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2021 Talks

January 8th 2021, 1PM ET

Dr. Jennifer Lackey (Northwestern University)

The Duty to Object

We have the duty to object to things that people say. If you report something that I know is false or unwarranted, or potentially harmful to others, I may be required to say as much. In this paper, my aim is to explore in greater depth how to best understand this duty. I begin by highlighting two central features of this duty that distinguish it from others, such as believing in accordance with the evidence or promise-keeping. In particular, I argue that whether we are obligated to object is directly influenced not only by what other relevant members of the context or community do, but also by the social status of the agent in question. I then show that these features are shared by the duty to be charitable, and the similarities between these two duties point to a potentially deeper explanation: while promise-keeping is regarded as a classic perfect duty, charity is an imperfect one. I then show how the duty to object can be modeled on a particular conception of imperfect duties, one that takes the distribution of goods, including epistemic goods, to be central.

February 5th 2021 1PM ET

Dr. Duncan Pritchard (UC Irvine)

Virtuous Arguing With Closed Minds

It is widely thought that it is built into the very idea of arguing in good faith that one both desires to change the mind of one’s opponent and that one is, at least in principle, willing to change one’s own mind. More specifically, that there is something inherently suspect about arguing with closed minds, either where one’s own mind is regarded as closed, or where one reasonably believes that one’s opponent’s mind is closed. I think that this way of thinking about the ethics of argumentation is problematic. In particular, I will be claiming that there is a perfectly good sense in which an agent who is intellectually virtuous might nonetheless engage in an argument where there is no reasonable expectation on her part that her opponent’s mind will change as a result, much less that her own mind will change. Relatedly, I will be claiming that such a scenario is quite compatible with our hero possessing the intellectual virtue of intellectual humility, and also manifesting due intellectual respect for her opponent (i.e., this is not a case of mere ‘browbeating’). Finally, I will relate this conclusion to a more general point about intellectually virtuous inquiry. Rather than such inquiry being essentially aimed at resolving doubt, as is commonly supposed (such that one cannot virtuously inquire about that about which one has no real doubt), there is instead a respectable sense in which intellectually virtuous inquiry can be aimed at matters about which one already possesses both knowledge and understanding.

March 5th 2021 1PM ET

Dr. John Duffy (University of Notre Dame)

Teaching Argument as a Virtuous Practice

Argument is frequently represented as an act of opposition, an exercise of power, and a struggle for domination.  Argumentation scholar David Zarefsky has written that argument can involve “an attempt to limit freedom of choice” by means of “applying superior to inferior force” in competitions with interlocutors (Zarefsky 2005, 17). Such attitudes are particularly prevalent, contends linguist Deborah Tannen, in an academic culture that prizes intellectual combat and the ability to “position our work in opposition to someone else’s, which we prove wrong' (2000, 256). Teaching the adversarial model of argument, Tannen asserts, can have a baleful effect upon students, who learn “that they must disprove others’ arguments in order to be original, make a contribution, and demonstrate their intellectual ability” (ibid). In this paper, I propose an alternative understanding of teaching argument, one grounded in intellectual and moral virtues. I suggest that the teaching of argument always and inevitably entangles teachers and students in deliberations and decision-making about such virtues as truthfulness, accountability, open-mindedness, intellectual courage, and prudence. In response to conceptions of argument as domination, I offer an understanding of argument as an act of radical humility, one that commits its participants to practices of constructive, mutually beneficial discourse.

April 2nd 2021 1PM ET

Dr. Michael Morrell (University of Connecticut)

