This essay originally appeared in Steven J. Bartlett and Peter Suber (eds.), Self-Reference: Reflections on Reflexivity, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987, pp. 41-66. Copyright © 1987, Peter Suber. In March 2000, and again in January 2002, I corrected a small number of typographical errors.
Logical Rudeness Peter Suber, Philosophy Department, Earlham College
- Preliminary Description of Rudeness
- What Sort of Delict is Logical Rudeness?
- Must Some Theories Be Rude?
- What is Debate?
Consider the following exchanges:
1. Gerda: So you believe that all belief is the product of custom and circumstance (or: childhood buffets, class struggle...). Isn't that position self-limiting? Mustn't you see yourself as reflecting only a single complex of circumstances? Grobian: Your objection is inapplicable, for it is merely the product of blind forces. Moreover, your childhood buffets were pernicious and regrettable, for they have set you against this truth.
2. Gerda: So you believe that all knowledge comes from God in proportion to our virtue or worth, and that all ignorance, error, and uncertainty come from the Devil in proportion to our vices. May I ask what evidence you have for this remarkable thesis? Grobian: I pity you infinitely for your sins.
3. Gerda: Doctor Grobian, I am not crazy! I stole the bread because my children were hungry. Why do you assume that every crime is caused by illness? Grobian: Why do you deny it? Gerda: I am not playing a game. I really want an answer to my question. Grobian: Obviously your ego cannot cope with the truth and you display this inadequacy in hostility to your doctor. I will not recommend your release.
4. Gerda: So you believe x, y, and z. But you are mistaken. Consider evidence a, b, and c. What do you say? Grobian: It's a mystery. If I could understand it, I wouldn't believe it. I can't help it if it's the truth. One day perhaps you'll see the light too.
In each of these cases something has gone wrong with the process of debate. In his self-insulating replies Grobian has raised the ire of more open and more dogged inquirers. We are put off, perhaps indignant or angry. What's more, we feel justified in taking offense. We may concede for the sake of argument that Grobian's positions are strong candidates for truth on their merits, and that he has only good faith to motivate his use and defense of them. Yet we feel that strength on the merits and good faith do not justify his responses. We wish he would, like us, concede the strength and good faith of his opponents, if only for the sake of argument. But must he do this to be called rational, or merely to be called polite?
Does our sense of justified indignation derive from principles that we are willing to defend in the open? Or are we merely offended by seeing "our side" lose an exchange? Has Grobian committed any sort of fallacy that might be generalized and generally proscribed? Or does his offense lie simply in hurting our feelings? Or in his maneuvering to escape criticism or disagreement? Can we complain if a theory can evade refutation? Is that a sign or truth, or merely a source of friction? May we say that a theory that authorizes its proponents to use such arguments in self-defense is therefore false? Inadequately defended? Undebatable? If Grobian has violated norms of debate, might it be because debate is one game and he has chosen to play another?
I will call Grobian's offense "logical rudeness". Specifying its nature will not be as difficult as explaining why it is objectionable and discovering whether it is unavoidable. I deliberately use the alogical term "rudeness" to avoid prejudicing the question of its logical status. Logical rudeness may not be fallacious. But at least it is offensive. "Rudeness" captures this sense of impropriety. The word derives from the same root as "erudite", which literally means "not rude" in the original sense, not rudimentary or rough-hewn. The question of this essay is whether erudition can always be achieved, or rudeness avoided, by honest, logical, good faith inquirers for truth. The informality of the term should not hide the fact that the topic is the ethics of argument. In the final section I ask what our disdain for rudeness reveals about the activities we cherish under the names of reasoned inquiry and debate.
2. Preliminary Description of Rudeness
Logical rudeness resembles a bald petitio principii, but the resemblance is imperfect. Rude replies presuppose the truth of the theory being rudely defended, like a petitio. But rudeness is usually a defensive weapon only. It is a form of self-defense that turns away all objections, or at least all objections of a certain kind. Unlike a petitio, it does not purport to justify a conclusion or belief; it purports to justify believers in disregarding criticism of their beliefs as if such criticism were inapplicable, irrelevant, or symptomatic of error. This is not self-justification in the manner of a petitio, in which assumed premises can validly imply the disputed conclusion. It is self-justification for the human proponent of the conclusion, who finds a license, authority, or justification in his theory itself for refusing to answer objections. Its success at insulating the believer and the belief of which it is a part seems independent of the merits or truth-value of the theory. That is one of the rudest jolts. It strikes us that theories that are false or implausible could use a rude defense as well as true or plausible theories. For this reason we suspect that the license to brush off objections is not a sign of truth or even a supporting argument. It is a gimmick, a piece of insolence that "civilized" and "reasonable" people will not stoop to use.
A related reflexivity is the self-licensing of debating behavior by the theory being debated. Rudeness highlights the sense in which beliefs authorize believers to act in certain ways, solely by virtue of the content of the beliefs and the mechanics of good faith and loyalty. If I believe that fast talkers are usually liars, then that belief will guide my responses to a fast-talking critic. But this is merely a psychological or descriptive observation. Normatively, we tend to want it this way. We want people to have freedom of inquiry and belief; and when people come to conclusions, we want them to be free (within limits) to act accordingly. Such a free society is a society of self-licensed actors. If we respect freedom of conscience in our laws and in our own minds, then these self-licensed actors are genuinely licensed; what good faith belief authorizes, we believe, is authorized at least until it conflicts with a higher rule. In cases of logical rudeness, belief in certain theories authorizes believers to be incredibly smug. Is this a price, or an abuse, of freedom?
If the consequences of a "bad" belief are intolerable to public order, we may deal with it through the criminal law, as when we prohibit polygamous marriages while permitting, indeed protecting, the freedom of Mormons to advocate the religious obligation to marry polygamously. But if the consequences of a rude belief are inimical only to conversation or reasoned persuasion with the believer, then how shall we deal with it? We cannot revoke or refute the believer's license to be rude, say, by converting him from his iniquitous faith, for a barrier of rudeness prevents our arguments from having any effect. As inquirers we may deal with the rude believer's belief without dealing with the rude believer; but we admit that this is to abandon a valuable practice that is valued for its contribution to inquiry debate.
The most common form of rude theory is that which contains an explanation of error that fits certain kinds perhaps all kinds of critics and dissenters. The theory is especially rude, but also especially implausible, if it directly equates error and disagreement (more on this in Section 4). But it may more plausibly equate error with certain states of mind or symptoms of belief, when it (not accidentally) happens that these states characterize the doubters and disbelievers. In the second example in Section 1 above, which may be called the demon theory of error, Grobian easily applies his theory of error to Gerda. In that case it seems that he could as easily have refrained, and offered any evidence he possessed. But suppose he did offer evidence and it failed to persuade Gerda (which is the likely result). Then is it as apparent that he could refrain from his rude explanation of Gerda's failure to agree? A faithful believer of the demon theory of error must apply it to Gerda sooner or later, silently or aloud.
