Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:
Sir Karl Popper, a very successful philosopher, once explained his success in the following words...
"This success of my endeavours was due, I believe, to a rule of method: that we should always try to clarify and to strengthen our opponent's position as much as possible before criticising him, if we wish our criticism to be worthwhile"
This sounds pretty obvious, I well remember David Braddon Mitchell saying much the same thing almost as an aside in the first few weeks of Stage 1 Metaphysics, but as Michael Cloud says "obvious means overlooked", and in philosophy overlooking this simple maxim is entirely to your detriment. More than any other discipline, philosophy is about arguments. Sometimes putting forward novel ones of your own, but more often than not examining the arguments of others. If you don't examine other people's arguments correctly you will simply be marked down, no matter how innocently. It's no different from transposing a number in maths.
The thing about philosophy is that it is a sort of universal acid, it seeps through everything. The skills one learns in philosophy, of analysis, of spotting logical fallacies, of skillful argumentation, can be used pretty much anywhere there is a need for analysis, argumentation, or the spotting of logical fallacies. Simply put, if giving your opponent the best shot at being right is good enough for a debate in philosophy, then it is good enough for politics, economics, history, physics, biology, anything.
Unfortunately, The Blogosphere and Karl Popper's quote are alien to each other.
Take the recent furore over txt speak in exams. In both of the previous links not only the bloggers, but many commenters simply got stuck in to NCEA without any attempt to analyse just what the decision entailed, and if there was a strongest argument that could be put forward for allowing text speak to be used (incidentally something I did try to do, as did Hewligan)
Now, go back to the Popper quote, and read it again. What is the most important word?
It is the last one he uses.
If you do not give your opponent at least the courtesy of a decent showing, then your criticism is not worthwhile, and you are wasting your time. Why? Because those you are arguing against will simply say "that's not my argument" and ignore you. You have wasted your time.
Let's take a look at another example of this happening in practice, and since I have already criticised a right winger and a libertarian we'll look a left winger now, namely the blog of Jordan Carter. Around a month ago now, Jordan complained
that his views were not taken seriously, that he was seen as simply a mouthpiece for the Labour Party and so on.
Jordan thought the reason for this was because the views he put forward were the same as those of the Labour Party, or because he doesn't comment on certain things, but to my mind both of those are irrelevant. Even if Jordan only comments on certain things, and if the things he comments come from a (well argued) Labour Party line, he would deserve to be taken seriously. Jordan's problem is that he simply does not give his opponets any weight. As is evidenced by this post where he labels the National Party as being dedicated to reshaping New Zealand's society and economy in a direction of less fairness, less opportunity and more inequality and poverty.
This is not the stuff of worthwhile criticism. No matter what you think of the National Party, the best case to be made for them is not that of a bunch of people sitting around thinking of ways to wreck New Zealand.
It might be said that I am missing the point. Jordan might not give a shit what people think of him, and he might be using his blog as a bit of catharsis, letting raw emotion and raw opinion off his chest, and saving more refined analysis for other forums. That is fair enough - but given the post he did complaining that people didn't take him seriously I don't think my criticism has been misplaced. If you are not interested in your criticism's "being worthwhile", then Popper's maxim doesn't apply to you - no big deal.
I should also point out that I'm not just having a go at Jordan, although I might have focussed on him here, I could have picked anywhere from Sir Humphries, Tony Milne, or Martyn Bradbury (especially) to prove my point, amongst many others.
So how about a group effort to get The Blogosphere creating a little more light and a little less heat, and take some time to give your opponents a fair go. And here is the inevitable Monty Python reference for those who have made it through to the end.