• Jake
    781
    What are your thoughts on a legal or philosophical process of defending those assumed to be evil?

    As a quick example, let's take Charles Manson.

    LEGAL: I'm guessing we all agree such a universally hated person should have a defense attorney in court who argues for Manson's position, even if the attorney doesn't personally share Manson's point of view. If you don't agree with that principle, please report that.

    PHILOSOPHICAL: How does this situation change, if it does, if we jump from the legal to philosophical arena? Should philosophers seek to understand and articulate highly unpopular points of view, even if they don't personally share such perspectives? Or would doing so be an unacceptable insult to the victims?

    Philosophically speaking (not referencing forum policy) where is the boundary between what is acceptable to investigate, and what is not?
  • Jake
    781
    To refine and focus my question a bit...

    It seems philosophers can serve a useful function by exploring the boundaries of the group consensus, because what is widely assumed to be true is not always so, and correcting such mistakes seems constructive where possible.

    What are the limits of such a process? When should a potentially incorrect widely shared assumption be challenged, and when should it be left alone?
  • Michael Ossipoff
    1.5k
    Should philosophers seek to understand and articulate highly unpopular points of view, even if they don't personally share such perspectives?Jake

    No. If a position isn't popular, and you don't agree with it, then let it be advocated by people who do agree with it. There's already too much philosophical talk that doesn't express the speaker's actual position.


    It seems philosophers can serve a useful function by exploring the boundaries of the group consensus, because what is widely assumed to be true is not always so, and correcting such mistakes seems constructive where possible.

    What are the limits of such a process? When should a potentially incorrect widely shared assumption be challenged, and when should it be left alone?
    Jake

    Why should there be a limit on questioning a widely-held potentially-incorrect assumption (...that you don't agree with)?

    Speaking for myself (I've been questioning a widely-held metaphysical position), the only limit is the amount of time that can be spent on discussions.

    Michael Ossipoff
  • Jake
    781
    Thank you for engaging.

    There's already too much philosophical talk that doesn't express the speaker's actual position.Michael Ossipoff

    When it comes to philosophy, why is the speaker's personal opinion a matter of importance?

    Why should there be a limit on questioning a widely-held potentially-incorrect assumption (...that you don't agree with)?Michael Ossipoff

    Well, some perspectives are highly offensive to some people. As example, the victims of Charles Manson probably don't want to hear his side of the story, even if some person who is clever with words and ideas could make such a case.
  • Tzeentch
    50
    On such topics as good and evil there are a lot of people whose reasoning is hopelessly hypocritical. I'll find myself playing the devil's advocate often, not to defend the evildoer, but to expose their faulty reasoning.
  • Jake
    781
    On such topics as good and evil there are a lot of people whose reasoning is hopelessly hypocritical.Tzeentch

    Yes, agreed. What I'm attempting to here is apply the principle of challenge to my own desire to puncture such hypocrisy. Is such a process valid if it will serve only to get everybody upset and nothing meaningful will change as a result?

    I'll find myself playing the devil's advocate often, not to defend the evildoer, but to expose their faulty reasoning.Tzeentch

    That's one of my questions. Should the evil doer (as defined by the group consensus) receive a skilled one sided defense in court? We probably agree he should.

    It gets trickier when we move from the realm of law to the realm of philosophy. If a philosopher who is handy with words and ideas feels he/she can make an effective case for the actions of say, Manson, should they do so? Or, if such a case is so far outside of the group consensus that the most likely result will be little more than hysteria and conflict is such a philosophical exercise not actually logical after all?

    If a person feels they can make case XYZ, does it automatically follow that they should? Or is that taking philosophy too seriously?
  • Michael Ossipoff
    1.5k


