Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Aikin and Talisse on civility

Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse have a post on 3 Quarks Daily talking about what it means to be civil in an argument.  Their main pointseems to be that civility is not merely about civil tone, but about representing opponents correctly, receiving opponents' arguments, and presenting arguments that are relevant to your opponents.
Chief among these concerns the need for those who disagree to actually engage with each other’s reasons.  This requires arguers to earnestly attempt to correctly understand and accurately represent each other’s views.  For similar reasons, arguers must also give a proper hearing to their opponents’ reasons, especially when the opponent is responding to criticism.  In addition, when making the case for their own view, arguers must seek to present reasons that their opponents could at least in principle see the relevance of.  We can summarize these ideas by saying that civility in argument has three dimensions: Representation, Reception, and Reciprocity.
Those are some good argumentation practices.  The idea is to lay out some structure that we can all agree on.  We should all be able to agree that the structure will clear the road to truth, even if we disagree on which way that road goes.

I'm not sure about that third principle, though, since theoretically any reason that is relevant to yourself can be relevant to your opponent.  The example they give is using the Bible to argue against secularists who support same-sex marriage equality.  I don't feel that this is a "uncivil" argument, it's just a really bad argument.  I would rather people not make bad arguments, but at the same time I don't feel this one is a threat to the very structure of argumentation.

I also liked another part of the post:
Argumentation is the process of articulating our reasons for holding our beliefs.  The point of articulating our reasons is to put them on display so that they may be examined and evaluated.
This is generally my attitude towards arguing my opinions.  I'm not handing you opinions from on high, I'm displaying them for your examination and evaluation.  I also try to display the weaknesses in my own opinions when I see them, because that seems like it would be relevant to your evaluation.  However, showing one's own weaknesses probably isn't so great a practice in more adversarial arguments, like politics.  I mean, you might as well have your opponent do the work of finding your weaknesses.

(via The Thinker)