not the case. You start out with wrong facts, then you're not going anywhere. That's that's also true of these ethical arguments, like the bestiality argument.
I'm just going to yank Yankers right back to this. You thought you could escape, so. Right. So what I was saying was I'm I'm not actually that concerned with what people actually conclude about how they feel about this reality.
But what I find interesting and and compelling about the argument is that it shows you what the dependencies are. So it shows you you if you want to be internally consistent, you can either hold these two views or you can hold these two views, but you can't hold this other combination of views. That's right. So just like I enjoy the process of mapping out the landscape of of what combinations of views you could coherently hold.
And in fact, an argument can be made that that is pretty much all that philosophy is about is exploring that that sort of coherence landscape, if you will, that you're talking about. I mean, we mentioned in the past something called.
Reflective equilibrium, which is a standard technique in philosophy, essentially been described by a number of people, actually originated as a formal description and philosophy of science, but is most famously associated with John Rawls and and his ideas in political philosophy. But the idea of a reflective equilibrium is exactly to engage in that that exercise you're talking about. That is I hold to three, let's say, different propositions. And it turns out if they analyze the internal consistency of the set of these three propositions, it turns out that the state is incoherent.
There is a problem somewhere. So that analysis then leads me may lead me to question one or two or three or two or all of them, all of them simultaneously.
And what I do is why adjust the way in which I value each proposition and the way in which I treat its property proposition until I come up with a better, more coherent overall view.
Yeah, and so, like in in cases of ethical arguments, you don't actually need to prove that certain ethical premises are the correct ones.
Right. But you can show that, you know, if you have start with these premises, then, you know, consistency requirements force you to like don't don't allow you to hold these combinations of you. So, like, if you start out with the view that it's wrong to cause suffering to sentient beings unless the the utility gains are substantial enough to make up for it, then you have to disallow some forms of brutality and disallow a lot of forms of of meat eating or animal product eating.
Or you could start with the premise that it's fine to cause suffering to sentient beings if they're not human and then bestiality is OK and eating animal products that are factory farms.
OK, so you can just determine based on your inputs, what combination of outputs you can.
So so the basic idea that we're exploring, by the way, this this topic came up because this is a recent article that came out that we're going to link to the to the podcast side by Clive Hamilton, who actually was critical of these tactics. He asked the question of why is it so many philosophers are shocked and horrified when they publish something and then they are criticized harshly, sometimes including threats of violence and threats of violence. You know, they the point is these philosophers write things that are obviously very controversial and then they're seemingly intentionally provocative to.
Which, by the way, I don't I'm not sure that that the intention necessarily ah is to provoke every time. Peter Singer has certainly made a career of making provocative statements for what he thinks are very good reasons.
But there are other examples that of so-called philosophy shock tactics that I doubt actually originate from that from that particular purpose.
It's just that philosophers tend to be interesting in unusual situations and indeed extreme consequences of pursuing a certain line of reasoning.
And I think there's also a pleasure that I certainly get and I suspect a lot of other a lot of philosophers get to a pleasure in in being forced to bite a bullet.
Do you know what I mean?
Like, it's almost it's not just that it's interesting when the conclusion is unusual, it's it's it's almost even more satisfying in a very abstract, intellectual, cerebral way to to be forced by logic to starting out with reasonable premises to accept an unpleasant or shocking conclusion. I think it's it's might be satisfying because of the power of it, sort of a demonstration of the power of reasoning that, wow, it can force you to accept something this dramatic.
So I thought briefly about another example, which is so earlier this year to philosophers, in fact, to Italian philosophers, which is a sort of an unusual thing because I almost never miss the Continental, right?
No. No, I don't. Well, I'm not sure what tradition that would that would think of themselves belonging, but I actually tend to think that they think of themselves as in the mythical anyway. OK. The point is to to Italian philosophers published this article in a technical journal, by the way, not this wasn't in The New York Times or The Guardian, but in a technical journal in which they essentially argued for the the fact that infanticide is is morally acceptable.
They call it actually after birth abortion, which is an interesting way to reframe.
Yes. Now. So I actually read the article. I read some of the responses and the criticism and all that.