    ”There's already too much philosophical talk that doesn't express the speaker's actual position.” — Michael Ossipoff
    .
    When it comes to philosophy, why is the speaker's personal opinion a matter of importance?
    .
    Because, though debates and rhetoric can be of interest, just for their own sake, discussion-space is unnecessarily cluttered if people argue for positions that aren’t theirs. Maybe that’s why philosophy hasn’t been getting anywhere. So I say, it’s better to pare it down to what we feel can truly, correctly and supportably be said. In in-principle-completely-describable metaphysics, that would be easy, if people were willing to abide by science’s desiderata in metaphysics. In such matters, I try to say only things that are uncontroversially-supportable.
    .
    ”Why should there be a limit on questioning a widely-held potentially-incorrect assumption (...that you don't agree with)?” — Michael Ossipoff
    .
    Well, some perspectives are highly offensive to some people. As example, the victims of Charles Manson probably don't want to hear his side of the story, even if some person who is clever with words and ideas could make such a case.
    .
    My metaphysical proposal seems to generate a lot of anger, but it isn’t intentional. I’m not trolling or chumming. But honesty calls for sometimes saying things that people won’t like.
    .
    As for moral topics, I avoid those, except when, a few times, I’ve mentioned that societal-improvement is quite impossible. People understandably want to have hope about it, and that hope has been expressed for many decades—and how successful have our best societal-improvement efforts been?
    .
    There’s nothing wrong with letting Charlie Manson have a good legal defense, because, when legal fairness is denied to the (at least perceived) guilty, that amounts to pre-judgment without a trial, whenever someone has a feeling that someone is guilty.
    .
    As for philosophers arguing in Manson’s favor, no there’s no reason to do so unless they believe what they’re saying.
    .
    Michael Ossipoff
  • Terrapin Station
    4.4k
    Well, some perspectives are highly offensive to some people.Jake

    Being offended is a problem for the offended in my view, not a problem for the offender.

    I look at it as akin to people having temper tantrums or road rage, say. If you're experiencing temper tantrums or road rage, it's not other folks' responsibility to walk on eggshells around you, to drive according to your whims, so that you don't launch into an explosive rage, get violent, etc. If you're experiencing those things and you do not want to, then you should get help for it.

    Legally, I agree with everyone getting the best defense possible.

    In terms of criminal justice, I also strongly disagree with the whole structure and philosophy of the prison system. I agree that there is a need to separate some people from mainstream society, but I think the way we separate folks a la the prison system, the things folks need to deal with in prison, etc., are immoral.

    Re philosophy, science, etc., I don't think that any knowledge, for knowledge's sake, should be considered taboo.

    And yeah, I think it's important to understand views you don't agree with. You should try to understand as much as you can in general.
  • WhiteNightScales
    9
    When it comes to philosophy, why is the speaker's personal opinion a matter of importance?
    When should it be considered ethically right to defense one's point with religion philosophy If a religion broken
    use, though debates and rhetoric can be of interest, just for their own sake, discussion-space is unnecessarily cluttered if people argue for positions that aren’t theirs. Maybe that’s why philosophy hasn’t been getting anywherMichael Ossipoff
    ntrums or road rage, it's not other folks' responsibility to walk on eggshells around you, to drive according to your whims, so that you don't launch into an explosive rage, get violent, etc. If you're experiencing those things and you do not want to, then you should get help for itTerrapin Station
  • andrewk
    1.6k
    The key difference is that one is a person, that many schools of philosophy (eg Kant) say is deserving of respect and fair treatment, no matter what they have done, and the other is an idea, which most people would feel has no such right.

    The two can come together if what you are thinking of defending in the second case is not an idea but somebody that has been vilified for supporting the idea. But in that case you don't need to support the idea. You could defend the person by pointing out that in other aspects of their life they are very kind, or that they had an unhappy childhood and that may be why they have adopted such a toxic idea.

    It's a bit like the old Catholic maxim - Hate the sin, not the sinner. Only here it's Hate the idea, not its proponent.
  • leo
    30


    I think the very label of evil is responsible in itself for a lot of suffering. Apposing that label to someone is used to justify doing the worst atrocities to them.

    If someone caused a lot of suffering to others, making him suffer only adds more suffering. Obviously we want to prevent him from creating more suffering, but we don't try to understand why is it that he came to do these things. We label as 'monster' or 'evil' as if to say, it can't be understood, it must be eliminated, it is not like us.

    But what if he was like us? What if his motivations were like ours, attempting to suffer less, the only difference being in his faulty beliefs about how to achieve it?

    From his appearance people say he was simply insane, but he said he was raped as a boy and that playing insane was his way to repel his aggressors so as not to suffer. Those we label as 'evil' are beings who feel, who suffer and who want to avoid suffering in their own way. And then they cause suffering. Suffering creates suffering in a vicious circle.

