Should you cling to your beliefs even when others disagree? Or should you reconsider your beliefs whenever they’re challenged? Is it possible to disagree without being disagreeable?
What is it
People like to argue, especially Philosophy Talk listeners! But no matter how hard we try to resolve disputes through rational discourse, sometimes we may still disagree about important issues. One response to this predicament is simply to agree to disagree. But should the mere fact of disagreement lower our confidence in our views? Should we change how we judge our own beliefs when we realize that other people disagree? Or do we only have reason to doubt our beliefs when we learn that experts disagree with us? The Philosophy Talk hosts humbly welcome Nathan Ballantyne from Fordham University, author of Knowing Our Limits (forthcoming).
Part of a six-part series on Intellectual Humility.
Josh and Ken begin the show by asking the question, how humble should we be when engaging in disagreement? If we are too humble and too receptive to disagreeing views, we risk appearing wishy washy and lacking personal conviction. On the other side of the spectrum, we may be accused of stubborness and intellectual snobbery. Ken and Josh think there should be a balance between these two inclinations but remain unsure of how to distinguish the views worth listening to from those worth dismissing.
The hosts welcome Nathan Ballantyne, professor of philosophy at Fordham University, to the show. The hosts ask Nathan the question they arrive at the end of the first segment--how can we decide which arguments are worth engaging in and which are not? Nathan claims that first, it is important to assess how confident we are about the reasonableness of our own views and conversely, the unreasonableness of opposing views. He cites psychological research that shows that we tend to discredit opposing views based on irrational biases but are extremely generous when evaluating our own views. This happens even when we deliberately look for our own biases. Hence, Nathan argues for the need for some humility despite the difficulty of actually achieving it.
In the last segment of the show, Nathan, Josh, and Ken discuss the purpose of engaging in disagreements humbly, a subject prompted by a question from a caller. Ken wonders whether there is a strategic reason for being humble. Nathan thinks it is possible, but he also thinks that discussions meant to persuade are distinct from truth-seeking discussions, in which case employing strategies to influence others isn’t the priority. Josh then highlights a potential conflict between the ideal of seeking truth and the ideal of pluralism and comity. Nathan and the hosts acknowledge that there are times when we feel like we should put aside our relentless desire for truth in order for civility. The hosts and guest conclude the show by discussing the ways we can reorder society to cultivate intellectual humility.
- Roving Philosophical Reporter [Seek to 6:18] — Liza Veale interviews New York Magazine’s Jesse Singal and philosopher Rebecca Tuvel on the reactions that followed Tuvel’s controversial defense of transracialism by drawing a parallel with transgender identities.
- Sixty-Second Philosopher [46:22] - Ian Shoales discusses how the advent of the Internet has made it easier than ever to find support for one’s beliefs no matter how ridiculous they are.