OSSA Day One: Religion in Critical Thinking Class?

The last paper of the day for me was Donald Hatcher's "Should Critical Thinking Courses Include the Critique of Religious Beliefs?" 

Hatcher argued for various reasons that religious beliefs ought to be subject to critical scrutiny.  He ran through about eight potential objections to critiquing religious beliefs (I'll try to get a copy of the handout if not the paper), answering them all and concluding that indeed religious beliefs ought to be subject to critical scrutiny in critical thinking courses.

So far so good.  One questioner wondered, however, whether there are special considerations in college courses.  Most of Hatcher's arguments concerned the general question of scrutiny of relgious beliefs, not, as advertised, the particular question of classroom critique.  The paper commenter had similar intuitions, pointing out that some religious views might best be considered in opposition to certain scientific views (such as for instance evolution).

OSSA Day One: Emotion and Reason

Robert Pinto, University of Windsor

"Emotions and Reasons"

Pinto argues:  (1) emotions can provide reasons for action because the evaluative attitudes at their core can, together with cognitive attitudes, provide reasons for the conative attitudes (desires and intentions) – which are reasons to act

(2) evaluative attitudes can be rooted in reasons insofar as they arise from a combination of cognitive attitudes together with other evaluative or conative attitudes which (potentially) render them rational.

Q1: Can one fear something without believing it is impeding (e.g., is it right to say that some S can live in fear of cancer without having the belief that it is impending?)

Q2: What is it to value wrongly?  How does one determine that one has done so?

Q3: What about irrational fears/emotions?  E.g., one certainly can fear spiders without having any beliefs about their badness.  One can even fear them despite actively believing them to be good thing!

OSSA Day One: Presumptions

David Godden, Old Dominion

"Presumptions in Argument: Epistemic versus Social Approaches"

Godden's paper is a response to Kauffield's 'commitment-based' approaches to presumption.  The commitment model is one where there are socially grounded defeasible presumptions about the right sort of ways for people to behave.  The question is whether these 'ought' claims are a basis for making presumptions about how people will behave.

The main issue of contention was whether the moral expectations about people (e.g., that people ought not drive drunk, or that people ought to do their jobs), when defeated (e.g., when you see that S is visibly drunk and behind the wheel of the car, when you see serious dereliction of duty) disappear.  Godden says yes:  he calls them 'busted bubbles'.

Some questions:

Q1: Are presumptions about duties really predictions?

Q2: Surely the duties don't go away when our predictions are defeated.  Is this a matter of what you expect morally vs expect epistemically?

Q3: Should it be Dr. Livingston, I assume?

Ossa Day One: arguing for the sake of it

In hte 2 O'Clock Daniel Cohen read a paper called "academic arguments."  Simply put, an academic argument is one that really matters not–a knowledge for its own sake argument in other words.  The question raised was basically whether one has any justification for engaging in such an argument.  Though Cohen is skeptical that any such purely academic arguments exist (he didn't give any examples), he argued nonetheless that it would be worthwhile, on ethical grounds, to engage in them. 

One interesting objection, the last one made at the end of the session, concerned whether we can really abstract the question from other ones: in particular, though knowledge may be intrinsically valuable, it is the least of intrinsic goods, so there will likely always be something better to do than argue for the sake of it. 

OSSA Day One: Gordon and Walton

"Modeling Critical Questions as Additional Premises"

Gordon and Walton's paper had two objectives.  First, to show how the scheme model for argument forms provide a means to explain how critical questions function in argumentative dialogue.  Second, to show how the Carneades system of argument representation can make these critical exchanges explicit.  Arguments from authority were the test case. The critical questions for authority arguments are along the lines of whether the authority is motivated to lie, whether the authority's pronouncements are consistent with other authorities, whether the authority is reliable in this case, and so on.  The questions and answers add premises to the arguments.

A few questions about the paper were:

Q1: Is the dialogical model overplayed here, instead of adding premises, don't questions elicit the expression of suppressed premises?

Q2: How widely used is the Carneades system, and is it a representation of audience-acceptance or is it a representation of argument-assessment?

Q3: What are the consequences for legal reasoning for Carneades' use?

OSSA Day One: Thagard’s “Critical Thinking versus Informal Logic”

So begins our "live blogging" exercise from the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation conference.  I won't comment on the beer store, the Vietnamese restaurant, or Detroit Coney Island style hot dogs, or the 2.50  3.00 dollar Rye.

Scott will comment on Doug Walton's paper on argument schemes are dialogue; here a quick note about this morning's keynote by Paul Thagard's, "Critical Thinking versus Informal Logic." 

Always interesting about papers like these are the examples of motivated reasoning, which Thagard might call "inference."  Argument, by constrast, is the stuff you do in logic class.  The problem Thagard points to is that argument has little cognitive value; we arrive at most of our beliefs by a process of inference, which, is unfortunately susceptible to various motivational distortions (fear, hope, etc.).  So what of argument?  Argument can at best be a corrective, used in the best of circumstances to influence inference, perhaps overnight, asleep, or while dreaming. 

Blogging from OSSA

Colin, John and I will be at the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA) conference this coming weekend.  We're presenting "Tu Quoque Arguments, Subjunctive Inconsistency, and Questions of Relevance."   But that doesn't mean that we won't be posting on the NS.  We'll be posting short discussions of the sessions we attend.  Stay tuned, NS readers!

Oh, and comments on our paper are welcome here.

Ron Paul’s analogical reasoning

In the comments on the previous post, NashvilleBrian suggested we take a look at Ron Paul's argument that the SEAL raid to kill OBL was 'absolutely not necessary.'  It all sounded very much like the Ron Paul who impressed me back in '08 — insisting that we respect national boundaries for sovereignty, cooperate with other governments, and so on.  Of course, the folks at FOX News are going nuts about it.  I was curious, and I took a look.