    If you read Mein Kampf, in the first few dozen pages you can see Hitler as an intelligent and sensitive man who wanted others to be happy, who wanted to reduce the enormous suffering that he was seeing around him. But then in looking for the source of this suffering he came to the faulty conclusion that the source was certain people who he came to see as evil, 'devils incarnate', 'monsters', who would bring about the extinction of human civilisation, and that he had to do everything in his power to fight them.

    His immense suffering and the suffering he saw around him led him to see some people as 'evil', which justified doing the worst atrocities to them for in his view he was saving human civilisation, doing 'good'. Suffering creates suffering, labeling as evil ends up creating more suffering, the only way to stop that vicious circle is to see those we label as evil as beings who suffer immensely, and to attempt to understand them, what is it they see and what led them to their faulty beliefs. Then you don't change these false beliefs with more suffering but with love.

    So to answer this question more directly:

    It seems philosophers can serve a useful function by exploring the boundaries of the group consensus, because what is widely assumed to be true is not always so, and correcting such mistakes seems constructive where possible.

    What are the limits of such a process? When should a potentially incorrect widely shared assumption be challenged, and when should it be left alone?
    Jake

    To me we shouldn't prevent any assumption from being challenged. You can't tell whether an assumption is incorrect unless you challenge it, and what if the solutions to problems we can't solve now were to be found in the assumptions we haven't challenged?
  • Gilliatt
    21
    a matter of fact.
  • Jake
    781
    The key difference is that one is a person, that many schools of philosophy (eg Kant) say is deserving of respect and fair treatment, no matter what they have done, and the other is an idea, which most people would feel has no such right.andrewk

    Thank you for engaging, and for making this distinction between the person and the idea. I probably should have done that from the start.

    To clarify my interest (in part for myself)...

    What interests me are assumptions that are taken to be an obvious given by the group consensus, but which upon closer examination may be discovered to be questionable, or even false. As example, the long held assumption that the Earth was at the center of the universe, an assumption which seemed entirely obvious and beyond question through a universally shared observation, but which turned out to be totally wrong.

    Generally speaking such challenges are entirely welcomed within philosophy, but....

    It would seem to get a bit tricky when such challenges touch upon highly charged moral issues. It gets further tricky when some have publicly staked out adamant positions in favor of a group consensus assumption. In such circumstances challenging a widely held group belief may serve little constructive purpose as the process of investigation may be swamped by hysteria etc. And so we come to...

    1) The challenge itself could possibly be entirely rational, but...

    2) The act of presenting the challenge may not be rational if doing do won't accomplish anything useful.

    It seems two forces are at play which will sometimes contradict each other.

    On one hand, the group needs shared assumptions to hold it together, and such assumptions may be serving a useful purpose even if technically they are not fully logical. Religion comes to mind as an example.

    On the other hand, the group also needs to be protected from placing too big of a bet on assumptions which are not aligned with reality.

    I don't really have a big point here, I'm just exploring. In the past (and often present too) I would challenge something with enthusiasm just because I could. Part showing off, and part sincere belief in philosophy.

    Given that I'm in to challenging, I'm in the process of challenging that. I'm thinking of hunters who go out in the woods and kill things just because they can. Maybe it's sometimes wiser to just leave well enough alone.
  • Terrapin Station
    4.4k


    Just wondering if something was accidentally left out of that last post of yours.
  • praxis
    881
    On one hand, the group needs shared assumptions to hold it together, and such assumptions may be serving a useful purpose even if technically they are not fully logical. Religion comes to mind as an example.

    On the other hand, the group also needs to be protected from placing too big of a bet on assumptions which are not aligned with reality.
    Jake

    A child or otherwise ignorant individual may need to rely on the security and guidance of a shared belief system because they don’t have a good grasp of ‘reality’. An adult may have a better grasp of who they are, what they value, their purposes in the world, etc.

    Thinking for yourself can at first feel disorienting until you get your bearings, I imagine.
  • LD Saunders
    314
    There is some Jewish saying, although I can't think of the exact words, but it basically involves the following idea: If one argues for the purpose of discovering the truth, then the argument is legitimate. On the other hand, if one argues with the purpose in mind of simply being disruptive, then the argument is considered immoral. To me, that makes sense, and I have found myself at times making arguments solely to get back at someone, and I try to stop myself from engaging in such conduct.

