Intellectual Dishonesty

I don’t have a specific target here, other than maybe myself.

What I notice over time is that we find justification for whatever we’ve already decided we’d like to be true. This is a subtle process and not as crass as simply saying “This is what I believe to be true, now I’m going to cobble together some evidence to support it.”

But, that’s still basically what occurs. What fascinates me here is our ability to lie to ourselves; our easy readiness to treat honesty—even with ourselves!—as a nice, but unrealistic, idea.

This is why I often find it very hard to take academic argumentation very seriously. That includes my own arguments. Is there a way to recognize this propensity and still vigorously participate in the academic life? Or is the academic life a sham?

6 responses to “Intellectual Dishonesty”

  1. Matt,
    I agree, but would throw out the necessary configuration of a hermeneutics of suspicion, which needs to have a rightful place in both our lives and our academic work.

    No doubt the academic life can be a sham, but it doesn’t have to be, if we’re open to learning new and better views than we have already, and acknowledging that we can be wrong.

  2. Greg: You are, of course, quite correct. I get a little jaded sometimes, but I wouldn’t be in school if I didn’t believe that this stuff can be done well.

  3. Matt,

    I think what you are dealing with is biological at it’s roots. There is ample psychological evidence that suggests that we percieve and judge information and situations long before we think about them in a rational way. It seems that it is part of being human and on an evolutionary level, necessary for survival.

    This mental instinct does gum us up in the academic world and I think Gregg is right when he says that we have to be willing to acknowledge that we could be wrong and most likely are in a lot of cases. Or at the very least, not to assume and present ourselves with more authority than expressing our opinions warrants.

  4. Thanks for the comment Paul.

    That’s an interesting perspective, as I tend to usually be hesitant to resort to biological explanations, as they’re often used in a reductionistic manner that essentially removes any responsibility for our actions from us.

    That being said, however, I believe that this is a key piece of the puzzle. I’ll have to keep mulling this one over.

  5. As a graduate student in philosophy, this post hits home. One of the things that I dislike about my discipline is that philosophers are very prideful – they think they have the right argumentation and can argue you into believing they do. When it turns out that they are wrong, they stick to their guns and defend their view to the death. If they don’t they garner a reputation for being wishy-washy and not very principled, as is the classic case of Hilary Putnam.

    The best way I have discovered to keep myself honest and humble as a Christian Philosopher is to ask myself, in a stereotypically Christian way, “If Jesus is the Truth, how does my argument point towards the Truth?” That doesn’t mean that every argument is about God – what it does mean is that any argument I make ought to be one that has Truth in mind. If it doesn’t, then I’m not being a very good philosopher, and I’m not being an honest Christian.

  6. Hi Peter

    Thanks for your comment, and your honesty. One of the things that frustrates me about my inclination towards philosophy is that I keep changing my mind about so many things!

    If only I knew the difference between faithfulness and pride…

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