instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, October 30, 2015

Every old parameter is new again

In an interview with David Gibson, Cardinal Wuerl expressed hope that the recent Synod "set some new parameters in the conversation," specifically:
Don’t be so quick to find fault with the people who disagree with you ... and don’t be so quick to find doctrinal aberrations in the positions of people who disagree with you.
He is responding to Synod Fathers who, in his opinion, were overly quick to find fault and doctrinal aberrations. I expect people will think these new parameters are a good idea to the extent they share Cardinal Wuerl's view of the Synod.

A parameter of the form "Don't be so quick to [X]" is nearly a tautology. "Too quick to [X]" is always wrong; that's what the "too" means. But you can also be "too slow to [X]," which is also always wrong. (If X is always wrong in itself, then the "too quick" and "too slow" are impossibilities, which are wrong in a different way.)

Cardinal Wuerl is saying the "so quick" of some Synod Fathers was too quick. I can't speak for what all the Synod Fathers may have been up to, but I did see examples of Catholics outside the Synod that I judged to be too quick to find fault and doctrinal aberrations, and I don't know think Synod Fathers are necessarily free of faults that other Catholics have.

(Oh dear, I'm finding fault with people who disagree with me. Am I violating a new parameter? Of course not. I don't find fault too quickly, or too slowly. I am the Baby Bear of fault finding rate.)(I should probably revisit that assertion.)

In any case, if we abstract the parameters from the context, I think we're left with sound self-checks in discussions with others:
  1. Am I being too quick to find fault with this person who disagrees with me?
  2. Am I being too quick to find doctrinal aberrations in the position of this person who disagrees with me?
These call to mind both Fr. Murray's dictum, "Disagreement is not an easy thing to reach," and the Scholastic maxim, "Never deny, seldom accept, always distinguish." If a person disagrees with me (not a purely hypothetical consideration), and we only ever argue about the consequences of our disagreement, we're unlikely to get anywhere. And once we've denied what someone is telling us, we've made it much more difficult to discover whatever might be worth considering about it.

I am begging the question of the purpose of an argument, which I think ideally is something like "to arrive together at the truth." Well, I suppose some people do have practical arguments, with purposes like "to agree on the best thing to do." Even when the argument is more like a debate, where you're trying to reach agreement with some third party rather than the person who disagrees with you, your own position will be stronger if you can acknowledge what's true in the other position and see the point at which it goes wrong. The third party may well see that truth and resist your arguments if you deny or ignore it.