It’s been argued that one who wears his position on his sleeve, rather than hiding it by a cloak of clever, reasonable-sounding rhetorical deceit is more to be trusted, that open and guileless unreason is preferable to rational trickiness.
Well, maybe, but it’s not that simple.
It isn’t necessarily the case that someone with an extreme position or unreasonable stance will display it openly, nor are any discussions with him likely to be effective. Not all unreasonable types are guileless simpletons…In fact many are quite intelligent and indeed, quite tricksey.
I’d personally prefer dealing with reasonable people when at all possible, as I’ve enough logical literacy to pick out and identify most of the fallacies they might commit. But against a skilled bullshit artist, one may have to apply a bit of care to avoid being taken…
…and equating open unreason with trustworthiness is not the way to do this.
Let’s examine why, by examining hypothetical unreasonable people having a goodly amount of intelligence:
Firstly, the unreasonable are more likely to make unreasonable demands in negotiations or discussion, demands so unreasonable as to be difficult and costly, or impossible to meet even in principle.
Secondly, the unreasonable, in making any offers or claims, they are more likely to make ones that are too good to be true, and which cannot be fulfilled or be factually correct.
Neither of these things will be obvious, when done by canny extremists.
This is why any such offers and claims should make one instantly suspicious no matter who makes them. No authority is infallible, no matter how venerated or prestigious or amicable.
Thirdly, and finally, the unreasonable are more likely to hold an extreme position, one difficult to negotiate over or otherwise rationally discuss for any number of reasons, and if intelligent, they will know this, and be even more likely than a more reasonable sort to use flawed logic to cloak his unreasonable stance and make it seem less extreme than it really is.
This is typical in those cases where a rationally indefensible position is being advocated, and the advocate has a vested interest in convincing others, especially by masking his arguments and making them appear stronger than they really are.
Logical fallacies are the tools of unreason and first line of attack of the dishonest.
Given these assumptions, I’d much prefer discussing things with more rational types, as they are less likely to make unreasonable demands, make unreasonable claims and offers, or have a need to resort to clever-sounding fallacies to obfuscate their true intent and position, all other things being the same, including intelligence.
You can, after all, reason with them. Not so for unreasonable types, even when their extreme views are obvious. That just means that they’re more dangerous and disagreeable, not more trustworthy.
A reasonable individual would probably have a more defensible position, a more justifiable stance, and is thus likely to have a better command of good arguments, or at least more reason to use them, and less of an incentive to resort to clever rhetorical tricks to mislead the unwary about the quality of his arguments.
I understand the reluctance of people to trust who they may see as deceptively shrewd, reasonable-sounding-but-tricky people, and prefer the more open, seemingly guileless, simple folk as more trustworthy no matter the leanings of their stated position and attitudes, but this is a simple, and simply misleading false contrast.
People with extreme positions and views aren’t necessarily open about it — the intelligent ones often aren’t.
But it’s not their intelligence that should be mistrusted, it’s their extremism, which may be expressed as a dangerous, dogmatic ideology that lets them to deceive, defraud, kill, or otherwise harm others with a clear conscience.
The Nazi deathcamps, the Killing Fields of Cambodia (now Kampuchea, I think), the ethnic cleansings of Kosovo, religious wars throughout history, etc… are all classic examples of the things people are motivated to do when they are convinced of having absolute knowledge. That belief is itself an extreme view, and in the history of science and philosophy has shown to be a fruitless and failed pursuit.
I don’t distrust reasonableness or intelligence — these things in themselves are nothing to fear — instead, I’m wary of possible aggression, manipulativeness and general dishonesty from those with extreme views no matter their level of intelligence.
So extremism to me does not scream “TRUSTWORTHY!!,” open or not, instead it’s a warning sign to keep my distance and alert others that this individual may be dangerous in some way and is not to be trusted.
I value reasonableness as a virtue, and if you are afraid of someone who may feign that combined with deceit to scam you, it’s not the reason you have to look out for, it’s the deceit.
And that, mein fiends, requires a healthy dose of skepticism, not a knee-jerk rejection of rationality.