And this was a brouhaha for for a few weeks, because as it turns out, that when somehow news of these very technical article are fairly you know, I went I was going to say obscure. That's not true. The union which was published is not obscure, but it's a technical journal. So it's not the kind of thing that normally people read somehow that percolated. The mainstream media and all of a sudden there was these huge deal about, oh, what are these people proposing and all that sort of stuff.
First of all, the economy itself wasn't that new because people like Zynga and others have already made the argument that infanticide is is permissible, at least under certain conditions, although the conditions that are acceptable in this particular case we're talking about were actually broader than than any that I've heard of before. But the argument is essentially the same.
That is, you know, if it is permissible to to abort. So I'd say a fetus even late in during the development when there is essentially already the ability to perceive pain, to to experience pain. And that is that could be permissible for a variety of reasons, including, you know, endangerment of the mother's life or something like that. Then there are certainly circumstances under which even infanticide would be permissible. The obvious one that Peter Singer often brings up is if the infant is severely developmentally abnormal or genetically abnormal so that he would anyway have a very short and very painful life.
For a utilitarian like singer. It actually makes perfect sense to say, you know, this isn't going to do anyone any good. It's going to be painful for the for the creature himself or herself and as well as, of course, for people who care for for him or her. So there really is no no. I get no advantage from a daytime perspective in keeping the infant alive. So now one can disagree with the premise or the argument.
One can disagree with you. No one can find the consequences disturbing and so on and so forth. But the question, of course, singer would ask is, well, what exactly is wrong with the argument? Yeah, right now it turns out that, of course, when these things percolate into the general public domain, there is often no counter argument. What it is, is you hear a lot of emotional reactions. You hear a lot of, oh, but this is horrible.
If you start that way, then you're going to end up in, you know, in Nazi concentration camps and whatever it is, a slippery slope kind of argument.
Those are not arguments. Right. So emotional reactions are not arguments.
And the question one needs to raise is, well, so if they're not, then then what plays, if any, should an emotional reaction have in these kind of discussions actually happen to think that there is a place for it? But but, um, what do you think before we go that way? What's the relationship between the question, I guess, is what's the relationship between a logical argument, a coherent argument and an emotional reaction?
So I think that emotional reactions by themselves don't can justifiably be used to rebut logical arguments like you can't just say that upsets me. Therefore, it's wrong, of course.
But that emotional arguments can can hint at.
The problem is we often don't we don't have complete awareness of the reasons for our objection to or resistance to some claim. And so the emotional reaction can hint at some underlying reasons that might actually be good, logical reasons to reject a conclusion, or they might not. And so I think the key is to figure out the best of your abilities, where your emotional reaction is coming from and based on that, whether it actually provides evidence against the claim. So, for example, someone might have a visceral reaction against the idea that, let's see, OK, this is utilitarian, might make the argument that eating a dead body is perfectly morally acceptable because it doesn't harm anyone.
And you might have a visceral reaction against that.
I think many people do have a visceral reaction that, no, that's immoral.
But there are there are evolutionary reasons why we have a revulsion at the idea of eating a dead body.
It would be incredibly harmful to someone to be a dead body. And so we naturally evolved to feel revulsion at that idea. And our brains do seem to conflate revulsion with moral revulsion or moral outrage.
And so I think once you go through that process of recognizing the origins of your your ethical, like, more emotional objection, you can you can recognize that those don't actually pose a challenge to the logic of the utilitarian argument.
In fact, there is this research in a recently in sociology and in cognitive sciences that connects the parts of the brain that make it possible for us to have a sort of a gut reaction, an emotional reaction to physical things like being dirty, for instance.
Yeah, the people were more likely to judge something to be a moral if they were in an unclean environment, correct?
Yes. Or you respond more warmly to a person if you're holding a cup of. Coffee, right, a cup of coffee and you're a little more, you know, less responsive to that person, the same person if you're holding an ice cold water, which, by the way, it's a good hint for where and how to go on a date right now for iced tea.
So it's well, it's beginning it's beginning to be fairly well understood.