A recurring reflexive feature of logical rudeness is the application of a theory to the context of its own defense. This is unobjectionable if the theory's subject matter includes truth and falsehood, validity and invalidity, meaning and nonsense, or other parameters of debate or demonstration. In this way, rudeness hangs in the air most around theories about theorizing or meta-theories about meta-theorizing. But when the application of the theory to the context of its own defense justifies the theory's proponent in ignoring critics, then something objectionable has entered the picture. For example, a certain sort of disciple of Wittgenstein might put forth the theory that there is no such thing as mind as traditionally conceived, although there is a word "mind" that is used in certain ways. The theorist might also claim, more radically, that all questions of existence are meaningless or reducible to questions of word usage. A critic might begin by asserting that both of them have minds, and offer reasons or evidence. The proponent might deflect such criticism by saying, yes, the word "mind" is properly used as the critic has used it. All further criticism could be deflected in a similar way. The theorist clearly is applying her theory to its own proper subject matter, and is striving to preserve her theory's consistency and her own good faith as a believer in its truth. Yet these virtues add up to the vice of treating the critic rudely and disserving inquiry by leaving the critic unanswered.
If a philosopher had a nervous tick that was triggered every time inquiry threatened to interfere with belief, and if he (not coincidentally) held the theory that inquiry creates nervous anxiety, then we could not engage that philosopher on the merits of the anxiety theory of inquiry without causing him anxiety. This whimsical case is an easy way to raise a serious question: in the name of cooperative truth-seeking, can we expect believers to put aside their beliefs or compromise their loyalty?
Some theories do not obviously apply to the context of their debate. Grobian may believe p and add that all error is caused by the confusion brought about by pain. Gerda may object that pain-free inquirers may commit errors, and that pained inquirers may speak the truth. If Grobian is satisfied that Gerda is not suffering physical pain as she speaks, he will be obliged (by logical courtesy or erudition) to answer the objection as best he can. Logical rudeness is closed to him unless he can believe the objection is raised under the duress of pain; but in that case he is licensed by his beliefs to explain the objection away rather than answer it. When the theory on the defensive may or may not apply to the context of its own debate, further inquiry or bald presumptions are required before the proponent can defend it rudely.
The point of the examples so far is that rudeness follows from unobjectionable, even praiseworthy, features of believers and their beliefs. True as well as false theories, if believed true with good faith, will be applied to all relevant contexts and will not be compromised to salve the feelings of dissenters or to serve their ideas of inquiry. Even if the tenacious good faith that leads to this result is not praiseworthy (explored in Section 5), it might be found in a believer of a true theory. Because even true theories might be believed in this way, and perhaps ought to be, we cannot automatically infer falsehood from rudeness.
But if rudeness does not imply falsehood, how do we evaluate theories that are rudely defended? It seems that they cannot be debated, at least with their proponents. If we abandon debate and examine such theories in silence or apart from their proponents, we feel that we have abandoned a valuable practice, perhaps a practice indispensable to reliable inquiry. Moreover, we may feel that a negative judgment not tested in debate with the "defendants" will be rude in its own way. Finally, even in the isolated inquiry at our desks we may fail to get around the theory's rudeness if our method requires us to imagine and anser the likely responses of the good faith believer. Then we replicate in drama what we were spared in history.
Rudeness will be possible, as noted, for any theory that properly applies to virtually any aspect of debate or demonstration, such as the truth or knowability of theories, the validity of arguments, the meaning of statements, the sincerity of believers, or the methods of inquiry. This is disturbing because it shows that most philosophical theories will be capable of rudeness in this way. And note that this rudeness is "legitimate" in the sense that it is permitted by the content of the theory being defended and the good faith of the believer. It is not like telling critics to shut up, even though this too is always possible.
More generally as well as more precisely, a theory may be rude if it treats any sub-activity of theorizing or debating and identifies any sort of flaw, fallacy, foible, or fault that could justify a theorist in dismissing an objection as false, flawed, fallacious, irrelevant, or inapplicable. Call any such theory a theory of "justified dismissal". Examples are theories of error, illogic, or nonsense. To explain and evaluate rudeness we need not reach the question when dismissal is really justified. If a theory permits dismissal of competing theories when they are consistent with the writings of Karl Marx, or might lead to disrespect for law if generally affirmed, or are unintelligible to five year old children, then that theory can be rude whenever a critic's contending theory fits the fatal mold. Any attempt to judge the theory of justified dismissal could be deflected as just another attempt to pierce the shield of rudeness. Judging the theory of justified dismissal may be done, of course, but not in debate. If a believer dismisses theories that are consistent with Marxism, then an objection to that theory will probably be dismissed as consistent with Marxism. This kind of self-applicability arises not from praiseworthy good faith and consistency alone, but also from belief in a theory of justified dismissal.
But holding a theory of justified dismissal also seems harmless. In fact, in philosophy it is almost obligatory.
Our problem as "civilized" inquirers is that we want philosophies complete enough to explain error, illogic, nonsense, and other grounds of justified dismissal; we expect believers to apply their beliefs with consistency and good faith to all the relevant contexts of life; and yet we do not want them to apply their grounds of justified dismissal to the critics and dissenters in the realm of debate who help us decide the theory's truth. Are we asking too much? Are we demanding inconsistent tasks of our opponents? Is debate a privileged process in which beliefs can be examined without the distortions introduced by believing, or (from the believer's standpoint) is it a damnable realm in which one is expected to give up one's faith to defend it?
(Note that I use "belief" and "faith" in a weak sense. Any claims to truth will be called "beliefs" or "faith", even if the proponent also considers them to constitute "knowledge".)
A theory may explain away the criticism or disagreement of critics descriptively or normatively. The first example in Section 1 above is descriptive, the second normative. If the critic's disagreement is put down to an unfortunate series of childhood buffets or to any other source independent of the merits or truth-value of the theory he criticized, then he is rudely treated. He is not answered, but reduced to ineffectual squealing from the standpoint of the proponent. Once stigmatized as suffering from the defect ascribed to him, a defect well-explained by the theory, the critic is put out of court. The well of discourse is poisoned. Nothing he says afterward can affect the theory, at least in the judgment of the proponent. If the critic's disagreement is put down to vice, sin, or a normative weakness, then he is equally not answered and relegated to limbo a limbo either of well-explained incompetency or of well-explained ineligibility for our attention and answers. Descriptive rudeness imputes a foible, prescriptive rudeness a fault, to critics or dissenters.
The authority to be rude consists in heeding the terms of the theory that describe the foible or fault and that describe who deserves to be branded with it. The terms of the theory may be false or implausible, but it is futile to hope to persuade the rude proponent that that is so when our attempts only feed self-righteousness.