    In any event, I would say the motive of the person does matter, and a person who is asking what seems to be an offensive question, if they are truly interested in learning the truth, then that person should definitely be allowed to ask those questions and should not be shunned in any way. It's the person who knowingly lies, and distorts facts, to promote a biased position, that people need to expose as morally corrupt people.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.7k
    we all agree such a universally hated person should have a defense attorney in court who argues for Manson's position,Jake

    I don't know what Charles Manson's 'position' was or what "his side of the story" was, but isn't one function of the defense to assure that the defendant isn't railroaded? That the laws regarding evidence, testimony, conviction or acquittal are followed, that the judge's rulings are fair, and so on? (Are defense attorneys expected to believe their clients are innocent or only that they are defendable? I don't know.) It isn't so much that the defense has to buy into the thinking of the defendant.

    It seems philosophers can serve a useful function by exploring the boundaries of the group consensus, because what is widely assumed to be true is not always so, and correcting such mistakes seems constructive where possible.

    What are the limits of such a process? When should a potentially incorrect widely shared assumption be challenged, and when should it be left alone?
    Jake

    Philosophers do well to both explore the boundaries of group consensus and challenge the central content of group consensus when it appears to be faulty. Sometimes a consensus is assumed, such as "Free trade is good for everybody." Or, "A strong defense (including thousands of nuclear bombs) is essential to America's freedom." or "Diversity is inherently and always a good thing."

    In the examples, a thinking person (officially a philosopher or not) can reasonably question both the boundaries of consensus and the central idea.

    Any group consensus about "who we are" (whoever "we" is) usually makes for a rich field for philosophical examination. People (all 7+ billion of us) are prone to doing bad things, and we quite often do very bad things with enthusiastic abandon. Any group who thinks they are an exceptionally fine example of human niceness is probably flat-out lying to themselves.

    Calling into question a group's consensus about their fine niceness will never be popular, of course. Saying nice things about other people who thought they were nice, but about whom it is now agreed were not very nice at all, can get one in even more hot water. Can anyone say something nice about Mao's Cultural Revolution, for instance? We know Adolf & Co. is pretty much off limits for nice statements. There are some quarters where one can not say nice things about white Americans without causing offense. (We are, after all, as bad as, if not worse than Adolf & Co., according to some people.)

    Should the common self-images of group identity be challenged? It depends on how much one wants to live in peace. If one does a good job puncturing a faulty consensus, one will probably unleash a hornet's nest of disapproval.
  • andrewk
    1.6k
    I think specific examples are needed to be able to take this further. I get the impression that you have certain cases in mind where discussion has been stifled, or somebody that challenged the consensus view was shouted down. But I don't know what those cases are, and the specifics matter so much that one can't really talk general principles.

    Let me try an example of a case that I see. It used to be the medical consensus as well as the widespread common opinion that homosexuality was a mental illness, and that it could potentially be 'cured'. We have learned so much about this over the last fifty years, that hardly anybody holds that view any more and it is thoroughly rejected by all psychological and medical peak bodies. If anybody publicly argues that homosexuality is a mental illness in a developed country, they will most likely be roundly condemned.

    Is that a good thing? I think it is. And the same applies to denial of the Nazi genocide of Jews or claims that people of African descent are less intelligent than those of European descent. While open public discussion is generally a good thing, we need to balance that against the harm that is done by publicly stating certain opinions. That does not mean one could not discuss those things privately, and I'm sure most of the small group that hold such opinions do so amongst themselves. To expand on JS Mill's example of free speech, it's the difference between shouting 'Fire' in a crowded theatre and quietly asking one's neighbour 'Do you smell smoke?'.

    Let's bear in mind that the penalty for claiming that homosexual people are mentally ill is not burning at the stake, or even imprisonment. It is just social condemnation, and free speech principles are about legal punishment, not social condemnation. I would strongly oppose laws to criminalise denial of the the Nazi genocide despite my detestation of such denial, and most countries seem to share that opinion. Germany is a special case, for powerful historical reasons and, while I think their criminalisation of public denialism is unfortunate, I can understand why they consider it necessary.

