Friday, February 3, 2012

The Value of a Good Argument

What I appreciate most about Deborah Mower's perspective on civility in politics and education is her emphasis on the idea that being civil does not mean suppressing disagreements.  Instead, it's all about pursuing them in thoughtful, serious ways.  As we discussed in the interview, people too often think that challenging someone else's ideas is inherently rude, and so we shy away from argument. The key is, rather, to learn how to argue well, to construct an argument and defend a position on the basis of evidence and ideas, rather than on personal attacks, insinuations, and gut responses.

The difficulty, I think, is navigating between the ideal of a society in which people disagree in thoughtful, productive ways, and the reality of a culture that has come to rely heavily on exaggeration, character assassination, and digging in our heels.  The book she edited with Wade L. Robison, Civility in Politics and Education, presents a number of philosophical views on this, though as Mower acknowledges, philosophers often examine ideals of how people should think and behave.  In a culture of political attack ads and clearly divided news media, we often don't live up to those ideals.  Too many of us don't take our own responsibilities -- not only participants in arguments but also as audiences for political and civic debates -- seriously.  

No comments: