Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Empathy, Open-Mindedness and Virtue in Argumentation
by Caravello, Jonathan Anthony, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2018, 168; 10830334
Abstract (Summary)

Disagreements continue over the most basic epistemic questions. Which logic is correct? What makes an argument good? We need a theory that can both explain the prevalence of such disagreements and evaluate the conduct and characters of those who participate in them. I argue that formal theories cannot supply this need. Circular arguments demonstrate the failure of formal approaches. Circular arguments are often impeccable from a formal perspective, but circular argumentation is almost always criticizable. A skilled arguer does not dismiss other viewpoints out of hand. Instead, to reason with those who reject our most basic assumptions about the logic of argumentation itself or the norms we assume when evaluating arguments for cogency or coherence we must break out of the circle of our own opinions. We must exercise a capacity for cognitive empathy.

In chapter zero, I develop a virtue-theoretic account of argumentation centered around the virtue of open-mindedness. I analyze open-mindedness in Aristotelian fashion as the mean between skepticism and dogmatism. Open-mindedness consists in the skillful deployment of empathic ability, which is in turn understood as the capacity to simulate the perspective of another. I use this same framework to analyze two more specific applications of cognitive empathy: sincerity and creativity, which are both essential to responsible argumentation. Responsible argumentation requires sincerity in our forms of expression and creativity in our efforts to resolve those disagreements we must resolve for pragmatic reasons. When it is understood as a "master virtue," open-mindedness is a way of utilizing sincerity and creativity for appropriate ends, and it is the surest route to epistemic progress.

In chapter one, I apply my virtue-theoretic account of argumentation to a dispute over the fallacy of begging the question. According to Robinson (1971), question-begging is not fallacious because it’s fine from a formal perspective. Sorensen (1996) replies that question-begging is fallacious because it compromises the rationality of whoever is begging the question. By advancing the dialectic between Sorensen and Robinson, I aim to show that our argumentative practices must take the perspectives of others seriously, whether or not those perspectives are rational. When you beg the question against someone you fail to empathize with her. A tendency towards circularity of various sorts might be inevitable, but it needn’t compromise open-mindedness.

In chapter two, I examine the connection between dogmatism and disagreement to address ongoing debates over the proper response to peer disagreement. How should we respond when we find ourselves disagreeing with a colleague or epistemic peer? According to the “equal weight view,” we should suspend belief in this kind of case. I defend this ideal from two charges: (1) that it is self-undermining, and (2) that it renders its adherents “spineless.” Even widespread disagreement amongst peers wouldn't force those who endorse the equal weight view into persistent agnosticism. We needn’t compromise conciliation and cooperation, even when we find ourselves arguing with dogmatists who reject these cognitive virtues.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Zimmerman, Aaron
Commitee: Falvey, Kevin, Tsouna, Voula
School: University of California, Santa Barbara
Department: Philosophy
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 80/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Epistemology, Ethics, Philosophy
Keywords: Circularity, Disagreement, Dogmatism, Empathy, Open-mindedness, Self-defeat
Publication Number: 10830334
ISBN: 9780438417410
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