The fact that there is, in fact, a neural connection between it's the same pathways that we use for moral disgust are the ones that we essentially have co-opted from from a earlier, more evolutionary earlier response to things that we really ought to be disgusted from a physical perspective. Now, you say, however, it's important to make that distinction, to be aware of it and make that distinction. You know, the other typical example is the possibility of incest, which is also fairly strong.
There's a fairly strong revulsion to the idea and strongly selected against evolution. That's right.
And nonetheless, you can easily come up with well selected before the revulsion. Sorry. Yes. So I would be OK with it. And but nonetheless, you can easily come up with scenarios and then which insists will be perfectly acceptable, at least through something utilitarian to do that. So there is absolutely nothing that you could possibly object to if it is done between people who are consenting adults, can't have children, cannot have children who have a perfectly mentally stable and so on and so forth.
And you could say, well, at that point, what is still objectionable about it? It doesn't seem to be anything. And yet the revulsion still stuck.
Yeah, and a lot of people will say, well, I you know, when presented with a scenario that's that's contrived to satisfy all of those premises, they'll say, well, I know it's wrong, but I don't know exactly why, you know?
And so that should be right. So that situation ought to be a alarm bell, right? It's like, OK, wait a minute. However, how do you know that there's something wrong there? If you cannot explain to me what what the reason for for the thing being wrong is to begin with? I mean, it is perfectly it is possible that we have an intuition that something is not quite right and we cannot express or we cannot. We are we're incapable and at the moment of actually analysing the situation and figuring out what is wrong.
But at the very least, we are to admit that that is, in fact, the problem. That is that the fact that we have a certain intuition that we cannot actually explain logically is a problem and something you need to work out, because it may indicate, as you were saying earlier, that there is something wrong with the argument, but it may also indicate that there's something wrong with intuition. It's not that intuitions take precedence no matter what.
In fact, intuitions really should be taken with a large grain of salt, depending on what the domain of intuition is, of course, and so forth. But a lot of people seem to make these these give these priority again to sort of an emotional reaction or an intuition. Oh, I know it's wrong, therefore.
Well, but the whole point of this exercise is to figure out why. How do you know that it's wrong? What exactly is wrong about it? That's what makes the philosophical analysis interesting and valuable. Right.
But, you know, the first example you gave of of like emotional reactions against the infanticide argument that actually seems closer to a good reason to discount the infanticide argument that that I mean, the slippery slope that if we broke down our natural like if we if we gradually got over our natural revulsion at killing babies, that the consequences for what we'd be willing to do, what we'd be OK with in society more broadly could be grave.
That actually seems like a much more than you. Gross, right? That could be. That's right. That could be an argument. Of course, the problem with slippery slope argument is that they are slippery. They are you know, it's it's too easy to say, well, you start here and then you're necessarily going to go on up there.
Well, wait a minute. There is a lot of steps in between. I mean, after all, we do kill all sorts of of of beings, including human beings for all sorts of reasons. Yeah. Doesn't seem to bother too many people. So the question then would be, well, why is it that that particular kind of allowing that particular killing would generate the slippery, slippery slope from another?
Yeah, that's actually one of my other favorite things about the shock tactic argument is that when you find yourself rejecting the the conclusion, it often forces you to go back and figure out what your actual beliefs are.
Right. So like so, for example, one of the other arguments is that it's by by our sort of standard ethical system, ethical intuitions. It's immoral to have children because we we have sort of an asymmetric approach to the ethics of causing pain versus causing benefit, that we we have a much stronger ethical aversion to of forcing pain on someone than you do to benefiting them. So if most. People would say that you you can't cause suffering to someone, even if that allows you to create benefit for them, that outweighs the pain.
So that's just a standard. Like if you accept that premise, which many or most people do, then the argument goes it's moral to have children, because even if you think that your child will have a positive life, basically all lives involve some pain and suffering. And by creating a child you are you're causing this them to experience pain and suffering.
Yeah, I'm not sure they found that particular argument compelling. But but again, then the question is, you hear the argument and you have to figure out what is it exactly that you don't find compelling. Right. Yeah.
And you have to think about what what are my views on, like my willingness to cause pain and suffering in the world. Like what? What justifies that? Right. When is it OK and when is it not OK?
