Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quote Of The Week: Ken White of Popehat”

This excellent comment requires no introduction, just reading. 

Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment Of The Day on the post, “Ethics Quote Of The Week: Ken White Of Popehat”:

One thing I have noticed on those rare occasions when I truly listen to someone whose viewpoint is diametrically opposed to my own is that I discover there are indeed legitimate points being made and legitimate concerns that need to be heard. That doesn’t mean that I experience a paradigm shift. I will still believe that opposing viewpoint is incorrect, but at the same time I discover that my understanding of that opposing view was actually wrong.

There’s a great deal of satisfaction in being right, and I confess that at times I am more concerned with being right than with listening to someone whom I think is wrong. But there may be much more to the desire to be right than mere ego. Our brains are wired to find the simplest and easiest course. We learn actions that can then be performed by rote, without even thinking about them. That is why we find ourselves, upon walking into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator door and staring at food for five minutes before we recall we really entered the kitchen to find a flashlight. Our brains have developed a pattern that says: “enter kitchen, open fridge”. Having the right answer is a great thing, for our brain can discard all else and hold onto that right answer. It is easier. Simpler. Life now makes sense and we can proceed with cataloguing the more important details in life (the current Kardashian scandal or the names of all the Pokemon and their evolutions).

Being challenged in our right answers is uncomfortable. It can be especially distressing when someone presents us with a set of facts that, at least on the surface, contradict our right answers. We have two choices when confronted with such a challenge: we can either try to hone our own arguments, or we can retreat and try to insulate ourselves from further confrontation. We’ve seen quite a bit of the latter. We develop little adages about how it is impolite to discuss religion and politics — the two most important areas of life, and the two areas most likely to spark an argument. We surround ourselves with like-minded people, listen to the news that most appeals to our viewpoints, and never venture outside the echo-box. Certainly all these tactics are easier than constantly assimilating new arguments, researching new theories and developments, stringing together logical narratives, and perhaps even adjusting our own viewpoints when our conclusions lead us to recognize errors in our previous judgments.

I’ve read a little bit recently on St. Thomas Aquinas, and in reading I gained a peek into life in the universities of the thirteenth century. Students did not come to a university to attend lectures. They essentially apprenticed themselves to a master, who then did not teach so much as dialogue. They demanded that their students ask questions and find answers themselves. I read an account of how universities would host open debates, and the masters would throw their students into the ring to answer the challenges and objections people would raise. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Humorist Dave Barry


Humorist Dave Barry managed to find sufficient humor in 2016 to write his annual satirical year-end review and not fail to reach the high standards he has set for himself in this endeavor for about four decades. That would be justification enough for making the 69-year-old writer 2017’s first ethics hero, but there is more.

Most striking, perhaps, is that the column is both funny and fair. Unlike virtual all topical satire today, it does not take sides, nor show partisan bias. Some of this may be related to the fact that Barry is a self-proclaimed libertarian (perhaps explaining why his long piece did not exploit the humor potential in the campaign of the ridiculous Gary Johnson, or even more, surprising, the fat naked guy running around the podium at the Libertarian convention), but most of it springs from his possession of basic integrity as well as an impressive absence of bias. This distinguishes Dave Barry from such alleged comics and satirists as Samantha Bee, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Amy Shumer, Chelsea Handler, Chris Rock, Seth Myers, Sarah Silverman, Bill Maher, John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, Trevor Noah, and the Saturday Night Live writers, all of whose point of view can be fairly summarized as the belief that if a Democrat, progressive or President Obama has ever done anything foolish or ridiculous, there’s probably a good reason for it.

This remarkable trait, now almost extinct but once known as “an open mind,” allows Barry to write such passages as..

And we voters did our part, passing judgment on the candidates, thinning the herd, rejecting them one by one. Sometimes we had to reject them more than once; John Kasich didn’t get the message until his own staff felled him with tranquilizer darts. But eventually we eliminated the contenders whom we considered to be unqualified or disagreeable, whittling our choices down until only two major candidates were left. And out of all the possibilities, the two that We, the People, in our collective wisdom, deemed worthy of competing for the most important job on Earth, turned out to be …

… drum roll …

… the most flawed, sketchy and generally disliked duo of presidential candidates ever!

Yes. After all that, the American people, looking for a leader, ended up with a choice between ointment and suppository…

and Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Philosophy Professor Peter Boghossian

"Hmmm. OK, now THIS seriously undercuts some of my strongly held beliefs..."

“Hmmm. OK, now THIS seriously undercuts some of my strongly held beliefs…”

“We’ve taught, “Formulate your beliefs on the basis of evidence.” But the problem with that is people already believe they’ve formulated their beliefs on evidence — that’s why they believe what they believe. Instead, what we should focus on is teaching people to seek out and identify defeaters.

What is a defeater? A defeater is: If A, then B, unless C. C is the defeater. We should teach people to identify conditions under which their beliefs could be false.”

Peter Boghossian, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Portland State University, who studies critical thinking and moral reasoning, in a wide-ranging interview with  Malhar Mali

He continues, Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Dear Harvard: Fire President Drew Faust And Dean Rakesh Khurana”

Polar bear snowstorm

Not a comment on the post so much as on the underlying conditions that spawned it, Ethics Alarms reader Chris Bentley weighed in on the lack of ideological diversity on campus and the fact that many leaders both educational and political think that’s just fine. The key  question: do you listen to an argument against what you may believe with an open mind, or a closed one? The ethical answer is “Open,” but the predominant mindset on college campuses believes there isn’t any question to that effect.. Wrong is wrong, and the Left is Right, so the the only question is, “Do you allow those with wrong ideas speak at all?”

It is terrifying that universities, of all places, would ever consider that issue unsettled in the United States of America.

Here is Chris Bentley’s Comment of the Day inspired by the post, Dear Harvard: Fire President Drew Faust And Dean Rakesh Khurana:

“They know best, after all.”

Only a tertiary connection to the topic, I know, but I just got done listening to Obama’s Howard Univ. speech. While there is no doubt that he is a captivating orator, one thing kept striking me. The repeated refrain to the students, that they needed to “listen” to those that they disagree with, and not try to have speakers who think differently from you banned from campus, b/c, as his grandmother used to say “Don’t do that…Every time fool speaks they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk.”

Continue reading

Unethical Mindsets: “You Can’t Be A Feminist If You’re Anti-Abortion”


I don’t know how I ended up on the Bea Magazine site, but I did, and I made the mistake of reading an article and a comment thread on the topic of whether feminists can be “pro-life,” or anti-abortion, if you aren’t a fan of euphemisms. As I expected, but not as I hoped, the consensus was that indeed, opposing abortion requires one’s ejection from the feminist tent, at least in the view of this particular cadre of feminists.

“Brillliant Nora Ephron,” the post by Diane notes, wrote that “You can’t call yourself a feminist if you don’t believe in the right to abortion.”  Well, Nora wasn’t so brilliant that day, because this is classic backward reasoning. It is framing reality by using ideology, the crystallization of confirmation bias into its most dangerous, poisonous and historically destructive form. It embraces the statement, “my mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts.” Indeed, it requires that facts be seen, filtered and interpreted through a pre-existing template that requires and then dictates a given result. Continue reading