Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Brief Methodological Note Regarding ‘February 1, 2006’ in ‘A Question For The Theologists’

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.]


michael said...

This all seems quite reasonable except for the bit about definitions of words.

Now I think this is a pertinent objection, for as you demonstrated by your objection, you knew precisely how I intended the use of the word in dispute. As such, I was rather good at getting my message across and there was no confusion. Why, then, should I use a different form of expression?

But I do stand by my secondary claim that there is precedent for using the word as I did.

Pete said...

What does 'eristic' mean?

Craig said...

A Brief Socialising Note.

[some, but not too many, apologies for posting this here]

Craig here again :) You lads want to catch up for a drink and a talk some time in the next fortnight? Possibly of an evening you are all free? Possibly chuck around some eristics? :) Andrew, my friend who also attended some of the philosophy club meetings last year, also expresses a desire to do so.

You can contact me on:



Right, carry on :)

MH said...

Firstly, Michael there is a fine but, to use your term, pertinent distinction between sight and hindsight; what is apparent on re-reading a comment is not necessarily apparent on first reading. My point; I did not find your expression clear on first instance, and perhaps I should have reconsidered it before my post. On re-reading your post – with the intention to demonstrating that your charge was unfounded – I found that my reading had missed the rhetorical device. Put plainly, you were not good at getting your message across if the mistaken reading could be made in the first place. You, however, may express yourself as you choose (though I, personally, find it hard to establish what you are claiming on occasions).

Secondly, Michael I am not trying to claim that there is no ‘precedent’ for your use. I simply hold that I am yet to come across either an agnostic or a treatment of agnosticism that would characterise their position in the way that you have (or as you do in ‘An argument to be held in stories’ – my lack of comment there is due to a disinclination to engage on the theme at present). This makes your view appear, from my perspective, unconventional and in need of justification when considered in contrast to what I consider a more conventional view. Now, if you can cite the authorities that you are reliant on for your precedent (because precedent is reliant on authority, as any law student can tell you), I will consider them, but I will stand by my conception until such time as it is demonstrated to be inaccurate.

Thirdly, Peter the definition I would like to cite is in the ‘Introduction’ to the most recent edition of the Penguin ‘Early Socratic Dialogues’ (page thirty-two): “aggressive conversation using any and every verbal manoeuvre simply in order to win arguments, without regard for the truth”. It was probably harsh of me to make such a generalisation of the style being employed by various contributors though I felt it was apt at that time. I apologise for any undue offence.

Finally, I have to admit that these were not the comments I had expected. I would rather discuss the proposal and whether it is to be undertaken.

michael said...

I'm "not good at getting [my] message cross if the mistaken reading could be made in the first place". If this is valid, then society is lacking, far more then they are aware, in those good at getting their message across.

In terms of justification I'm holding to usefulness in the situation.

Having thought about it, if you seperate responses to posts from the relevant posts then I think following the discussion could become somewhat blurry, particularly considering the size of some of the discussions.