Sunday, March 29, 2020

What's Wrong with Philosophical Arguments? (continued)

New Version: In keeping with the theme of this essay,
this is a revised version based on edits from before and
after a Human Values Network meeting discussion.
This is the result of a collaboration, without giving credit to
individuals who made the contributions. (People are welcome
to add comments at the end of this article.)

Summary: Are debates between adversaries the best way to
establish what is true?  Is it better to use more cooperative

Is there a problem with the way the arguments and discussions are made 
when they are done in an adversarial, confrontational way?  Prof. Martin Lenz 
argues in the following excerpts from his article that there are problems 
with the way philosophical arguments are done.  Interested readers should 
follow the link and read the entire article.  (Prof. Lenz will have a book 
coming out soon.)

Maybe I should explain what I mean by an adversarial argument, 
for people who are not involved in science or academia.  
A classic example of an adversarial situation is a legal 
trial in which there is a prosecution and a defense lawyer 
and they are opposing each other, in an effort to give both 
sides to a judge or jury, to come to a decision that is reasonable.  
Academic adversarial situations don't have both sides in the same 
room, and they can go over decades.  One scholar may write a paper 
or give a talk at a conference that makes a hypothesis to explain 
 a observation.  Perhaps at the same conference, or over time in 
print, others criticize or point out limitations.  These can lead 
to arguments or disagreements that can last for years.

Being known for a discovery may help the academic get grants or funding, 
so there may be a monetary reward.  But that reward is usually a secondary 
consideration.  The main motivation is to be known for a discovery, for 
getting a reputation for expertise, and for recognition among peers.

Exerpts from article at

Professor of history of philosophy explains why adversarial
criticism is antithetical to truth
By Martin Lenz

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been 
republished under Creative Commons.
Written January 12, 2020 

"Philosophical discussions, whether in a professional setting or at the bar, frequently consist of calling out mistakes in whatever has been proposed.... This adversarial style is often celebrated as truth-conducive. Eliminating false assumptions seems to leave us with truth in the marketplace of ideas... "I doubt that it is a particularly good approach to philosophical discussions.... [It implies that] Claims are either true or false; arguments are either valid or invalid.... "...A more fluid attitude towards authorship [is] if you discuss an idea among friends, tossing out illustrations, laughing away criticism and speculating about remote applications. "The appropriate metaphorical resources for naming this philosophical practice should not be derived from warfare but from playgrounds, where reinvention and serendipity guide our interactions." "[But then] whose idea is it at the end of the night?..."
This last point gets into the issue of why people do this sort of thing in the first place, namely to get credit for the idea or "own" it. They are remembered for the idea. They want to be remembered by getting their name on a Law or Principle or Hypothesis. This is a source of meaning for people's entire careers as scientists or scholars in some subject area. Lenz makes good points but for somewhat wrong reasons, in my opinion. For a lot of problems in society, the solution has to come from getting people to cooperate to act together. If one smart philosopher comes up with an answer but can't convince other people to do it, then it won't solve the problem. If he/she can address criticism but not in a way that is inspiring and charismatic, people won't follow the lead even if they can't see a logical flaw. They must be convinced to buy into the goal and the path forward. This is a reason that, in business, a committee is needed to work on a project, because if many people don't agree to work on it, the project won't get done. That doesn't mean that there aren't questions with true/false answers that can be decided by adversaries. That's the way the court and legal justice system is set up to determine if someone is guilty or not guilty. This also leads into another point that Lenz makes. When a group solution is accepted and then modified by a group discussion, the idea doesn't belong to one person any more. One person may have originated the initial idea. But the person can't continue to claim ownership if there are contributions from many people. In the world of science, this issue is addressed by having multiple authors on publications. Usually, there is no notation about which author worked on which part of the paper. In movie projects, there are credits at the end that go on for many minutes with details about who had which jobs. But if you buy a product like an iPhone, it has a company logo on it, but who knows what person actually worked on which parts? There may be a wonderfully innovative part of the phone that no one knows who came up with the idea. It is also a problem of coming up with new ideas and finding new ways to encourage new ideas and new ways to do things that can solve social problems. As Lenz wrote, new ideas come from a sense of play, which takes an extra kind of trust and collaboration. Are the ideas for free, and people only get paid for the work of developing them? Some say that Ideas are a dime a dozen, so they are cheap. Is work the only thing that is paid for? Patents can be filed for new inventions, but the inventor doesn't get paid unless there is actually a product or service that is developed and sold based on the patent idea. Getting solutions to work, like getting videos to "go viral," is an entirely different effort from coming up with an idea. It comes from marketing to promote an idea. It is getting others to be excited about it. If people are only paid for promoting ideas, but not for coming up with new ideas, will we have a society that advertises but doesn't create? As an example, I just heard a lecture on Da Vinci. He had a lot of engineering drawings of inventions with exploded diagrams showing the parts to machines. Even now, it is not known whether he actually invented the machines, or whether he just drew machines that were in common use that someone else built. Is he getting some credit just because he was the guy who wrote it down and made the drawings? During the group discussion, people pointed out a number of ways that ideas and development work are done without giving credit to anyone. Open source software is written with input from many people. Glenn Curtiss developed many inventions for airplanes in the 1910-1920's that were shared, partly with competitors like the Wright Brothers' company, to help build new planes, partly for the World War I effort. Curtiss was very successful. Jonas Salk didn't parent polio virus in order that everyone had access to it. Thomas Edison took a lot of credit for inventions that were collaborations of his research lab. See recent movie "The Current
War" between Edison and Tesla.

There are collaborations, brain-storming sessions, and networking 
at conferences, in addition to presentations by individual or 
groups of authors.

There is an expression that good managers try to give 
credit to others rather than take credit for themselves to be successful.