In Defense of Empathy

On January 25, 2020 in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof asked readers to engage in a thought experiment: “What if it were President Barack Obama who was the subject of the Senate impeachment trial? How would we feel then?” He was, in essence, asking people to engage in the process of empathy. Political theorists such as Sharon Krause, Michael L. Frazier and myself have argued that empathy (or the nearly-synonymous “sympathy” as used by Adam Smith and David Hume) must be a central component of democratic politics. Yet in the age of Trump, it might seem naïve to talk of the need for empathy. Furthermore, scholars such as Mary F. Scudder, in her piece “Beyond Empathy: Strategies and Ideals of Democratic Deliberation,” and Paul Bloom, in his book Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, not only question the importance of empathy for politics and ethics, but highlight what they see as its dangers. Here, I defend empathy against both its critics and its seeming inappropriateness for contemporary politics. Drawing on previous political theory and advances in social psychology, I argue that critics of empathy: a) do not fully recognize the multi-dimensional nature of empathy, and thereby, both conflate the whole of empathy with only a part of it and end up actually defending empathy as important even when claiming to do the opposite; b) fail to understand that empathy will always be present in political and ethical decision-making, and that therefore the choice we face is not between having empathy or not having empathy, but between having a limited, opaque empathy and a more expansive, transparent empathy; and c) elide the role that empathy can play in leading citizens to respect difference. While we must guard against the possible shortcomings of the process of empathy, the best solution to these is encouraging more citizens to engage in this process rather than rejecting empathy. In a democratic society in which the enforcement of political decisions is backed by a monopoly of violence, we must aim to give everyone equal consideration, regardless of their race, gender, class, ideology, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, among others. The most likely way to accomplish this requires that decision makers engage in the process of empathy; it is the very absence of this that is one of the key drives of the democratic dysfunctions we see in our contemporary political world.

May 7th 2021 1PM ET

Dr. Scott Aikin (Vanderbilt University)  and

Dr. John Casey (Northeastern Illinois University)

The Problem of Agreement

A broad assumption in argumentation theory is that argumentation regards resolving, confronting, or managing disagreement. This assumption is so fundamental that even when there does not appear to be any real disagreement, the disagreement is suggested to be present at some other level. We argue here that this assumption is false. Argument is as much about strengthening or maintaining agreement as it is about disagreement. Once we see how argument is possible under conditions of agreement, then we have tools to explain otherwise curious fallacies.

June 4th 2021 1PM ET

Dr. Catherine Hundleby (University of Windsor)

Argument Repair: Teaching Interpretation

The “principle of charity” commonly promoted in critical thinking textbooks provides too vague a guide for argument interpretation, especially for teaching contexts, and it has questionable ethical connotations. Instead, students can benefit from learning the practice of Argument Repair developed by Richard Epstein (2013), which he bases on a Principle of Rational Discussion that specifies how interpreters should regard arguers. Teaching Argument Repair can also mitigate the prevalence that Janice Moulton (1983) identifies of an Adversary Method in the discipline of philosophy. The default assumption of the Adversary Method perpetuates the discursive dominance of certain forms of masculinity and of certain men in a way that perpetuates their social privilege. In appealing to the Principle of Rational Discussion, Argument Repair invokes a context in which students can recognize the method’s epistemological value without granting it the problematically singular authority that it tends to receive.

July 2nd 2021 1PM ET

Dr. Whitney Phillips (Syracuse University)

Information Hellscape: Where Do We Go From Here?

Throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, scandal, dysfunction and crisis abounded in the US, with widespread global consequences. As difficult as those years were, 2020 was a class all on its own. From the pandemic to the infordemic to the US election and its reverberating disinformation, American networks, institutions, and civil society were tested again and again. This talk will reflect on what US citizens in particular, and global citizens more broadly, can learn—indeed what we must learn—from 2020, and how we can apply those lessons to the coming challenges. After all, 2020 will be with us long after the clock strikes midnight on December 31; the question is, what policy, educational, and ethical steps can we take to help clean up the mess now and prevent bigger messes later?

August 6th 2021 1PM ET

Dr. Ingrid Haas ( University of Nebraska - Lincoln)

Political Threat, Ideology, and Conspiracy Endorsement

Recent U.S. Presidential elections were unusual in the number of unsubstantiated claims made about the candidates and government in general. While conspiracy theories are sometimes dismissed as existing only on the fringes of American society, more recent research has suggested that even average Americans endorse some conspiracy theories on occasion. Although scholars have suggested that the ideological undertones of conspiratorial beliefs shift with presidential election outcomes, little work has examined the mechanism linking political ideology to conspiratorial beliefs. In this paper, we examine whether perceived political threat increases the likelihood that individuals will support ideologically-relevant conspiracy theories using three studies. In Study 1 and Study 2, we examine how political threat impacts the endorsement of conspiracy theories before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In Study 3, we use an experimental design to manipulate political threat and measure conspiracy theory endorsement. We find that the reasons for endorsing conspiracy theories may shift over time as a function of current motivation to endorse or support ideas that benefit one’s political in-group and that political threat is an important mechanism for understanding why political identity is sometimes associated with endorsement of conspiracies.