    Those three examples are easy cases. There are more difficult ones, of which I think abortion and marriage equality are examples. In both cases, some (not all!) activists on one side often portray those on the other as inhuman, hateful monsters. I think it is profoundly unhelpful to call opponents of marriage equality homophobic, or opponents of abortion on demand misogynistic. But human nature being what it is, that unfortunately happens in debates that people care so deeply about.

    One thing philosophers can do is provide an example of the right way to publicly discuss these things. I particularly admire the way Peter Singer argues for abortion on demand calmly, rationally and compassionately, without demonising those that disagree with him, and despite the fact that those same people often demonise him, calling him a Nazi, a child-killer and worse. And I believe there are Christian philosophers on the other side of the debate that do the same (there's a name of one on the tip of my tongue, but it eludes me at present).
  • Bitter Crank
    6.7k
    o expand on JS Mill's example of free speech, it's the difference between shouting 'Fire' in a crowded theatre and quietly asking one's neighbour 'Do you smell smoke?'.andrewk

    Pedants on Patrol

    John Mill? I thought it was Oliver Wendell Holmes, US Supreme Court Justice in Schenck vs. United States; Holmes said that the defendant's speech in opposition to the draft during World War I was not protected free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The wording in the opinion is: "falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic". "Crowded" was added in common usage.

    Holmes, writing for a unanimous Court, ruled that it was a violation of the Espionage Act of 1917 (amended by the Sedition Act of 1918), to distribute flyers opposing the draft during World War I. Holmes argued this abridgment of free speech was permissible because it presented a "clear and present danger" to the government's recruitment efforts for the war.

    I don't know whether or when this decision was overturned.

    Now, did anyone ever falsely shout "fire" in a theater? As it happens, they did.

    Per Wikipedia (blessed be the site forever)

    Literal examples:

    People have indeed falsely shouted "Fire!" in crowded public venues and caused panics on numerous occasions, such as at the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall of London in 1856, a theater in New York's Harlem neighborhood in 1884,[1] and in the Italian Hall disaster of 1913, which left 73 dead. In the Shiloh Baptist Church disaster of 1902, over 100 people died when "fight" was misheard as "fire" in a crowded church causing a panic and stampede.

    Leave it to a Baptist hick to be unable to enunciate "fight" clearly enough so it didn't sound like "fire". Up with elocution lessons.

    If you quietly whisper "Do you smell smoke?" to your companion, she will leap to her feet and scream "FIRE!" -- at least, that is how it might happen in a grade B movie.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.7k
    I think the reality of transgender or transsexual identity has come to be a "false consensus". I have no data, so this is an off-the-cuff analysis. Initially [Christine Jorgensen, 1951] transsexuals were simply too much of a novelty or aberration to register. Later on (1960s-1970s) they became more familiar in the gay male community (whether M to F or F to M) because they received acceptance among their fellow pariahs.

    Now they have become a cause célèbre; whether that is a prelude to a consensus that being trans is OK, I don't know. But their cause célèbre status is more a function of media interests than a popular desire to accept what is still a concept with dicey PR aspects. At least, that's what I observe here in the Midwest US.

    There were trans people in the 70s, 80s, and 90s who transitioned and pursued a professional life. They generally suppressed information about their sexual status, but didn't deny it when asked. Today trans status is much more forward, demanding recognition and acceptance.
  • Jake
    781
    I think specific examples are needed to be able to take this further. I get the impression that you have certain cases in mind where discussion has been stifled, or somebody that challenged the consensus view was shouted down. But I don't know what those cases are, and the specifics matter so much that one can't really talk general principles.andrewk

    Yes, I agree, it would be better to move on to particular cases. Nothing has been stifled or shouted down, though that is a likely outcome of some topics I might chose to explore. But I'm not worried about that. I'm very used to being stifled and shut down and it doesn't really phase me anymore. As example, I've probably been banned from every Catholic and atheist forum I've ever visited. Just another day at the office.

    I'm more questioning the value of challenging the boundaries of the group consensus. I'm wondering what such challenging actually accomplishes beyond conflict.

    I have a strong emotional and intellectual bias in favor of exploring the boundaries of the group consensus. Emotionally, I feel I have a knack for such nerdy operations, and it feels good (ie. ego inflation) to exercise an ability. Intellectually, I find it fascinating in those cases when widely shared assumptions taken to be an obvious given can be dented. But these biases don't automatically equal such challenging to be rational.