At the very least, what that argument would what that situation should do is to make people seriously question why they have children to begin with. Right. I mean, too often in our society, it goes simply unquestioned that the premise goes simply in question, that having children is a good thing, period. And you know. Well, why is it because it's natural? Well, there's that's a naturalistic fallacy. There is there's all sorts of things that are natural and they're not necessarily good.
And in fact, we built our entire civilization on doing things that are not natural. So so that argument clearly doesn't go anywhere. One can make the argument that, well, that's because that way, that's the only way to have the species survive. Maybe. But then one could seriously question why is it that important to have human space to survive, considering all the damage that humans has been doing both to itself and to the environment? So at the very least, that that way of thinking will make you say, well, pause and say, well, wait a minute, I'm taking certain things here for for granted and taking the value of doing something for granted.
But in fact, it's not that I really reflected on this thing. So, again, the general idea is that there is value in reflection. There is value in in thinking about the coherence and consistency of ideas. But the objection from which we started, for example, as I said again, raised by Hamilton in in his article, critical of the philosophy shock tactics, is that the argument can be made that analytical philosophy results into what these other calls it kind of learned autism.
I love that phrase autism.
So the idea is that that, look, philosophy students go to students in particular are sort of trained in eliminating any emotional component from their reasoning, because emotion is seen as sort of problematic from the point of view of building a logical argument.
And also because one could could, could, could say because analytical philosophy simply doesn't know how to handle emotion. Right. Because emotions are not a not an argument. If they're not expressed in a logical form, it's much more difficult to write a philosophical essay based on emotions.
I don't even know what what would be the point of that? Well, most of the continental philosophy well, you know, provides you with a literature of that sort. Right. So. So if you read.
But but even even before the modern split with continental philosophy, for instance, if you read some of the classic philosophers like, let's say, Rousseau during the age of Enlightenment, Rousseau was a was an outlier during the Enlightenment precisely because he was making arguments that were much more emotional and in fact rejected.
The whole idea of that reason could solve all the problems and could and will be the light, the guiding light to everything.
That's rhetoric. That's not philosophy. Well, yes. I mean, it may have been called philosophy back then. I'm not denying that. I'm just saying that's a very different thing than. Well, it's still called philosophy.
You Roussos books are still considered philosophy, but it certainly is a philosophy of a different kind.
And one could seriously raise the question of whether it is of a different enough kind that maybe it shouldn't be called philosophy at all.
But but I'm not interested in hearing necessarily in in in sort of a terminological dispute between, you know, what is and what is not philosophy as much as into this idea that somehow emotions have the role of emotion has to find its way into the way we think about things, and yet that way has to be balanced or is to be subordinate or is to be predominant over over logic. So that's the question. It's Plato. And a lot of the ancient philosophers obviously would have said no way.
Emotions has to be subordinate to the to the role of logic. There's there's no emotions create problems. It doesn't it doesn't solve them.
Now, in modern times, perhaps we may have only the. More nuanced way about this, after all, modern neurobiology does show that a balanced human brain is a human brain that has a continuous feedback back and forth between sort of the emotional and the logical cognitive functions. If you eliminate the emotional functions from from a human brain or suppress them, you get a sociopath, which is not exactly probably what what the way in which analytical philosophers would like to be considered.
So I feel like you might be conflating two similar but distinct things there, that there's there's the the question of do you need emotion to actually act in the world?
Which which is what the question that I think the neuro biology neuroscience findings are relevant to, that if people don't aren't able to feel emotion or connect emotion to to their conscious reasoning, they can't like they don't know what they want or what they should do to in the world because they they don't feel any emotional reactions when they simulate different potential outcomes. Right. So that's right. So one question is, do you need emotion to act in the world? And then the other question is, do you need emotion to reach conclusions about what is true, which is I thought what the goal analytical philosophy was.
So there it seems less like it seems like something that can be suggestive of an area that you should you should examine more closely.
As I was saying, with like, you know, where did my emotional reaction come from and what might that indicate about reasons for or against this claim? But it doesn't seem like emotion is as necessary for reaching a conclusion there.