No one ever said not being fooled was easy, except those who then get fooled.
A while back, I was at what was then the game-shop I went to on the weekends. I was chatting with a friend of mine who expressed a view I found somewhat disturbing, but not surprising from some in this country — that he found someone to be more credible and more trustworthy in making obviously unreasonable statements, and another worthy of suspicion for sounding more reasonable, because as he put it “you at least know where he (the unreasonable man) stands.”
Let’s unpack this and see what’s being said…
It indicates a distrust of rationality and reason itself as something untrustworthy because it’s easy to use clever argumentation to mislead and deceive. It seems to be saying that an openly irrational person is not hiding his stance beneath a cloak of deceit.
This ignores the difference between fallacious reasoning to deceive, and sound or cogent reasoning as a way to discover the truth, not hide it.
I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s argument warning that reason was deceptive, using reason itself to make his point, as ironic and logically inconsistent as that is…
Logical and rhetorical fallacies are the tools of rationalization and propaganda — you cannot support a false position using good reasoning and sound premises, nor can you reliably reach a sound position using bad logic and presuming facts not in evidence or out of context.
But it is itself fallacious to conflate bad reasoning with good, to reject both out of hand. Reason is fallible, and that’s why there are tests we can use to evaluate its soundness. That’s one reason that skeptics keep themselves up on logical fallacies as well as techniques of good reasoning as a means of reaching reliable conclusions.
I don’t know about you, but I find the more reasonable types more trustworthy, not less. Rationality not merely feigned implies a willingness to discuss disagreements, though false rationality is one reason why I find religious apologetics and ideologically-motivated denial of science (on both the left and the right) so unworthy of credibility.
Certainly, it’s a good idea to turn a skeptical eye to even reason and rationality, to better let us know when they’re being misused to our detriment, but all else being held the same, we need more reasonable people, not fewer. The less rational types are simply making their destructive attitudes more obvious, and more dangerous. It takes a reasonable man to have a reasonable stance.
That, and at least you can discuss things with reasonable people without getting shot or stabbed.
- Debunking the Theist’s Appeal to Authority Fallacy (scepticalprophet.wordpress.com)
- The “logical fallacy” poster… (leiterreports.typepad.com)
- Introduction to Logical Fallacies (Workshop Style) (trippleblue.wordpress.com)
- 9 Ways to Create an Unbeatable Argument (scepticalprophet.wordpress.com)
I self-identify as a skeptic, and now and then fall short of the ideal — we all do — but like better and certainly more accomplished skeptics, I believe that, yes, Agent Mulder, the truth is out there…
…But also that the best way to the truth is through skilled, careful reasoning and systematically gathered evidence.
Skeptics tend to value logic and evidence as ways of knowing the natural and social worlds. Without claiming that skeptics “own” logical thinking, I can confidently say that some mix of solid reasoning and sound data evaluation have been very reliable throughout human history, in any profession involving occupational competence, whether a good mechanic, police detective, soldier, electrical engineer, landscaper, lab technician or astrophysicist.
It’s all a matter of using effective knowledge that one can reliably use in situations in the real world — without the universe thumbing its nose and saying “Nope, that just won’t fly.”
It could even be said that there is a set of principles, ideas and values that while not identical with modern skepticism and its use of critical thinking skills underlies both, as with the process of science.
Let me get something straight: skepticism is a set of methods, not a doctrine, belief nor a system of belief advocating any particular position on the nature of reality, so it can’t possibly be true or false.
It’s a method of finding out what’s true or false, or likely to be, and of reliably showing it to be when there’s enough data to come to a reasonable conclusion.
When skeptics are generally agreed that such-and-such a claim is false, likely to be false, or at least highly suspect, it’s because a commonly shared set of methods was used to reach that conclusion, not a taboo about or disinterest in the paranormal or the unconventional.
And conclusions are tentative — good skeptics are willing to change their minds upon the satisfaction of a level of proof appropriate to the claim.