Rudeness of this type makes debate much like an unnamed childhood game I recall with pleasure and frustration. One player asks yes-or-no questions, and the other answers "yes" or "no" according to a secret algorithm. The object of the game is to guess the algorithm. It might be, "answer 'yes' whenever the question begins with a vowel or ends with a two-syllable word; otherwise answer 'no'." (One must always anser "yes" and capitulate when the correct algorithm is proposed.) In such a game the words "yes" and "no" are not used with their ordinary meanings. Hence the questioner will be seriously misled if she asks, "does the algorithm concern syllabification?" and takes the "yes or "no" answer in its ordinary sense. In the game, which I will call "Noyes" for convenience (for the pun on "no-yes" and the homonym of "noise"), "yes" and "no" are tokens of exchange, not signs of affirmation and negation. The questioner cannot begin to play meta-Noyes by asking, "seriously, is syllabification involved?" The questioner cannot get traditional "yes" and "no" answers as long as the oracle maintains his role and plays the game. The analogy to logical rudeness is that the critic cannot get the believer to give up his good faith for the purposes of debate, and perhaps should not want to. It is equivalent to asking the Noyes oracle to give up his algorithm for the sake of play. Because the believer is ruled by his beliefs in selecting responses in debate, as the Noyes oracle is ruled by his algorithm, the questioner is apt to find her questions and objections translated from the genre of criticism to the genre of noise, and dealt with as input to an unknown algorithm. The difference of course is that Noyes is plainly a game, and the refusal of the oracle to play meta-Noyes is part of his role in playing Noyes. Is debate equally a game, and are some believers equally bound to refuse to play meta-debate?
Noyes makes play out of what can be a serious problem. Consider the case of a rapist who believes that "no" means "yes" and that struggle indicates pleasure. Recent law in England has allowed rape defendants to argue good faith (that is, sincere) belief in the no-yes equation, and a few "rapists" have won acquittal with that defense. The effect is to equate a woman's consent with a man's belief in a woman's consent. The result is nothing short of evil in practice, though it rests on the slender theoretical reed that people are ruled, not by what is real, but by their belief about what is real. This is one case in which the "authority" one receives from good faith belief leads to intolerable consequences and should be barred by the criminal law. The Anglo-American criminal law occasionally (but rarely) excuses conduct or mitigates punishment for crimes performed in good faith error of the facts. But to prevent "good faith rape" and similar abuses, usually an objectivity requirement is added that the belief be "reasonable". The peculiarity of the English law is that good faith belief, no matter how unreasonable under the circumstances, suffices to acquit. (This astonishing doctrine was first asserted in Director of Public Prosecutions v. Morgan et al., 61 Crim. App. Reports 136 (1975).)
Some political regimes may be Noyes games writ large. Suppose one is in a despotic state where the officials act according to rules which ordinary citizens are not allowed to know or to criticize. These meta-rules about criticism are sometimes enforced against critics with imprisonment and other forms of violence, but for most people most of the time they are enforced by social pressure. If one engages one's neighbor in conversation on the wisdom of such policies, one will be surprised that one's very desire to examine the wisdom of the policies is considered suspect and criminal. If the topic of conversation shifts (it is not much of a shift) to the desirability of open discussion of every question, one will be more surprised to hear one diagnosed as "bourgeois" or "reactionary" or (from the other end of the ideological spectrum) as "anarchical".
One may be aware of theories of government according to which free discussion is inimical to good order, revolutionary initiatives, or reeducation; but one would at least like to debate the merits of such theories of government. The loyal proponents of such positions, however, like most loyal proponents, apply their beliefs to the context of their debate, as they apply their beliefs to all the contexts of history. From their own point of view this is only good faith and consistency. One cannot get such proponents to "jump out of the system" for the time and labor of a joint inquiry into the merits of their beliefs; and one should not expect to be able to. Much like the questioner in a game of Noyes or the victim of a rapist who believes that "no" means "yes", one's criticism of a rude state policy will be interpreted in that state as something other than a criticism to be answered as criticism. In this case it will be interpreted as a violation, and one's attempt to reach a meta-level at which one could discuss the propriety of such an interpretation will be interpreted as another violation. Like the critic of the demon theory of error, or the hapless victim of the tarbaby, one's struggles to escape the verdict of one's opponent only confirm his confidence in one's miserable fate.
The rude regime raises important issues of political theory, particularly the question whether commitments to principles or results should supersede commitments to method or process. This and related issues of "procedural" democracy will be explored to some extent in Section 5.
The Noyes regime and rapist suggest a closely related species of rudeness: the tactic of the proponent in disregarding the logical or illative dimension of the critic's words and treating them solely as behavior to be explained by his theory. The same effect is achieved when criticism is interpreted as a symptom of historical, economic, or psychological forces, or as ideology. In many ways this is merely a different perspective on the same species of rudeness considered above. If the proponent's theory contains an explanation of behavior (which we also expect a good philosophy or social science to have), then the critic may find herself unable to escape the object-language of the theory she is attacking and reach its meta-language. All criticism and disagreement may be seen as behavior, and to that extent fall into the arena of the subject-matter of the theory. Like birdsong or ritualistic dancing, they are colorful bits of the explanandum, logically subordinate to the explanation and incapable of refuting it except as counter-examples or anomalies.
The difference between disagreement as behavior to be explained and as criticism to be answered is at least partly a matter of perspective within the discretion of the proponent. Again we encounter the question whether his choice is ever fixed by the content of the beliefs he is defending and his general commitments to consistency and good faith. And again, we are reluctant to close off any option by normative force. Just as explanations of error are desirable, so are explanations of behavior. Even behavior with a logical or illative dimension is worth studying merely as behavior to such disciplines as anthropology, the sociology of knowledge, psycho-history, and the descriptive parts of comparative jurisprudence. But we want to discourage the sort of rudeness that studies critics as specimens to the exclusion of (rather than in addition to) hearing their criticism.
Religious belief has been studied as a psychological condition and social phenomenon. Some schools of linguistics study "verbal behavior". There is no epistemological or scientific reason why a social science could not study "argumentative or critical behavior". The theories of such a social science would be fraught with great potential, from birth, to license their proponents to treat their critics rudely. Such a science might use the term "refutationary behavior" to refer to arguments, refutations, criticisms, and polemics intended to demonstrate falsehood. Refutationary behavior is fascinating. People thrust and parry, advance and retreat, concede small points and lay traps on large ones, take disagreement personally, get angry, resort to ad hominem attacks, decoy the opponent with false camaraderie or uncertainty, sting in the heel with irony, trip up with sophisms and paradoxes, fall back on definitions, and refuse to fall back on definitions. In our large universe, any theory of refutationary behavior, like theories of other kinds, will encounter disagreement. If a sociologist of polemics proposes that refutationary behavior is motivated by class interests, then a critic may be as erudite as can be, but the proponent can study the proffered criticism as another example of refutationary behavior, perhaps as one that confirms the theory.
Rudeness that views arguments only as a special class of behavior for empirical study highlights a feature of all rudeness, which is that the rude believer is not summoned or elicited to be rude until criticism is expounded or uttered or made into behavior. A theory may be refuted in abstracto, in silence, in thought, in ideality, or in private at one's desk, but this kind of refutation does not put the rude proponent on the defensive or call on him to use his rude defenses.
