Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hurtado on representing the views of others

LARRY HURTADO: On Representing the Views of Others.
The following exhortation about representing the views of others is primarily directed to students and younger scholars. One of the aims I’ve striven for over the 40+ years of my scholarly work has been to represent the views of other scholars fairly, and especially those views with which I take issue.

There are some very useful observations in this post.

It is human nature that when we have strong views on a matter and we encounter disagreement — including thoughtful and well-reasoned disagreement — we tend to lapse into cognitive dissonance and create a caricature of the opposing view in our minds. This is the origin of the "straw-man argument," but the effect can be more subtle. This happens to everyone and it is very difficult to avoid.

One of the main purposes of blind peer-review is to ferret out and correct misunderstandings that arise from cognitive dissonance. It is an imperfect tool, but is one of the best ones we have. Professor Hurtado offers some other tools that he has found useful.

Let me add one of my own, which I got from the philosopher of science and epistemologist Karl Popper. When I set out to respond to a position with which I disagree, first I look for ways to make the case for that position stronger. Can weak arguments be reformulated more clearly and compellingly? Can I find any evidence that my opponent has missed which offers additional support to the case I want to refute? I try to make sure that I am responding not just to my opponent's case as presented, but to the strongest possible case I can formulate for my opponent's position. I find that this approach helps me process positions with which I disagree more receptively and with better comprehension. Try it. I think you will find it works.

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