In an interview with Simon Conway (the excerpt posted here), Paul made two arguments for pursuing OBL in Pakistan in a different way. 

The first argument was that Pakistan is an ally and a sovereign country.  It is a serious breach of international law to show up with a military force inside of another country without their knowledge — even if we are subsidizing their military.  Paul makes this point with an analogy:

I think respect for the rule of law and world law and international law. What if he'd been in a hotel in London?

This seems reasonable, if only to show that, assuming we'd balk at sending choppers into the outskirts of London, the trouble is to say what's the relevant difference.  Excepting the thought that folks have been expressing concerns that Pakistan hadn't really been pursuing OBL. (I'll come to that at the end of the post.) And of course, if we had the intel and gave it to the Pakistanis and ran backup, that'd done the job, right?  Again, I don't know, but it's on those who are reacting so strongly to Paul to explain why that's a bad plan.  Not to just go crazy and say he's not fit for the presidency.   Another thing to address is Paul's second analogy — that between the pursuit of OBL and KSM.  With Kalid Sheikh Mohammed, we relied on the Pakistanis to apprehend him.  They got him just fine. Here's Paul:

I think things could have been done somewhat differently.  I would suggest the way they got Khalid [Sheikh] Mohammed. We went and cooperated with Pakistan. They arrested him, actually, and turned him over to us, and he's been in prison. Why can't we work with the government?

In that case, Pakistan showed themselves to be a reliable ally and capable terrorist-hunting government.  So what gives?  Have the facts on the ground changed in a significant way since then?  Perhaps they have — KSM was caught on Musharraf's watch, and there is now a very different government.  But is that relevant?  Again, I don't know, but isn't it the job of those criticizing Paul to explain where the error is?  Instead we get stuff like this:

"If there is any doubt that Ron Paul should not even get near the Oval Office, even on a tour of the White House, he has just revealed it," Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips said on his website. "For a Congressman to say the raid to kill the man who is one of the greatest mass murderers of Americans in history was, 'not necessary,' is simply nuts."

Well, at least it is clear that Phillips disagrees with Paul.  Not at all clear why.  Sigh.

Now, a point about Paul's last analogy.  I'm not convinced by it.  Pakistan was cooperative with KSM, but that was still pretty close in time to 9/11, and they haven't exactly been cooperative before.  And especially with OBL. As noted by Ed Morrisey at Hot Air, the Pakistani Intelligence Service provided the intel for Bill Clinton's strike on OBL, but they also tipped him that it was coming.  Oh, and it's not like they've done a bang-up job chasing him down in the meantime.  Again, that's not a reason to not respect their sovereignty, but it does weaken the reasons for Paul's confidence that cooperation would have worked.

Better we didn’t shoot him?

Jay Homnick at The American Spectator isn't buying the "apotheosis of Obama" narrative he thinks is being told about the operation to take out Osama Bin Laden.  Partly because the target didn't really matter any more. He says:

Osama has been dead for years, of course, in the operational sense. He has not been in the position to lead anything. He was lucky enough to be physically in this world so he could read his own obituary. . . . He turned out to be in a suburban hovel rather than in a feral cave, but the basic reality was just as advertised. Once he went over-the-hill in Tora Bora, he was reduced to watching the reruns of his greatest episodes.

So operationally, it wasn't a high priority to get OBL.  He'd been cut off from the operations.  Ant it seems that when he's giving directions to others, it's more like advice.  Not orders.  And so:

I hate to say this, really I do, but it looks like we have done Zawahiri and Awlaki a huge favor by taking out their dotty old pensioner. They are off the hook of paying sentimental obeisance to the old mullah emeritus, plus as a bonus they get to invoke his martyrdom as a call to arms. Otherwise they might have had to smuggle him back to headquarters someday and deal with him up close.

We've been slowly working out this notion of the false dilemma with only one lemma (the false whatever), and I think this is a good version of it.  Homnick may be right about the consequences of killing OBL, but consequentialist arguments must always be constrastive.  That is, if you make a consequentialist argument against doing X, it must not only be from the bad consequences of doing it but you must show that those consequences are worse than not doing X.

Cool Downplayer, Bro

So a short exercise in speech-act analysis.  Discussions threads are often populated with folks who love to go on and on.  Often about things only loosely relevant to the issue.  The same goes for Q&A periods at philosophy papers — you'll regularly get a question that isn't a question but more someone taking an opportunity to address a roomful of people about whatever they thought last.  It's irritating.  I've started to call these "I like turtles" contributions, in honor of this classic internet moment. But how to respond?  I had taken the route of saying things like: "That's not a question," or "Very nice and equally irrelevant."  These are sometimes too confrontational.  Well, there's a new internet meme that fills this void.  It even comes with an image.

Well, that's just about perfect, isn't it?  Sarcasm.  Of course.  "Cool Story, Bro" is great for these interwebs, but what about amongst the academics?  Well:

Alright!  All done. 

So some explanation.  The first thing to note is that the two use either a term of affection or esteem in addressing the other speaker.  The effect, however, is not that of expressing affection or esteem, but of patronizing the other speaker.  The downplaying is similar to scarequoting — you use the terms and even full locutions of endorsement, but put the marks around them in order to express exactly the opposite sentiment. 

"Cool story" and "Astonishing theory," are more strictly sarcastic.  Again, the strategy is to use the terms of esteem to express rejection, but one uses some cue to mark that one is flouting the rule of quality (tone of voice, or here, the toothy grin, wide eyes, and fonzie thumb).

The one thing that the first has over the second is that it is so curt.  The professor one requires more time and syllables, so it loses the quickfire element, which is part of the appeal of the strategy.