Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Intellectual Dishonesty, Again

Well, that's basically the topic that launched this humble blog. A semi-prominent discussion of it is currently taking place.

Not time now, but I'll say this:

Kinsley's account of it seems rather too broad, as it counts scrutinizing and testing your beliefs as necessary conditions for intellectual honesty. Those are necessary conditions for intellectual responsibility, but that seems like a different matter. Now, if the reason you don't, say, check your beliefs for consistency is that you fear you'd find an inconsistency, then that's being intellectually dishonest. If, on the other hand, you're just not an inquisitive nor intellectually responsible person, then that's a vice, but not intellectual dishonesty.

Anyway, here's a suggestion I've made before:

When people talk about intellectual dishonesty, I often get the idea that they are thinking something like this:

Intellectual dishonesty is like standard-issue dishonesty...but, y'know...just intellectual (so: a less-serious moral transgression).

I suspect, though, that something more like this is true:

Intellectual dishonesty is dishonesty; full stop (so: as serious a moral error as standard-issue dishonesty). Oh, incidentally, it's about intellectual matters

I think people think of intellectual dishonesty as lying to yourself, and they think of lying to yourself as less serious than lying to others. I doubt both of those propositions. I suspect that lying to yourself is every bit as bad as lying to others. And, to boot, it seems to me that we often, in effect, reason publicly when we speak, and to be dishonest then is to be dishonest to others. Listen to somebody like Rush Limbaugh talk, and you see a paradigm of intellectual dishonesty on the hoof. He's thinking out loud, being intellectually dishonest in a very public way, wending his way through a given piece of intellectual terrain, specifically making for salients that make liberals look bad, cautiously avoiding or diligently spinning evidence that, taken at face value, is bad for conservatives.

Anyway. Intellectual dishonesty is, I think, the root of a very great deal (most?) of the the political evil that plagues our democracy. We'd avoid a huge great chunk of our problems if we were just honest about matters. We'd still be left with persistent disagreements...but at least we would clear away the haze of "death panels" and whatnot (which are sustained because even folks in the GOP who know better won't speak up about it). (Dems are guilty, too, of course, though not nearly as guilty over the past 15 years or so; but you can fill in your own examples of that stuff.)


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