Is there any other, at least as reliable, even superior way of knowing the truth besides reason and empirical data collection? If there are any, I don’t know of them, and I don’t know of anyone else who does and has been able to demonstrate it.
But there are many pretenders to “other ways of knowing.”
Faith, in the sense of belief not resting on sufficient reason or evidence, is out.
The reason for this is that faith in that sense denies reason and evidence to support belief, especially when those may falsify the belief in question. For every unsupported faith-claim, there are countless others just as groundless that contradict it and with no objective way to know which is correct. They certainly cannot all be correct, though they could well all be false. Strength of conviction proves nothing when the argument and data are against you.
The same applies to intuitive revelation as private, non-repeatable experiences with hosts of rival experiences from other mystics, almost all mutually inconsistent, and most unsupported by other facts of the very claims they are said to pertain to.
With no universally agreed-upon way to tell the true from the false, short of using other forms of evidence to corroborate them, some of claims based on these may occasionally turn out to be true or partly true as a lucky guess, but most have shown themselves highly unreliable as effective knowledge-gathering techniques despite their frequency of use by many cultures. If you put out enough random claims, some of them are bound to come true by chance alone, via the Law of Large numbers.
The problem is that most claims to knowledge based on unproven means of gaining input from esoteric sources (themselves unproven or even unprovable to exist) are unreliable, often true by chance alone, and sometimes even fraudulent, so care must be taken in evaluating them.
But care must be taken with any extraordinary claim to knowledge no matter the source and set of methods, any claim inconsistent with a well-supported body of established findings, and the more inconsistent the better and more copious the evidence needed to support it.
After all, claiming that I’ve read a book by a certain author is trivial when both book and author are well-known to exist and I can intelligently discuss the contents of the book with another, but to claim I had a twenty-foot tall eight-limbed radiation breathing alien dinosaur in my bedroom closet would be a claim requiring an enormous burden of proof on my part, since there is no proven knowledge that such beings exist, that any are on Earth if they do, much less the fact that the known dimensions of my closet are too small to contain such a being, and the fact that I show no signs of radiation exposure despite my claimed proximity to the alien.
And no ad hoc hypotheses would or should be permitted. Every link in my claim must hold and be capable of disproof if it is to be acceptable — no excuses!
At the very least, my obstinately persisting in that claim despite disproof would and rightly should raise questions of my honesty or my sanity, or perhaps what sort of joke I’m attempting to play and what the punchline is.
It would be interesting if there really were rival or even superior ways to the truth, but I know of none which currently exist. I suspect that any existing at a future date will most likely be a evolution, vastly improved, of current scientific methodology or something else like it and serving the same function, only better.
That, I think, may be something to look forward to, if not in my lifetime, then the lifetimes of those yet to come. Good or bad, we are living in interesting times indeed.
I wish I knew who to attribute the above quote to.
Pure reason gets us nowhere without input to process, and input without processing is useless, a “blooming, buzzing confusion,” that requires we make sense of it to do anything with it.
We must depend for most of our learning on input of some sort, and a means of processing that input reliably and effectively. Reason, thinking our way from premises to conclusion, must work together with sense data, both firsthand and secondhand to do it’s work.
Over at Left Hemispheres, Steve wrote a good piece on religious logic, how it can be and often is internally consistent, but how it’s the premises, not the logic which are often at fault.
The problem for much of the reasoning I encounter is that the premises used in arguments often presume facts simply not in evidence, so no matter how valid the logic, the argument doesn’t even get onto the proverbial airfield, much less actually fly.
I notice this a lot in pseudo-scientific arguments, or religious apologetics, on those occasions when the speaker is actually minding the quality of his reasoning, only to use as premises assumptions and factoids that are just not the case or even if true, don’t support his or her position.
…After all, arguing from false premises even when sincere is still deceptive when simple ignorance is not at play, as the deception is carried out on both oneself and others, and using falsehoods on purpose is willfully dishonest and deserves to be called out.
Actually, all should be called out, error and willful or pious fraud.
When sound argument, not just valid argument is the goal, facts matter…
…and they’d better be demonstrable, too.