The necessity of expounded criticism to trigger logical rudeness in turn highlights another feature of all rudeness, which is that the theory may "really" be refuted while the proponent is "justifiably" unconverted. Rudeness insulates believers, not beliefs. Rudeness suggests the presence of logical perspective: even sound refutations, those that might work at one's desk or in the journals, might fail to convert the proponent, and the proponent may have a "sufficient" warrant from this theory for his theory for this intractability. If good faith belief in a theory suffices to warrant the believer to act under its terms (a political, not a logical, principle), then the believer is "really" justified in disregarding the sound refutation. Rudeness drives a wedge in between logical argument and rhetorical persuasion, preventing the power of the former from aiding the power of the latter. The rude, insulated believer need not be illogical to be protected by the mantle of rudeness; he must believe a theory of a certain kind, with the sort of good faith devotion that seeks to preserve the theory's consistency and to apply it to all explananda within its domain. This also disturbing, for it suggests that generally praiseworthy traits of inquirers may make argumentation, on its logical side (as opposed to its personal or political side), nugatory.
We might be tempted to say that it is always rude to interpret criticism as unwitting confirmation of one's theory. A good example is the theory that the subtlest, and therefore most likely, action of the devil would be to deny his own existence and cause others to deny it. Opponents who doubt the existence of devils are hopelessly trapped; no objection can fail to confirm the believer in his belief. When this tactic is rude, it is like the empirical study of refutationary behavior in refusing to see a meta-level in the critic's criticism.
We should be careful here, however. Some criticism does confirm the theory being criticized, in which case a response by retortion is appropriate. Critics may resent this sort of intellectual judo, but we may not call it logically rude unless the critic is deprived of a response on the merits, or cannot have his criticism taken as criticism, although perhaps it is also taken as symptom, behavior, or confirming instance.
Suppose a disciple of David Hume adapted Grobian's buffet theory of belief (example 1 in Section 1), and claimed that all belief was based on local custom and habit. This theory might have met comparatively warm approval in late eighteenth century Britain. But contemporaneous Germans would have denied it in unison. The Humean could interpret the German choir as simple corroboration: their consensus and their Teutonism would explain one another. Like the student of refutationary behavior, such a Humean would be guilty of little more than applying her theory to its subject matter, which happens to include the context of its own debate. And that, by itself, is not blameworthy. But in each case we feel that such application is hasty. Before the critic is used against himself, he should be told why he is wrong. But while the student of refutationary behavior is clearly failing to explain the errors of his critics, the Humean is not. The former merely says, "That's about what I'd expect from a middle-class white male," while the Humean has found a putative cause of the opponents' error in Germanic national character.
Rudeness which twists objections into confirmations highlights a feature of all rudeness, which is that the proponent of a theory must struggle to avoid perceiving criticism as applicable to him or his theories, qua criticism. The proponent must see criticism as false, non-cognitive, meaningless, irrelevant, unwitting confirmation, undebatable, unknowable, self-contradictory, or generally inapplicable, ripe for justified dismissal.
Both the proponent of the class theory of refutationary behavior and the proponent of the custom theory of belief have traced the beliefs of their opponents to their supposed sources. The difference is that the proponent of the class theory of refutationary behavior does not (necessarily) believe that such a genealogy is equivalent to a refutation, while the Humean does. The former is constantly, even professionally, tracing refutationary behavior to its source. One may pursue such a course and still believe that the truth-value of ideas is not affected by their origin. No empirical study is per se guilty of the genetic fallacy. But the Humean relativizes any belief that she succeeds in tracing to its source; if the belief is not already self-consciously relativistic (as eighteenth century German philosophy typically was not), then it is subjected to a supposed refutation. A rude slap has been added to the initial reductionism.
But is not the Humean's own claim about custom relativized by itself? The Humean may evade this consequence by making the custom theory of belief an exception to its own tenets; the exception may be hard to justify, but at least to claim it avoids paradox. Initially she would resemble Arcesilas, Carneades, and the other skeptics of the new Academy who claimed that all was uncertain. They were urged by Antipater to make an exception for their very claim that all (else) was uncertain; but in fear of implausibility or in pursuit of mischief they refused.
This paradox and its avoidance raise an important point. Some kinds of rudeness are fallacious, and the inference of falsehood or inconsistency is justified. For example, the verificationist theory of meaning is meaningless by its own criterion. However, any objection along these lines is also meaningless by that criterion. Hence, the proponent of the theory may seem able to sit smugly on his criterion and refuse to allow any objection to enter his realm of debate. But that would commit a fallacy. The weapon raised by the verification theorist to slay his opponent slays himself. This is not always so with rude defenses, but it is so here and for the Humean proponent of the custom theory of belief, as well as for Grobian's buffet theory of belief in Section 1 (example 1). The verificationist apparently has two choices in the face of the charge of self-referential inconsistency: He may make his theory an exception to its own tenets, which would be odd and implausible but consistent, or he may try to fend off the objection by classifying it meaningless ab initio, which his theory apparently entitles him to do. But the latter choice is not really open, or it does not really preserve the theory's consistency in the face of the objection. If the theory is not excepted from its own standards, then it must suffer the very fate contemplated for the opponent.
We may generalize. Normally one may not infer falsehood from rudeness. But one may do so with rude theories whose grounds of justified dismissal properly apply to the theories themselves. One may at least infer the presence of a fallacious defense, beyond a merely rude one, and the presence of self-referential inconsistency.
The proponent of the custom theory of belief is rude; if she does not make her theory an exception to itself, then she will be fallaciously rude. Her condition should be distinguished from that of another kind of debater who likes to trace criticism to its source. If a religious fundamentalist objects to the theory of evolution, a biologist may say, "Ah, that is because he believes in the account in Genesis, and takes it literally." This would be rude only if the imputation of the cause of the objection is considered an elliptical refutation, shorthand for the claim "that is false because it derives from a system of superstition long disproved." But it need not be rude in this sense; it may be shorthand a more complex evasion. The biologist may believe that the origin of ideas is irrelevant to their truth-value; she is not rude if her statement is merely an elliptical way of postponing or deferring an answer on the merits.
Discovering that an objection to one's theories originated in a religious belief, or from any source other than the objectionable character of one's theories, is not a refutation; if it is not used as a refutation, then it is not rude to point out the discovery. For example, objections to certain theories of astronomy from astrology are often tossed aside because of their origin. This may or may not be rude. It is not rude if the astronomer is saying, "Astrology has been answered before; if I don't take this astrologer seriously it is only because the reasons are shared by all the members of my profession, and even if those reasons are inadequate, obsolete, or subject to the criticism before me now, they can go without saying."
To subsume an objection under the larger faith that gave rise to it, however accurately, does not help a bit in answering or disarming the objection. It is pure postponement. It serves communication, not refutation. In context it usually informs all interested parties of one's position, and even the source of one's counter-evidence and counter-arguments. But it does not actually answer the criticism or refute the body of beliefs that gave rise to it. Even when it is shorthand for a definitive refutation, it does not recapitulate the reasons against the position, but only alludes to them, and only indirectly, by alluding to the faith which is presumed to be long refuted. Logical courtesy (erudition) demands that the objection be answered on its merits, although no logics themselves demand it. To allude to a supposed definitive refutation without restating it is on the face of it nothing more than a weak display of disagreement. But to subsume a belief under a larger system as if that constituted refutation begs the question, and worse. It is like any other reductio ad absurdum in which the absurdum is not a contradiction but simply unacceptable or unheard of. One is not acting with the courage of conviction, which believes that truth is demonstrable, but only with the complacency of conviction, which believes that dissenters are pitifully benighted.
