Thursday, 26 July 2012

The vital importance of inferring motivation

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It is regarded (among rigorous rational people) as bad practice to use ad hominem arguments - attacking the man rather than his argument.

I have had this done to me, and found it maddening - people who know nothing about me imputing all kinds of false motivations and completely ignoring (or re-writing) the argument...

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Yet this kind of thing is probably necessary (as well as inevitable) because everything hinges on motivation.

Sometimes 'reasonable' ideas must be opposed because of the motivations of those proposing them - whether these are individual motivations or institutional motivations.

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The Left always does this - but the Right (especially the secular Right) has often been hampered by scruples against the ad hominem - however, I have come to believe that these are not really scruples, but an error.

Looking back at the long defeat of Christianity, we can see that the process was attained by an incremental series of many small steps, each of which was rationally defensible when viewed in isolation (and without making any assumptions about motivation).

Yet it is equally obvious as to the motivations of those who pursued these multiple incremental steps, that they knew exactly what they were doing: breaking-up the long term strategy into deniably-small stages, each stage ratcheting the next.

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(It is rather like a Gateway drug: each sin a person is persuaded to adopt, leads on to further sins, in order to be consistent with or justify the gateway sin.)

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So let's just drop the prohibition on ad hominem arguments, shall we?

When we know people or institutions are badly-motivated and aiming-at evil outcomes - then they should be opposed, even if what they are trying to do just now (considered in a specific context) seems to be pretty harmless.

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