instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Counter-biased self-checks

Zippy Catholic comments on my previous post:
It seems to follow that the following are also sound self checks in discussion with others, and need to be given just as much consideration to avoid biasing the sound self checks:

Am I being too slow to find fault with this person who disagrees with me?
Am I being too slow to find doctrinal aberrations in the position of this person who disagrees with me?

Of course to be sound self checks the emphasis ought to be counter-biased to the biases of the self doing the checking.
Yes, indeed. I had this in mind at one point while composing the post, but my stream of thought wound its way instead into the concluding bog you see.

The idea that, as a class, the American bishops are biased toward answering either of Zippy's questions with a yes would be a hard sell to a lot of American Catholics. In this light, Cardinal Wuerl's "don't be so quick" parameters sound about as necessary to tell a bishop as, "Don't forget to eat lunch." (I jest, your Excellencies. I jest in love.)

I'll suggest that a  bias in the other direction is encouraged by on-line conversations, which provide a safer environment than work and socializing to scratch that "Burn the witch!" itch.

How might "don't be too quick or too slow" be put in positive terms? Maybe something like this: "Make sound and timely judgments." (Sorry, that's still pretty tautological.) A sound judgment means you have enough knowledge to judge; a timely judgment means you've gathered that knowledge in time to support the need for your judgment.

A common way to fail the "enough knowledge" condition on-line is this: Person A reads Person B's blog post, which quotes the headline of an external link that refers to Person C. Person A performs the natural human pattern matching on the headline and concludes that Person C sounds just like Person D, who has known fault X. Person A promptly and publicly asserts that Person C has fault X.

Suppose you know "P" is true. Then you hear someone say "not P." I don't think you can be "too quick" in noticing the contradiction; really, you noticed it (at least implicitly) back when you learned that "P" is true. What you might be too quick in doing is saying, "This person is wrong to say 'not P.'" That you hear "not P" doesn't always mean the other person said it.

Often enough, though, people really do by golly say "not P," and they mean it. Again, you can't not know -- and you shouldn't pretend -- that they're wrong about that. To this point in the hypothetical, that's the only fault you've found, and you haven't necessarily announced it yet. The conversation may well go in two very different directions depending on whether you respond, "You are wrong to say 'not P,'" or, "Why do you say that 'not P'?"

There are circumstances in which you may be right to aim for the first conversation, and other circumstances in which you should aim for the second. (And still other circumstances in which you should drop it altogether.) An internal judgment may have a different timeliness than a public judgment.