This discussion brings us back to the beginning. For a theory of justified dismissal may focus on a fault or foible of the believer, or on the body of beliefs which gave rise to the objectionable theory. Both can be rude; but the second can also be mere postponement. Both involve the explanation of the objection. If we explain the criticism of critics in a way that justified dismissal, then we have treated the critic rudely. But if we explain the objection as originating in a possible flaw in our own theories, then we are as polite as can be. We are then granting "for the sake of argument" that our beliefs might be objectionable or false.
Another type of rudeness arises when a proponent feels authorized in holding a theory independent of the authority that comes from correctness. Many government officials are guilty of this kind of rudeness, and seem to believe that their ideas are sufficiently authorized by the election results and thereafter need not be defended or debated. When critics or reporters ask why a course of action was not taken (requesting a reason), many officials will answer, "We decided it would not be appropriate at this time." This could be translated as, "I don't have to explain or defend myself as long as the people let me stay in office." Grobian's fourth response in Section 1 is of this type: he felt authorized in his faith, not by shareable evidence and reasons, but by a private inner light.
There are certainly many other kinds of logical rudeness. I do not mean to give an exhaustive taxonomy. One final type, similar to the government official's, may be mentioned. Suppose someone believes that (1) ESP exists, (2) only some people possess it, (3) it may be acquired but that doubt is an obstacle to its acquisition, and (4) it cannot be displayed in the presence of hostile or unbelieving witnesses. This theory is rude in two novel ways. First, it is unfalsifiable. All negative results from experiments may be answered with the all-purpose subterfuge, "The researchers must have doubted." Any unfalsifiable theory may be called rude in a weak or attenuated sense. Critics are teased, because they may disagree all they want, but no applicable or decisive refutation may be found. For ordinary empirical theories, amassing contrary evidence is never a conclusive refutation, but at least the strength of a negative inference mounts; amassing contrary evidence to such an ESP theory would not even strengthen a negative inference in the judgment of the proponent.
A stronger sense of rudeness derives from the first. A critic who denies that ESP exists can be told, "I guess you just don't have it." This reply makes the ESP theory a case of a more general type. Max Scheler's theory of value and value-blindness is another case. Probably the most infuriating case may be called the blessing theory of truth the theory that knowledge is a gift from a god, that only some receive it, and that those receiving it know it when they see it by unmistakable internal signs. I suppose it is optional for a proponent of a blessing theory of truth to claim that the blessing theory itself is knowable only as part of such a gift.
The general feature shared by rude theories of this type is the belief that some valued capacity, relevant to truth-seeking or knowing, is either present or absent in one, and that possessors know they are possessors and nonpossessors do not (or sometimes cannot) know that the race divides into possessors and nonpossessors. This general type of theory takes two equally rude forms: (1) the "born loser" theories, according to which nonpossessors of the gift are doomed to remain nonpossessors, and therefore ignorant, and (2) the "one path" or "trust me" theories, according to which nonpossessors may become possessors only by following a regimen set for them by self-proclaimed possessors. The regimen may include a code of conduct as well as of faith, all of which must be taken on faith or without evidence in the beginning. Proof comes only to those who take the path to the end. A cross between the born-loser and the one-path theories may hold that the gift falls on possessors gratuitously.
The general type may be called "boon theories". We are all familiar with boon theories of knowledge, wisdom, virtue, and salvation. The first ESP example was a one-path boon theory. Max Scheler's view that some people "see" values rightly and others are value-blind is a one-path boon theory. A social Darwinist theory that held that males and whites deserve their privileged positions simply because they have acquired them is a born-loser boon theory. Note that in boon theories in which the boon is not gratuitous, nonpossession is a stigma. Hence the critic is not only excluded from grace and ignorant, but is blameworthy. The smugness of rude proponents and the rude immunity to conversion are thereby justified all the more.
3. What Sort of Delict is Logical Rudeness?
Let me summarize the species of rudeness sketched in Section 2. The primary type is probably the application of a theory of justified dismissal, such as a theory of error or insanity, to critics and dissenters. Another major type is the interpretation of criticism as behavior to be explained rather than answered. This is closely connected to the type that refuses to see a meta-level in the critic's criticism, and will not allow critics to escape the object-language of the theory. A rude theory may reinterpret criticism as a special kind of noise, or as unwitting corroboration. A theory may evade criticism without rudeness by postponing as answer or referring the critic to the answer of another. The abuse of postponement may be rude, however, as when the motions of postponement are made shorthand for dismissal, or when the subsumption of an objection under a larger system of belief is made shorthand for refutation. A rude theory may be held for reasons other than its correctness, such as the support for the believer shown by voters or grant-giving agencies. A weak sort of rudeness lies in any unfalsifiable theory, and a strong sort lies in boon theories which identify critics as nonpossessors of a special boon. The theories of justified dismissal and the boon theories tell critics that they are disqualified from knowing truth or even deserving answers because of some well-explained foible or fault in themselves. All the types have in common an evasion of a responsibility to answer criticism on the merits, when that evasion is authorized by the theory criticized. All types are triggered only by expounded criticism, and only insulate the proponent from conversion or capitulation, not the theory from refutation.
Only one type was found fallacious, the dismissal of an objection on grounds that would suffice to dismiss the theory itself. Such dismissal is self-referentially inconsistent unless the theory is made an exception to its own tenets, a move which usually cures inconsistency at the price of implausibility. The kinds of rudeness seen here may apparently be used with true beliefs as well as false, unless one is already a partisan of theories which would make any rude theory false. If we admit the adaptability of rudeness to true and false theories, then we must find another avenue of complaint. What is wrong with it?
The only obvious delict of non-fallacious rude defenses is that they separate the believer from the belief in such a way that the belief may be criticized or refuted and the believer left smug and unswayed. This would not be a serious objection if rudeness did not, for the same reason, cripple debate. A rude defense terminates all debate with the rude theorist. Critics see that they can make no progress against rude believers, and turn to fellow travelers and journals. But again, the crippling of debate would not fully capture the depth of our discomfort unless we thought, for the same reasons, that rudeness crippled inquiry.
Does rudeness cripple inquiry? Does the crippling of debate cripple inquiry? Is rudeness an epistemic sin or just plain impolite?
With these questions in the background I would like to start off on an apparent digression with the aim of returning to them shortly. Rudeness insulates the believer from expounded criticism. The rude believer need not answer criticism, but may deflect or explain it away. In legal terms, the rude believer's refusal to answer his opponent is a refusal to recognize a burden of going forward created by the critic's criticism.