Yeah, I see why you may think that that was a conflation of things there. I think that it's not a conflation is an intersection. Let me let me see if I can reason this thing out that's supposed to appeal to my emotions.
So, you know, if we were talking about a purely mathematical, reputed, logical problem, then I would agree with you that the bringing up emotion is simply a conflation that doesn't help, because presumably in order to solve, in order to solve, I don't know, Fermat's last theorem, emotions really are not to play any role whatsoever. It's just not it's not it's not clear at all what what that would do other than getting in your way. However, if we're talking about the kind of philosophy that is actually relevant to human affairs, such as a lot of reasoning in moral philosophy, for instance, and in fact, it's not it's not by chance at all.
The examples that we've discussed so far actually are from moral philosophy. They're not from metaphysics or from logic or, you know, they're all concerned human beings and what they ought or not to do. Right. So in those cases, let's say just to invoke my usual favorite philosopher, David Hume, you might want actually to to consider both the emotional component and the and sort of the rational component, the cognitive component, because you are, in fact, talking about human affairs, which do involve emotions.
If you take the emotional part entirely out, you would argue there is no particular reason for you for why you should be caring for X as opposed to why. Why should you be getting this famous phrase? Why should I care about the destruction of the world or more than the scratches on my finger? Yes. Yeah, well, you shouldn't unless you have an emotional investment in the destruction of the world. You really there is no particular logical defense that you can mount, although I think the destruction in the world would probably scratch up your finger pretty badly.
So I think he's chosen a different example there.
Probably. But let's let's give David a spaceship that he can get outside just before he's destroyed.
And then, you know, the trouble is that any statement that begins, let's give human space. Right.
So, again, so going back to then therefore to the to the intermingling of emotion and reason, it seems like the critique that is raised against is what we're talking about. The philosophy shock tactics does have some foundation. I don't think it has enough as much foundation as some people seem to think, but it does have some foundation, meaning that, look, if you actually publish things that, you know, articles, even technical articles that have to do with the sphere of human emotions, that that have to do with human actions and what human beings.
And that's not just, of course, ethical philosophy, but also political philosophy, for instance, then you might want to take into consideration the emotional reactions both from your own and other people, because at the very least, they will tell you that that might be an alarm bell going on somewhere and said, look, if this conclusion, actually, this conclusion may actually generate a push back. And so you shouldn't be perhaps surprised that there is a push back and perhaps you should even anticipate that push back and say, look, I understand that this is.
This kind of conclusion is not going to be palatable to many people, but let's figure out why or if there is actually a principled objection to the argument as opposed to an emotional one. Right.
I heard that was really difficult for me to to get to that point of being like strategic in the way that I phrased my my philosophical points because I had this sort of resistance like, well, I shouldn't have to add all of these unnecessary caveats, like the logic stands on its own. And and if people don't like the conclusion, then it's on them to explain to me where my logic has fallen short. And, you know, to understand that I'm just I'm just presenting these, like, logical dependencies.
I'm not, you know, endorsing infanticide or bestiality or all these other things.
But of course, that's not how most people who are not used to the mode of philosophical discourse react. And and I did know that consciously. I just I was there's this this phenomenon I've heard called living in the should universe like you behave not based on how you know the world to actually be, but based on how you feel the world should be.
So, you know, that can manifest when you say you, like, wear shorts, even though it's cold outside, you feel like, well, it's June.
It should be it should be wisecracked which I have also done.
Yes, but but yeah. I mean. And regretted it too. Yeah.
My my brother wrote a great blog post recently which got a lot of traction and called How to Be a Communications Consequentialist. And he's a communications expert. He's he does communications for the Secular Student Alliance. And he he talked about like reaching that same realization that you have to just accept that people are going to, you know, miss your point either accidentally or intentionally or, you know, going to read and things to your point that you didn't actually say.
And if you want to be actually strategic, you should expect those things and account for them, even if it's not purely necessary for the logic.
But that's that's an interesting point, because actually that goes back to your sort of dismissive comment about rhetoric earlier, right? No, it wasn't I wasn't dismissing rhetoric.
I'm saying it's a mistake to call that philosophy. I just want a clear distinction made, I think.
