In the philosophical distractions department, a good friend of the blog is reading A Manual for Creating Atheists by Portland State University professor Dr. Peter Boghossian. Creating atheists isn’t high on my secular humanist priority list, but my blog friend directs me toward Australian blogger Seb Pearce’s favorable review of/reaction to Boghossian’s book, where I find a couple of statements from which all blog readers, writers, and commenters can profit.
Pearce finds that Boghossian, far from a smug atheist interested in beating believers in debates, appears more interested in gently persuading others to ground their knowledge in critical thinking rather than faith. Pearce thus likens Boghossian’s effort to Socrates’s pursuit of truth and stoic philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius’s pursuit of virtue.
What does any of that high-falutin’ philosophizing have to do with blogging? First, apply some Socratic questioning:
A person who truly cares about truth doesn’t care if they win an argument. Their goal is to walk away from every discussion closer to the truth than they did when it began. This means that they begin by seeking to understand, not to explain. “If what you’re saying is true, then I sincerely want to know. Could you explain to me how you know that it’s true? If your method is reliable, I’ll get on board.” As Socrates is famous for, and as Anthony Magnabosco demonstrates through his application of Boghossian’s Street Epistemology techniques, an approach centred on seeking truth together often leads to the realisation that one doesn’t know as much as one thought, that one’s confidence was unwarranted [Seb Pearce, “Truth, Virtue, and Creating Atheists,” blog, 2015.12.06].
A person who truly cares about virtue doesn’t care if they win an argument, either. Winning feels good, but it’s irrelevant to whether you are virtuous. Virtue involves treating your interlocutor with respect, goodwill and patience. There is no need for ad hominem attacks, questioning of motives, mockery, derision or blame. There is no need to take offence or indulge in righteous indignation, both of which are emotionally gratifying but useless in getting closer to virtue or truth. If your goal really is truth and not a desire to win, you must seriously consider the possibility that you’re wrong — and this openness entails a humility that can spread to your interlocutor [Pearce, 2015.12.06].
I sometimes give my teaching methods a philosophical gloss by saying I use Socratic questioning. I try to use questions in my classrooms whenever possible to lead students to build their own answers.
But I don’t always follow the Socratic ethos when I’m blogging and politicking. I like to engage you , dear readers, in conversations, and questions are the best way to open that door, but as you can see in almost every article I post, I forge ahead with faith in my conviction that certain things are right, certain things are wrong, and certain actions (votes, policies, etc.) are necessary to make South Dakota/America/the world better. I debate, I get righteously indignant, and I try to win.
Imagine if you and I followed the path of critical questioning Pearce describes. Imagine if we grounded our every word on this blog and in our other civic interactions in respect, goodwill, and patience (even when we’re talking about Mike Rounds and Kristi Noem?! Uff da—that’s asking a lot!).
Seek truth and virtue—what would that mean in the blog world?