Anglo-American law distinguishes the burden of proof from the burden of going forward. The burden of proof is a tie-breaker rule; when the evidence and arguments on each side seem balanced, then the party with the burden of proof loses. The burden of going forward is the obligation to respond after the opponent has made a preliminary case. When a philosophical inquirer puts forth a theory, and when critics publish their disagreement along with erudite arsenals of evidence and arguments, then can we say that the "burden of going forward" has "shifted" to the theorist? Do those who publish theories, in print or orally, have a duty to respond to critics who make a minimally plausible case that they are wrong? What we have called rude defenses seem reducible to different ways of shirking a supposed burden of going forward. Is there such a burden in philosophy?
We should remember that the use of burdens in law furthers certain policies. When one party in court has made a case for herself, the judge turns to the other, in effect, and says, "Your turn! I have to decide this case and cannot wait forever. I want to be fair. Speak now or forever hold your peace." This boils down to, "Your turn or you lose!" Parties that fail to meet their burden, either of proof or of going forward, will normally lose the case, either by judgment or by default. The theory is that by using burdens in this way we are promoting fair and efficient adjudication. First, judges must decide the cases before them. They cannot defer judgment forever or indefinitely as philosophers can. Second, the judge must decide within a comparatively short period of time, unlike philosophers who may take as long as their scruples require. Third, the judge may (and usually does) have to decide on imperfect information, when some facts are missing or contested or both. Fourth, the judge wants her judgment to be informed by the merits of each side as they are perceived by each side. All these policies are served by compelling one party to speak or suffer default when the other has spoken.
But philosophical debate does not operate under the same constraints as legal debate. Nobody has to decide philosophical questions at all, let alone soon or on imperfect information. At least the sense in which people "must" answer philosophical questions (such as, when pregnant, the morality of abortion, or when terminally ill, the morality of suicide) does not give rise to prudential, procedural rules for allocating burdens of proof and going forward in the same way as in law. Moreover, there is no adversarial process in the same sense. Hence, there appears to be no comparable reason why philosophers must speak up after their opponents have made a preliminary or even a formidable case against them.
Is this equivalent to saying that there is no logical reason why we must answer our critics? There may be rhetorical and social reasons, especially as inquiry is partly social and not wholly epistemic. We do not exclusively strive for true knowledge in inquiry, but also for social integration, the cooperation of different inquirers, the communication and application of results, the preservation of a milieu in which inquiry is free and fruitful, and the satisfaction of the human purposes in having knowledge or ideas at all. Logical rudeness is certainly not prohibited by logic; it is prohibited, I maintain, only by social norms. It is objectionable, but not in the manner of illogic or hypocrisy. It is objectionable more in the manner of refusing to speak to one's spouse, putting urgent callers "on hold", or meeting student questions with sardonic laughter.
Philosophers have no equivalent of default except the presumption that the silent or rude theorist has no answer on the merits to offer, and (qua individual proponent) may be presumed ignorant or incorrect and dismissed. This presumption, however, is very legalistic, and in many cases will be false. The limits of the applicability of legal procedures to philosophical argument may lead us to rethink this presumption. At the moment, however, the presumption looks like a theory of justified dismissal: theorists who resort to rude defenses may be dismissed; their theories may be true, but we must await another proponent to find out how that position responds to certain questions and objections before we can judge it fairly on the merits.
Courteous or erudite philosophers tend to use the concept of burden. Indeed, the concept of a burden of going forward is an element of the positive system of logical etiquette that defines rudeness. It is not a part of logic itself, but part of the practical implementation of logical courtesy and social norms in debate. It furthers social policies and inquiry, but its absence would also serve inquiry, though to a different degree. The truth-value of a rude theory is not affected by the silence or rudeness of its proponents in the face of disagreement. In short, philosophical inquiry may be crippled by logical rudeness, but the legalistic remedy of a burden of going forward would cripple philosophical inquiry even more. Rudeness cripples inquiry by obstructing cooperation, not by silencing contenders for truth or by deceiving inquirers. Rudeness, like a boulder in a stream, makes inquiry pass around it. If inquiry proceeds without debate, something is lost. But because falsehood cannot be inferred from rudeness, much more would be lost if we dismissed rude proponents, as if in error, for violating some imported rules of procedure. Legal inquiry is successful when it is both fair and probative. Philosophical inquiry may be successful if it is only probative, that is, if it only brings us closer to truth. Respect for the parties is secondary; to put it higher is to put persons on a par with truth, which may be proper for every purpose except inquiry for truth.
4. Must Some Theories Be Rude?
It may seem that the imputation of a foible or fault to a critic simply qua critic is always optional, never necessary to preserve the consistency of the theory or the good faith of the proponent. But this is not true. First, there is the case of the brazen theory which includes as a tenet the forthright equation of disagreement and error. This tenet is not as rare, nor probably as naive, as one might at first suspect. It may be called (using legal jargon) the "exclusivity clause" of the theory. Any theory may have an exclusivity clause, and most theories may have them without contradicting their own content. The "clause" merely states that the set of tenets comprising the theory is the truth and the only truth on its precise subject. It does not imply completeness; but it does imply that propositions inconsistent with the theory are false. It may be tacit and understood, and indeed it does seem to follow from the mere claim of truth according to the principle of excluded middle (tacit in many theories) and most classical notions of truth. If a theory contains an exclusivity clause, even a tacit one, it impels the good faith proponent to equate disagreement and error. Critics may courteously be indulged in the realm of debate, and cajoled into seeing the light, if possible, but that would be supererogatory under the canons of logic and good faith. One premise of "civilized" debate that any contender might be speaking the truth and debate is one way to tell who is not shared by all the contenders. For this reason it is disturbing to note that almost any claim to truth may bear a tacit exclusivity clause.
Even more disturbing is the case of philosophical systems. The paradigm of good philosophy for several western traditions the complete, consistent system is impelled to be rude. This is not news to Kierkegaard, who felt rudely subsumed by Hegel's system, and was told by contemporary Hegelians that he was logically incapable of attaining a perspective outside the system sufficient to attack it.
If the system is supposed to be complete as well as true, then the good faith proponent must believe the critic in error, and therefore must apply the system's explanation of error to her. Note that mere belief in the completeness and truth of the system suffices here to justify the conclusion that disagreement is error. The good faith proponent need not immediately act on this belief in the critic's error, but neither can he escape concluding it, any more than he could willingly suspend judgment on the truth of his beliefs. Proponents of what are supposed to be true, complete, consistent systems must choose between apostasy and rudeness. They must defend their beliefs either by appeal to premises and principles from outside the system, which they believe are false, or by appeal to premises and principles from withing the system, which is question-begging and liable to be very rude. This may be called the dilemma of systematic self-defense. To ask such a believer to be logically polite "just for the sake of argument" is equivalent to asking him to give up some tenets of the faith he wishes to defend just to enter a realm of debate to defend it. This is why systems with pretensions to completeness have traditionally seemed rude, have traditionally authorized rude defenses in their proponents, or have gone undefended at fundamental levels.
It is this feature in political systems which allows the equation of dissent and mental illness, dissent and crime, and dissent and error, and the feature which led modern philosophers like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to abjure the pursuit of philosophical systems per se.