OK, but even even if that was the intention, I mean, the point is that there is a difference between, as you just pointed out, between being right and being persuasive. Sure. Totally. You could be fired. The two are completely independent, as far as I can tell, to be persuasive and be completely wrong about something.
Or you could be entirely right about something and feel like maybe like a 75 degree angle. Yeah, but perhaps they're not they're they're not. They're going to. But there certainly isn't that much of a strong correlation between the two. So so the idea is therefore that when you're doing philosophy or what you're doing really pretty much anything that you want to communicate to other people, you certainly want to be right. But you also need to be persuasive. That is mean, right?
I would say necessary, but not sufficient conclusion if you're if your goal is to communicate your conclusions to other people, right? Mm hmm. And that goes not just in philosophy, but also in science for that for that matter. I mean, scientists have these this immediate rejection of anything that smells like rhetoric or like making an argument, a persuasive argument, as opposed to just presenting the facts. Right. But the facts don't speak for themselves or one thing.
They need to be interpreted. They need to be presented. And you also have to get people who may make me start reading your article, your book from a very different perspective, with a different background, with different assumptions, with different apriori commitments to a bunch of other things. You need to bring him around the ideas. You bring them around to your position. And again, it better your position better be right.
But that's in and of itself not sufficient to achieve your goal. So that's why, for instance, recently I went to a conference on science education, which was a very interesting thing at a University of Sydney was in Missouri at the Lewis. And it was interesting because it was highly interdisciplinary. And there were obviously, as you might expect, science educators there. There were philosophers of science, particularly in philosophies of language, but there were also rhetoricians. I mean, I actually had very heard of two or three very nice talks from people who study rhetoric.
And my initial reaction when I saw them on the program, I said rather like, well, why doesn't that have a bad, bad connotation? As you know, I'm going to the socialist connotation, essentially. But no, they they were absolutely right that what you're doing every time, all the time you communicate with somebody is you are using certain rhetorical devices. And so the difference isn't between using them and not using them. The difference is between using them well and not using them well or using them in the in the service of a good cause as opposed of service of a not so good because we're almost out of time.
But I wanted to conclude this section of the podcast with a gripe. This is a. Keep in mind, I'm going to take this opportunity to complain, too, to our captive audience, so in whenever I get into these philosophical discussions where I am trying to show, look, you know, if you if you want to be consistent like you, you either have to abandon your belief in X or you have to also accept this belief in Y, you know that you know the structure of these arguments.
And sometimes people will fall back on the idea that they can contradict themselves, that that inconsistency is perfectly acceptable. And I hear one of these two quotes in Defense of inconsistency. One is from Walt Whitman. Yes. He says, Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.
And that is that is considered like an argument for why it's OK for people to hold two contradictory beliefs. And then the other one is from Emerson, and it says, A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, although usually people forget or leave out the word foolish. So they just say consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Yes, this is like the arguments. I hear something. Yeah, that's an important distinction. Yeah. The one by Whitman.
I actually use myself, but usually in jest. Right. And so the idea is, first of all, of course, he was a poet.
So the idea is that there is a danger in wanting to be too consistent, I think because you may be missing something about what it is that the inconsistency is pointed. So so you may you know, it may be the case that there are some of your beliefs are, in fact, currently inconsistent, but that doesn't mean that you are to abandon one or the other. It may be that you're missing a third component there that would actually make sense of the two of them.
Right now, I don't know whether that was what Whitman meant. Probably not.
But so I would say that, yes, the foolish consistency is probably a bad idea.
So but I think it is undeniable to any any reasonable person and certainly any any any other ethical philosopher that if you if your beliefs do include inconsistencies and incoherence, is that the very least they do point to a problem. Now, you may want to for pragmatic reasons, you may want to ignore the problem, at least for the time being. Right. Because there may be other considerations and may not be worth your time and may not be worth your effort or you may not know how to go about resolving those inconsistencies and you just have to live with them.
But at the very least, if we should agree that if there is an inconsistency, that's a problem, it's a problem you may afford to ignore or you may have to ignore, but there's still a problem. Thank you. Thank you for letting me.
