Can Trajectory of Disagreements be Harnessed?
In the plea of truth, the battle of ideas may require strategies that are just as appeasable as Napoleonic ones.
“The abstract territory of conceptual dispute is the substitute for war and death.” — Jordan B. Peterson
Truth and opinions are not interchangeable. The latter all too often lies in the ‘subject’ whose cognition, as any human being, may have been distorted, whether inherently or not, from which biases are by definition created — thus, objectivity tends to be hard to attain. However, to expect that humans should have evolved to eliminate biases of their own completely defeats the point of what it means to be human. No one does, simply because, no one can. Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, on his podcast Making Sense pointed out, “There is just the fact that within Darwinian conception of how we got here, there is no reason to believe that within our cognitive faculties have evolved to put us in error-free contact with reality. We did not evolve to be perfect logical operators, or perfect conceivers of scientific reality… We are designed by the happenstance of evolution…” In a sense, anything that lurks at the bottom of biological edifice constraints us.
Paradoxically, it is also within human nature to counteract those limits by virtue of an entrenched propensity for dominance (in every sense). We have learned that the very idea that natural selection persists is because some must die for others to be selected. It involves a painstaking effort to the degree of survival — enough to make the selected thrive in the pond of competitiveness. By this logic, this Darwinian evolutionary process can hypothetically be extrapolated further onto the realm of epistemic labour. Arthur Conan Doyle, famously promulgated the notion, although it was strongly influenced by Descartes, “Once impossibility is eliminated, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Truth requires a commitment of endurance from those who seek it. Be that as it may, the devil is in the details. Something seemingly appeared simple turns out way more complex and complicated than realized. This kind of endavour is commonplace during ideational exchange whether in conversations, dialogues, or discussions. One of the reasons some people whose argumentation can be hard to bend down, irrespective of the argument itself evinced to be rationally or factually criticisable, is due to their ego keeps that from happening otherwise. No one likes to be looked down upon and accused to be wrong. Hence, in some cases, putting someone in the position where they have to acknowledge the error in their thinking outright may only trigger their attitude to backfire, unless a certain degree of humility has been morally attributed in their disposition. unless the latter is the case, a disagreement emerging out of such nurtured adversarial division not only seems far from being productive but also can go perennial without reaching consensus.
Ian Leslie, in his book Conflicted, saw it coming, and demystifying this problem with the idea of “being interesting and interested.” The invigorating drives, elicited from and appealed to the interlocuter whose constituent of thought invites questioning. Questions that are animated by purpose of dissecting one’s viewpoint, of parsing out claims, interpretations, assumptions, and welcoming evidence which disconfirms without necessarily putting the other person in an invidious position, but rather more in a congent one. Admittedly, some people can be rather too consumed by their possessed-ideological beliefs while the other are not convinced too easily. The latter often claimed to be stemmed from genuine doubt. If that holds true, it seems that is whence curiosity begins.
“It is not about being right. It’s about getting right.”
— Elizabeth Spelke
The fact that critical examination dynamic may purify thinking distortions gives the conversers a chance to extinguish fallacies and vetting unjustified beliefs of which they themselves can disabuse, too. This all sounds good in theory but in practice such ideal seems less likely to achieve. So how do we thread that needle?
“In the interests of the quest for truth and of our liberation from errors we have to train ourselves to view our own favorite ideas just as critically as those we oppose.”
— Karl Popper, In Search of A Better World
If two contenders were truly in the quest for truth then there has to be a normative means braided together. Perhaps since every problem requires solutions in order to be discontinued a common path for both parties converging on should be fundamentally possible.
Georg W. F. Hegel, a German philosopher, has been well-known for his dialectic method. The focal idea of Hegelian dialectic actually shares a few things in common with the famous Socratic method in terms of process. First, a proposition is laid out. In Hagelian term, this part is called ‘thesis’. Because a proposition may contain some hypothetically criticisable flaws detected by those who oppose, the idea directed to negate the thesis then becomes this so-called, ‘antithesis.’ Up to this point the engagement will more often than not start from being civil to getting heated. Inevitably, it may get into disputes at every turn. Although the fevor that is evoked tends to tempt blood pumping into elevating tension, a person does not have to be led astray from her or his own purified thinking capacity. For dialectical process ends with unanimity, and that which argument extrapolated from two opposing arguments is called ‘synthesis’. The means to an end: thesis and anti-thesis keenly meant to engage diverse views in accord. For instance, suppose ‘water is liquid’ is the thesis,’ the opponent disagrees, and claiming, ‘water is gas’ which becomes anti-thesis. After contending evidence by the aid of organon of reasoning why it is and how it ought to be, it is found that, ‘water can either be liquid or gas depending on the temperature.’ This single sentence hence turned to be a so-called, ‘synthesis’. In brief, since there is an inherent tension between ‘thesis’ and ‘anti-thesis’ where one may not understand one side without understanding its opposite therefore ‘synthesis’ is born out of conflicted ideas, an attempt to chart a middle course.
In the Aeon article titled A Good Scrap, Ian Leslie also brought an interesting paradox, “In order for a group to reach rational conclusions, at least some of its individual members should argue a little irrationally.” The vortex of ideas has the effect to generate best arguments at the expense of the other. The outcompeted arguments get left out while the competing ones survive, bolstered with more substance and better tactic. As Alfred North Whitehead, a mathematician, sees thinking as a process embedded in this Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest,’ “The purpose of thinking is to let ideas die instead of us dying.” As the process of reasoning gets rigourous there has to be a room for emotion to derail contingently and hinder a person from her or his train of thought, but rather than letting it lord over it can be integrated rationally into sharpening ways of thinking to purge errors. Perhaps, the more stringent one’s metacognition responding to fallacies, and the less poluted intellectual air filling the room, the better.