There may be more than rudeness to turn one from systems, but one should note that rudeness should not suffice, for falsehood cannot be inferred from mere rudeness. On the other hand, if systems are still attractive, this analysis indicates at least that the logic of defending systems is peculiar, and that if we still cherish both the pursuit of systems and the classical forms of debate, then we will have to forgive some question-begging and rudeness. Moreover, if this is so, we should expect a true system to take these peculiarities into account and present a logic in which some circular arguments and rude defenses are permissible. Hegel's system fulfills this expectation more than others, and perhaps the reason is that it is more self-conscious of the logic of systematicity than others.
5. What is Debate?
Logical rudeness may be considered a complex form of ad hominem argument. It tells critics and dissenters that they are defective human beings whose ignorance or error is well explained as frailty, fault, foible, or the absence of a boon. Moreover, this form of ad hominem is justified by the theory under attack. When our questions are answered by ad hominem assaults, we are angered. Our anger cannot be reduced to hurt feelings because we were not merely wounded in our dignity; we were put off in our inquiries for truth by a refusal to cooperate. A rude response can therefore trigger three levels of indignation: personal affront, thwarted cooperation, and crippled inquiry. The first is personal, the second social and political, and the third epistemic.
Rudeness thwarts cooperation, which in turn thwarts inquiry, at least under some concepts of inquiry. Rudeness prevents inquiry from being optimally fruitful. But logic does not tell us to make inquiry optimally fruitful; human interests do. Rudeness therefore is not so much a fallacy as a violation of human community. The rub is that we want to permit all possible truths to be propounded and debated: some of the candidate-truths will deny any role to cooperation in inquiry and others will license rude defenses. Opening the realm of debate this much will therefore permit logical rudeness to enter, which in turn will make inquiry sub-optimal, at least under some concepts of inquiry.
The tensions within the concepts of debate and inquiry between openness and fruitfulness can be seen from a wider perspective. The epistemic principle violated by rudeness is not merely that inquiry must go on. If we are told, in effect, that we do not deserve to be answered on the merits, or are disqualified from knowing truth, on account of a foible or fault in ourselves, then we are being excluded from the universe of possible knowers in which we thought we had enlisted by inquiring and debating. If the truth is not (yet) known, but is subject to inquiry and debate, then we cannot (yet) exclude any person from the universe of possible knowers. That is, we cannot do so a priori, although once we know truth we may be able to do so a posteriori when we learn, for example about color-blindness and the diversity of mental illness.
Logical rudeness violates what might be called the principle of epistemic democracy: the principle that all persons have an equal entitlement to know the truth. This might well be reclassified as a norm of logical etiquette, and denied the name of an epistemic principle, for it is a mere presumption. If we stated it more completely, it would say: all persons should be presumed to have an equal entitlement to know the truth, until and unless we discover some truth to the contrary. As long as we are confessedly ignorant, it is a methodological assumption which results in fair and courteous treatment to our co-workers.
The problem is that the rude proponent believes he does possess some true knowledge which justifies the cancellation of the presumption. His rudeness from this angle derives equally from (1) the content of his belief, that it disqualifies some people from knowledge, people who turn out to be his critics, and (2) his unshakeable faith that he is right to believe it. The latter dimension will be explored more fully toward the end of this section. First I would like to examine the former dimension.
The principle of epistemic democracy is normative, not descriptive. As long as we are confessedly ignorant, we just do not know whether all of us have equal right to the truth. We think we ought to act as if our entitlements were equal, because that is a demand of fairness or courtesy. The rude proponent who denies this principle by his ad hominem methods, therefore, seems to us to deny an important normative rule; he is not just rude, then, but also unfair.
The principle of epistemic democracy conflicts with another principle which we hold dear: it might be called the "no holds barred" principle of debate. It states that philosophers may (should be permitted to) ask any question, propose any answer as true, challenge any theory as false or unproved, make any argument, and generally debate any theory on the merits. The conflict between the no-holds-barred principle and the principle of epistemic democracy is simply that, under the former, the latter (like any other principle) may be challenged and denied. The no-holds-barred principle conflicts with itself in the same way that it conflicts with the principle of epistemic democracy: under its terms, it may itself be challenged and denied.
In this the no-holds-barred principle is like the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution. The principle of freedom or toleration embodied in the First Amendment may be challenged in public speech. The Amendment has been interpreted to protect even those who oppose its values. But what is our rationale for this super-toleration? It could be that only in this way can we preserve the First Amendment (or no-holds-barred principle), since to prohibit opposition to it in any degree would compromise the principle itself. In this it would resemble the Humean custom theorist or the Academic skeptic: the principle could be made an exception to itself. But we might well feel that that would destroy the value we cherish in the principle itself. The alternative is to allow challenges and denials (and advocacy of repeal) and to accept the outcomes of fair procedures, even if they sky should fall. That is, we might use the First Amendment to protect a movement to repeal the First Amendment, and trust the amendment process and public intelligence to do the best thing. We might use the no-holds-barred principle to protect a philosophical school which denied its value or truth, and trust to the realm of debate (or the "marketplace of ideas") to deal with the proposal justly. Note that both the latter scenarios presuppose independent norms of just procedure. These would have to be something like norms of logical courtesy. In this sense, the principles of logical etiquette cannot be debated properly or fairly except in a realm of debate already constituted by them or their cognates.
Both the principle of epistemic democracy and the no-holds-barred principle seem to be principles of logical courtesy. In fact, violating them creates paradigmatic types of rudeness. Violating the principle of epistemic democracy allows the proponent to believe her critics are disqualified from knowing truth or deserving answers, and violating the no-holds-barred principle allows the proponent to deny that the critic's criticism is a permissible move in the game she is playing. Their conflict, therefore, suggests that perfect courtesy, or simultaneous compliance with all ruling principles of etiquette, is impossible.
We may consider the conflict between the two principles a reflection of a broader conflict between equality and freedom. The conflict may be avoided by ranking the principles so that one always takes priority in cases of conflict. But no such strategem can eliminate the conflict of the freedom principle with itself. Moreover, ranking either above the other would allow just those infringements of the "inferior" principle that the "superior" principle authorized. These would be rude infringements. For example, to rank the equality principle higher would justify limiting the freedom of inquirers to challenge the equality principle. To rank the freedom principle higher would justify an a priori dismissal of theorists who proceeded in denial of the freedom principle.
Some form of rudeness seems inevitable. Either the equality principle will be violated by the rude theory that critics are unequally entitled to know the truth, or the freedom principle will be violated by the rude theory that critics are making impermissible moves in a game. These two fundamental types of rudeness can be barred only by one another. To secure some courtesies, then, we must impose other rude principles. There is something Gödelian about this result. No system of logical etiquette can be both complete and consistent. For every such system there will be a permissible but rude theory.