Events and the episode on Unshared Grape. Yeah. All right. We're going to wrap up the section of the podcast and move on to the rationally speaking, PEX.
Welcome back. Every episode, Julie and I pick a couple of our favorite books, movies, websites or whatever tickles our irrational fancy, let's start as usual with Julius Pick things, Masimo.
My pick is a book called What Intelligence Tests Missed by a psychologist at UT Toronto named Keith Danovitch, who's one of the founders of the field of rationality, of studying human rationality and hatful straight from perfect rationality.
It's just a great, accessible, well-written intro to what we mean by rationality, like the ability and the inclination to reason deliberatively instead of coming to conclusions on on instinct or just on emotion.
And he he goes through he's the one who originated this field of research, essentially, and he's pushing it forward. So he goes through the state of the research on how IQ, which is what people standardly typically mean by intelligence, is related to rationality, to the ability and inclination to to reason carefully.
And they're not that really did interestingly.
So so the book's really interesting just just to explore that that relationship or lack thereof.
But it also goes into some of the work on how unlike a taxonomy of human biases and it's kind of neat, like I'm used to thinking of biases as just a whole long list of things that our brain does wrong, all jumbled together in a big bin. But they can actually be organized into violations of either probability theory or logic or rational choice theory. And it's kind of neat to see the classification of our biases. It makes it makes the field of rationality seem much more systematic.
Oh, that sounds interesting. Yeah, my pick is something called Graphing the History of Philosophy, which is available on drunk's and lampposts, as somebody did this really interesting exercise using essentially graph theory software that puts together that analyzes the links between different concepts and or different, in this case, different thinkers actually to basically graph all of the history of Western philosophy.
And the results are fascinating.
Now, the data and see from my face, I'm looking at it right now. Yes. So the data is based on Wikipedia entries and the analysis is actually fairly complicated, although the software to do it is freely available off the Web. So if you follow the instructions laid out by the authors, you can reconstruct your own graph in the same way. Or you can use do the same thing with, say, the history of science or art or anything, anything else you can.
Of course, nothing is stopping somebody from doing the same thing with other sources of data. It's just that Wikipedia has a lot of these this type of information.
Basically what you see in those diagrams, there are these large number of dots. Each one represents a philosopher, and the size of the dots is proportional to the impact that that philosopher has had through his connections with other philosophers throughout the history of the field.
So it just the more connections to other nodes or other philosophers, the bigger the node is. Right. And so you can see for one thing, that there is the graph.
The major graph right there gives you the distinction between analytical and continental philosophy, because you get Aristotle and Plato and all the other and the empiricists on the one hand and then you get somewhere in the middle and then you get Hegel, Nietzsche and Marx.
Yeah, there's a big cluster of the continental philosophers like like Hegel and Kirkegaard.
And then and then what's what's need is that is this big dot. Right, right. Between the analytical crust and the continental cluster, which is what a historian and philosophy would tell you.
Yeah, but it's easy to see it reflected. Wow. And then you can zoom in and see that, for instance, Aristotle actually was even more important than Plato, even though famously Plato's philosophy philosophy is nothing but a footnote to Plato, allegedly. Nonetheless, he said there was actually very influential. And you can zoom in into the empiricists, for instance, and find out that David Hume is obviously connected to Locke and John Stuart Mill. But it's not very far from modern thinkers like Bertrand Russell and Dick Einstein.
Yeah, that makes sense.
But then Wittgenstein actually connects into other directions that are beginning to be very far from Hume himself, for instance, Noam Chomsky.
So it's really interesting exercise and it can be done with different data and of course, about different topics such as philosophy. It's so good. We're looking at I would have connections.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this not just to people who are interested in philosophy or the history of ideas, but also people who like cool infographics, because the way that this data is displayed and the the insights that it reveals are very cool and very elegant. All right. We are all out of time. So this concludes another episode of rationally speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason. And nonsense. The rationally speaking podcast is presented by New York City skeptics for program notes, links, and to get involved in an online conversation about this and other episodes, please visit rationally speaking podcast Dog.
This podcast is produced by Benneton and recorded in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York. Our theme, true by Todd Rundgren, is used by permission. Thank you for listening.