everyday logic

Two bloggish items today on the role of logic in ordinary discourse. First, Michael Kinsley writes in the *Washington Post*:

Opinion journalism brings new ethical obligations as well. These can be summarized in two words: intellectual honesty. Are you writing or saying what you really think? Have you tested it against the available counter arguments? Will you stand by an expressed principle in different situations, when it leads to an unpleasing conclusion? Are you open to new evidence or an argument that might change your mind? Do you retain at least a tiny, healthy sliver of a doubt about the argument you choose to make?

Even more basically, Kinsley might suggest the following: have you arrived at your conclusion by a cogent or coherent argument? Is your characterization of the opposing points of view charitable and accurate? Have you drawn on commonly agreed on facts in the construction of your argument? And we could go on.

Kinsley's comment, nonetheless, is certainly welcome. Especially in light of articles that consider the pernicious, the outrageous, the preposterous Bill O'Reilly to be merely an entertainer. If only it were true.

Second, I was reminded of a trip I took three years ago to a little town in Indiana when I read in the liberal media that

Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.

And so Lisa's rock does not keep away tigers after all. The trip as you might imagine was an academic job interview. In the department was a recent Ivy League graduate in religion (it was one of those combined philosophy and religion departments) who asserted the mounting evidence for the causally efficacious role of prayer on health. Such was, as he pointed out, the subject matter of his research. I can't help but think that my shock at such a silly and possibly heretical thesis was written on my face. I wonder how the research was received down in Hoosier country.

One thought on “everyday logic”

  1. I am a little concerned with Kinsley’s argument that a model of “subjective” journalism should be pursued in order to keep up with what media organizations perceive to be the growing trend in infotainment today. The fact that news is never objective, meaning that it is essentially value-laden with the personal opinions of the reporter, does not change the distinction between facts and opinions. The reporting of facts, which must be objective at least with respect to their truth-values, is the journalistic paradigm, even if we all agree that the selection of which facts in particular are being presented and which are being ommitted is itself a subjective judgment. Perhaps the problem is not that news is inherently biased (which it seems to be, by varying degrees), but that fewer and fewer facts are given by which the news consumer can base his or her own opinions.

    By shifting the paradigm to one of “here are a couple of facts I find interesting, now I’m going to tell you how I feel about it,” we are limiting the availability of more facts that might offer the conscientious and inquisitive reader (or listener) a wider array of material from which he or she might be able to form a coherent and well-reasoned opinion about a particular subject. I prefer the paradigm “I know these aren’t all the facts, but I tried to give as many as possible with the space allotted to me, and avoided as much rhetoric as possible (used “neutral language”) so that a clear distinction between the facts and my own opinions can be made.”

    Maybe we all should continue to shout a few facts here and there before diving into our diatribes, call it the news, and let opinions dominate the media environment. However, I prefer the Dragnet approach: “just the facts, ma’am.”

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