Toward Intellectually Virtuous Discourse: Two Vicious Fallacies and the Virtues that Inhibit Them

In Jason Baehr (ed.), Intellectual Virtues and Education: Essays in Applied Virtue Epistemology. Routledge (forthcoming)
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We have witnessed the athleticization of political discourse, whereby debate is treated like an athletic contest in which the aim is to vanquish one's opponents. When political discourse becomes a zero-sum game, it is characterized by suspicions, accusations, belief polarization, and ideological entrenchment. Unfortunately, athleticization is ailing the classroom as well, making it difficult for educators to prepare students to make valuable contributions to healthy civic discourse. Such preparation requires an educational environment that fosters the intellectual virtues that characterize an examined life. This, in turn, requires an amicable and hospitable atmosphere in which a student enjoys the freedom to discover and articulate what she believes, how well her beliefs hang together, and what underlying assumptions or biases might be at work—without the fear that her self-disclosure will trigger immediate accusations and pigeonholing from fellow students. Educating for intellectual virtue is crucial for meeting these challenges and in this chapter we contribute to this strategy by offering some tools and guidance for promoting productive discussion of controversial issues. In the first two sections, we identify and explain two fallacious patterns of thought that often encumber discussion of controversial issues: assailment-by-entailment and the attitude-to-agent fallacy. In effect, these sections diagnose two diseases of discourse. We conclude each section with practical suggestions—in the form of thinking routines—for curing these ills. We will argue that part of the cure is to be found in the intellectual virtues. In particular, we will discuss how the virtues of intellectual charity, humility and carefulness can inoculate the mind against the fallacies we identify.
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