Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Something like the Golden Rule

Stefan Collini, in his new, small book, That’s Offensive! Criticism, Identity, Respect:
Where arguments are concerned—that is, matters that are pursued by means of reasons and evidence—the most important identity we can acknowledge in another person is the identity of being an intelligent reflective human being. This does not mean assuming that people are entirely—or even primarily—rational, and it does not mean that people are, in practice, always and only persuaded by reasons and evidence. It means treating other people as we wish to be treated ourselves in this matter—namely, as potentially capable of understanding the grounds for any action or statement that concerns us. But to so treat them means that, where reason and evidence are concerned, they cannot be thought of as primarily defined by being members of the ‘Muslim community or ‘Black community’ or ‘gay community.’
Says Isaac Chotiner in his review of this book:
What is crucial here is the ability of people to evaluate and to criticize, and to not feel as if their doing so is given more or less respect based on the groups to which they belong. Their words do not gain force or lose force—or “credibility,” to deploy a nonsensical and overused term—because of their specific identities.
Collini's suggestion -- that we treat others in a high-minded way, as if they had the capacity to be reasonable, is a a good rule for engagement for Atheists hoping to engage believers in discussions critical of their beliefs. (As is DBAD).If you hold to that high standard, you can hardly be faulted if the other person backs out of the tete-a-tete. Hey, all you were doing was giving them the benefit of the doubt.