A comment made on ‘A Question For The Theologists’ has come under methodological criticism, and I think it better to state my defence here rather than in that strand of discussion because I would rather that strand continue discussing the theme than methodology.
Michael set out several charges against my comment. He charged that I added nothing, that I accused him of misapplying a word, and that I alleged that no other positions were being advocated. I am prepared to admit guilt on all three charges, but would like to present a brief defence.
Firstly, I am aware that my comment made no substantive contribution to the debate in comparison to the eristic presentations that had been going on. I have taken a methodological view that, though eristic may look impressive, it is not good philosophical practice. I would rather add nothing, in substantive terms, than advocate a position in an area that I am not entirely competent in. In such cases, I try to be somewhat Socratic in my method.
Secondly, I have in fact charged Michael with misapplying a word. This was not my intent. Michael stated at ‘January 31, 2006 3:33 pm’ that he was confused – probably in response to an earlier post – and then presented the following question “Now if you think, but are not sure, that god doesn't exist, and it matters, is this not agnosticism, rather than atheism?” From this I read that Michael had misunderstood the concept of agnosticism and wanted that concept clarified. It has been made apparent that I was wrong to read his comment in such a way, and that my response was inappropriate.
Thirdly, I did make the observation that no other positions were being advocated. I stand by that observation. The way I have been reading the strand of comments takes Michael as advocating a certain position that others have been attempting to critique. Yes, they have been doing this from their repsective positions, but it had been some posts in the thread since anyone else had advocated, as I take the term, a position.
Having answered my critic, I would like to make a few other comments and replies. Perhaps these should be located in the comments on ‘A Question’, but I will set them out here.
Firstly, I persist that Michael is using a poor conception of agnosticism. As he apparently ‘defined’ it, in the aforementioned question, it holds only a vague similarity to the concept as I defined it, which I assume to be the more common definition. This is only an assumption, but I’m yet to come across an agnostic who holds a Michael type view. Secondly, Michael, I have read Hicks. I dare say that Samuel has as well. The Philosophy of Religion, Second Edition is an introductory text on the philosophy of religion – not language – that has been on the PHIL1020 reading list, as well as on the Reason and Religion reading list. Thirdly, you may feel that imposing dictionary definitions on terms used in a discussion is poor form, but I take it to be good form because the terminology of your discipline is highly reliant on its practioners being able to understand each other. If you want to challenge a conventional concept, you need to establish that convention and then set out why it needs to be changed. This is how philosophy is practiced, not by simply asserting your prefered definition and hoping that all will accept. Chances are that they will not.
I wish to conclude with a proposal on how the discussions on Dialectic should be set out in the future. Having observed the practice of commenting, I think that in future comments should be limited to questions and clarifications of a specific post. Positions and critiques of posts should be presented as a new post. These posts should have a heading of the type ‘RE: ‘A Question For The Theologists’ I’ (or similar … I’m not fussy, and it is no longer my place to expound editorial policy). This would enable the advocacy of positions to be more apparent, and issues of clarification to carry on alongside discussions. The Becker-Posner Blog may be a model that can be adapted. How, and whether, this proposal works is entirely reliant on the practice of the contributors and the conventions that should evolve.
[I feel that I may be charged with excess for this post, or that some may claim it as a victory. To those who would charge the former, it probably is. To those who would charge the latter, you’ve not understood the post at all.]