September 3rd 2021 1PM ET

Dr. Steven Sloman (Brown University)

Sources of Opinion: The Community of Knowledge and How to Take Advantage of Outsourcing

 People have some crazy opinions. Generally, these are the opinions that we disagree with. The standard view in both academia and the wider culture is that people have such opinions due to knowledge deficits; they are lacking information. On this view, providing information and critical reasoning skills is the best way to get opinions to converge, because they’ll converge to the truth. There is already strong reason to doubt this deficit model. I provide more in the form of evidence that knowledge is unrelated to attitudes about issues. In contrast, a person’s ideology influences both their attitudes and their sense of understanding. A competitor to the deficit model, the cultural cognition view, explains the effect of ideology on attitudes, but does not address the sense of understanding. I follow the cultural cognition view in proposing that people outsource much of their reasoning to their communities; I add that it is the resulting sense of understanding that mediates their attitudes. This community of knowledge suggests that people outsource most of their reasoning. I show how this fact can be deployed to bring evidence to bear on policy.

October 1st 2021 1PM ET

Dr. Katharina Stevens (University of Lethbridge)

Dialogue Types, Argument-Roles and Arguing Ethically

 This paper discusses the way in which moral reasons apply to arguers and their behavior in argument. It tackles the problem that different argument structures (e.g. deliberations, debates) seem to change the way moral reasons apply to arguers - as for example the moral reasons that require arguers to be charitable in the interpretation of their interlocutors' arguments. The paper suggests that ethics in argument should be treated as a kind of role-ethics: Depending on the kind of argument that arguers are engaged in, they play different argumentative roles (e.g. deliberator in a deliberation, proponent in a debate). These roles come with different norms regarding argumentative behavior. Arguers can fulfill their moral obligations during the argument by following the requirements of their roles. However, this does not absolve arguers from moral responsibility for their argumentative behavior. Unless argumentative roles are institutionally prescribed, arguers are responsible for shaping the structure of the argument they are engaged in according to the morally relevant reasons that apply in the context in which the argument arises.

November 5th 2021 1PM ET

Dr. Amalia Amaya (UNAM/Edinburgh Law School)

Virtue, Legal Argumentation and Judicial Ethics

In this talk, I aim to articulate and defend a virtue-based approach to legal argumentation. This approach may be succinctly summarized in the following key tenets: a) correct legal reasoning requires fitting one’s judgment to the particulars of the case; b) legal arguments have a central perceptual dimension; c) emotions play a critical role in legal deliberation; d) the description (and re-description) of a case is a most important and difficult part of legal reasoning; e) legal argumentation involves reasoning about ends and, more specifically, the specification of indeterminate and conflicting values. A virtue perspective, I will argue, allows us to provide a much more complex depiction of legal reasoning than standard, principle-based, approaches to the subject. Critically, it also shows the extent to which a theory of legal reasoning and a theory of judicial ethics are inextricably linked, as standards for the justification of legal decisions are party dependent upon legal decision-makers’ moral character. Thus, in contrast to standard approaches to legal reasoning, which aim at erasing subjectivity from legal decision-making, a virtue approach to legal argument retrieves the relevance of subjects to the administration of justice.

December 3rd 2021 1PM ET

Dr. Andrew Aberdein (Florida Institute of Technology)

Anonymous Arguments

Anonymous argumentation has recently been the focus of public controversy: flash points include the outing of pseudonymous bloggers by newspapers and the launch of an academic journal that expressly permits pseudonymous authorship. However, the controversy is not just a recent one—similar debates took place in the nineteenth century over the then common practice of anonymous journalism. Amongst the arguments advanced by advocates of anonymous argumentation in either era is the contention that it is essential if the widest range of voices are to be heard; amongst the counterarguments of its critics, that it weakens the credibility of individual arguments and cheapens the standard of public discourse as a whole. This paper explores the issues for the ethics of argument raised by the controversy. It also addresses a deeper theoretical concern: if the authorship of arguments is a matter of such significance, can we justify the practice of evaluating arguments as if they were anonymous?