There are other ways in which rudeness may be inevitable, as seen in Section 4. Some theories must be defended rudely to preserve their own consistency and their proponent's good faith. Some are caught in the dilemma of systematic self-defense. Under the no-holds-barred principle we want proponents to be free to propound and defend these and all other theories. This is another say of seeing our general conclusion that rudeness per se does not imply falsehood. We want to allow inquirers to propose the demon theory of error and the buffet theory of belief. The alternative is rudely to impose a code of debate on debaters, compromising the no-holds-barred principle, and presumptuously presupposing an exclusive vision of truth prior to debate. We may keep the hope alive that this may be done later, when we know more, i.e., that toleration is just a makeshift until truth is known to be known. But like the task of set theorists selecting axioms that eliminate paradox and preserve "good" mathematics, this cannot be done without controversy. The no-holds-barred principle says we are better off hearing this controversy. Toleration should not disappear with the advent of knowledge unless inquiry is also to disappear.
The automatic inference of falsehood from rudeness or undebatability may be called the fallacy of petulance in which we peevishly allow our hurt feelings to supersede our better judgement. The fallacy of petulance is to use the criteria of courtesy as criteria (or as a subset of the criteria) of truth. Sociability in debate may be important for many reasons, even for the fundamental epistemic reason of keeping debate a fruitful avenue of inquiry and for basic ethical duties to other inquirers; but its norms do not thereby become criteria of truth.
We may now consider the second element of a rude defense, the firmness of the proponent's faith that the first element, the content of the belief, authorizes a rude defense.
Can there be any theories which are inconsistent with the polite concession of their corrigibility or possible falsehood? If some theories have "exclusivity clauses" and if no theory with such a clause is consistent with the concession of its corrigibility, then the demands of consistency would subvert the demands of courtesy. Then the system of logical etiquette would be as reactionary as foot-kissing for demanding courtesy at the expense of consistency. This is especially embarrassing if most or all theories contain tacit exclusivity clauses, or if corrigibility per se contradicts the claim of truth.
Rather than introduce the modal complexities of possible falsehood, I will ask the question from a slightly different angle: not whether a theory can be consistent with its possible falsehood, but whether a theorist can retain her good faith while sincerely conceding the corrigibility of her theory and herself.
Shifting the question this way is legitimate because, for the purposes of logical etiquette, good faith is equivalent to truth. To the proponent of a theory, the truth of the theory alone justifies rude treatment of critics; but all inquirers outside the warmth of the proponent's faith can see that it is his good faith that the theory is true, and not its truth, which grounds this justification. The obligation to be rude is not conditional upon the truth of the theory; it arises as much from faith, and could not arise even in a true theory without good faith.
As we have seen, rudeness insulates believers, not beliefs, or theorists, not theories. In Section 2 we saw that a kind of tenacious good faith can require that a theorist apply her theory to all the explananda within its scope, which frequently includes the context of its own debate. I will call the kind of tenacious good faith which cannot bend to concede the corrigibility of its object "fixed belief", after Charles Peirce. A less tenacious kind of good faith one in which sincerity coexists with the concession of corrigibility may be called "critical belief". Clearly it is attainable. What is not clear is whether it is attainable for all our beliefs, or ought to be attained.
Insofar as fixed belief justifies rudeness to the believer, a canon of logical courtesy prefers critical belief to fixed belief. This is consonant with the "civilized" demand that no inquirer be a fanatic, or that all should hold their beliefs with detachment, and be prepared to defend them with evidence and reason and to give them up in the face of superior evidence and reason. The epistemology implicit in this "civilized" demand is not merely that some faith is blind, but that fixed belief blinds. Once critical detachment is lost in fixation, ignorance is invincible. Those who will not concede the corrigibility of their beliefs must directly equate disagreement and error, and fit their explanation of error on the heads of all critics and dissenters. Fixed belief per se authorizes rudeness to its possessors. This rude dimension of immovable complacency or confidence explains the pejorative overtones of the (originally neutral) term "dogmatism".
While this is the demand of courtesy we recognize from the western tradition, particularly from the Enlightenment, it by no means follows that it conforms to the ethics or epistemology of the late twentieth century. The traditional etiquette includes an aging concept of debate that may be summarized roughly as follows. Debate serves inquiry; its values are epistemic; it is neutral in that the truth (whatever it may turn out to be) may be approached by debate; debate is joint inquiry; debate is the marketplace of ideas in which the epistemic worth of ideas is tested and evaluated and reevaluated; success in debate may occasionally go to the unworthy, and true ideas may lay unpersuasive for generations, but in the long run debate will reward all good ideas and punish all bad ones; it is a self-correcting method; it is a method without presupposition or principle; it works best when proponents of theories state their position publicly for all to examine, offer all evidence and reasoning for public examination, answer all questions, reply to all criticisms on the merits, and interact with those of differing opinions by propounding their own questions and criticisms; it works best when the participants and spectators allow their assent to follow the evidence and reasons exchanged in debate, and do not enter with prejudice or simply for sport.
It is according to such a concept of debate that the examples at the top of Section 1 were said to betray "something wrong". Note that the activity outlined by these principles in ineliminably that of a cooperative enterprise.
Do these norms of logical etiquette reflect a pattern of social interaction, or even of reason and inquiry, which died in the Enlightenment, and which is impossible and reactionary to wish back to life? Doubts of this order have forced me to put "civilized" and "well-mannered" in quotation marks throughout the essay. Our distaste for rudeness is certainly not the same as the aristocratic distaste for commerce and trade. Nor is our distaste for rudeness reducible to bad sportsmanship. But is it similar to the wistful sighs of aristocracy in that, its epistemological merit notwithstanding, it is inseparable from a certain nostalgic longing for the days when the logic of self-insulation was not freely practiced by every ignoramus and heretic, the days when the elegant tools of logic were not made to serve the boorishness of every comer? Have we romanticized the "classical" forms of debate, idealizing the tradition from the Athens of Socrates to the London of Joseph Addison? In our code of logical etiquette have we legislated a form of argumentative geniality that never existed? Or one that ought to exist no longer? Or one that distorts our enterprise to pretend that we practice?
The danger of legislating a style of thinking in order to secure a form of cooperation is real. So I take these questions seriously, whether I am in a mood to favor good epistemology and hope that good ethics will follow, or vice versa. But answering these questions is beyond the present topic. Here it is enough to point out the debate has norms other than the norms and rules of any shared logic, and that these norms may be leftovers of bygone social structures. If they have merit, it is not that of logics, but of manners.
My authority in saying just what logical courtesy demands is simply that of a native of the realm whose customs and ideals are being described. It is that of mere acquaintance, and may be corrected by others of wider acquaintance or more acute perception. It is not like saying what a formal logic demands. Hence, we should be careful that we do not allow descriptive inquiries into the normative domain of logical etiquette to be swayed by normative disagreements among debaters as to correct style, cooperative harmony, and civilized behavior. We should not legislate in the name of description. My purposes here have not been wholly descriptive, of course. In our descriptive inquiries we should try to resist the temptation to describe as rude (and therefore to stigmatize) practices whose only vice is their endorsement by the beliefs and theories of our opponents. That would be rude. But in dealing with the challenges of the descriptive inquiry, we should not overlook the normative. For the canons of logical etiquette we use without reflection, those we urge falsely in the name of logic itself, and those that we tolerate in our comrades and resent in our critics, create the ethics of argument which governs discussion.
Department of Philosophy,
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374, U.S.A.
email@example.com. Copyright © 1987, Peter Suber.