    While open public discussion is generally a good thing, we need to balance that against the harm that is done by publicly stating certain opinions.andrewk

    Yes, that's much of what I'm wondering about. If open public discussion doesn't actually accomplish anything beyond conflict can it still be labeled rational, even if the arguments presented are themselves rational? I'm trying to disentangle these two factors.
  • Jake
    781
    Should the common self-images of group identity be challenged? It depends on how much one wants to live in peace. If one does a good job puncturing a faulty consensus, one will probably unleash a hornet's nest of disapproval.Bitter Crank

    Thank you for understanding my life. :smile:

    I actually thrive on the hornet's nest of disapproval. In many cases it's been me against an entire forum and that can be an engaging challenge. But what is the point of stirring up the hornet's nest really? I'm less sure these days. I can live in peace while stirring up hornet's nest, but am I accomplishing anything that is worth disturbing the peace of others?
  • andrewk
    1.6k
    John Mill? I thought it was Oliver Wendell Holmes, US Supreme Court Justice in Schenck vs. United StatesBitter Crank
    Aaarrgh! You are right.

    Let this be my first public apology of the day. And it's not yet noon here.
  • macrosoft
    511
    .
    I'm more questioning the value of challenging the boundaries of the group consensus. I'm wondering what such challenging actually accomplishes beyond conflict.Jake

    I think that's why people form different friend groups, religions, and intellectual camps. If they can't agree on the ground rules, then communication breaks down. If certain ideas are outright prohibited and silenced, then clearly we'll get a schism. I suppose challenging the boundaries is likely to be most effective exactly on the line where the group as a whole is unsure whether to prohibit that talk. These troublemakers hold the space open, as if they were stretching out something that has a tendency to contract.
  • praxis
    881
    I can live in peace while stirring up hornet's nest, but am I accomplishing anything that is worth disturbing the peace of others?Jake

    I'm curious what the circumstances have been for you.

    I've engaged this sort of thing in religious based forums, but where I differ from you is in that I was interested in fleshing out my own ideas rather than stirring the nest for no constructive reason. And because I had a reason and investment, I wasn't fully in peace, it took a toll.
  • Jake
    781
    Does this help?

    1) Is it rational to challenge a group consensus with reason if that group consensus was not formed by reason?

    2) To what degree is any group consensus formed by reason?

    What I see is that almost every group consensus will probably claim it is formed by reason, but then it can typically be ripped to shreds through a process of reasoned challenge.
  • leo
    30
    Deep down any rational justification is based on a feeling. Whatever rationality we come up with to justify acting in some way to reach a goal, that goal itself came from a feeling, a desire. If the formulation of the goal was attained rationally then that goal is a rational step in order to reach an end goal which itself stemmed from a feeling.

    So any group consensus on how we should act was deep down formed by a feeling and not by reason alone. Our deep desires do not have any rational justification, they just are. You can't rationally challenge someone's will to live. There are limits to reason.

    What you can challenge is whether a group consensus is an efficient way to reach a goal stated by the group. But then both the group and you are faced with the limit of induction, how do you know the world isn't going to suddenly disappear the next second? How do you know the 'laws' of the universe aren't suddenly going to stop working the next second? So there's always some belief in any such consensus, that you can always rationally attack, but that's not always productive neither for the group nor for you.
  • TWI
    97
    If, as I keep stating, God is playing the part of everyone, then your enemy is really you in a different guise. If that is indeed the case then rather than hating the enemy, (yourself!) then you need to keep that identity in mind, don't defend your negative actions as that enemy, that would be encouraging the real you to be disfunctional.
  • Jake
    781
    I suppose challenging the boundaries is likely to be most effective exactly on the line where the group as a whole is unsure whether to prohibit that talk. These troublemakers hold the space open, as if they were stretching out something that has a tendency to contract.macrosoft

    Interesting, thanks! Holding the space open... Hmm...
  • Jake
    781
    A specific example was requested. I've put one on hold because I'm not sure the mods can handle it. So here's another example where I do the relentless challenge dance, while wondering if there's any point to it.
  • praxis
    881


    Priests swapping jobs with nuns? Pointless.
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