Substantive Philosophical Mistakes In Public Discourse

Substantive Philosophical Mistakes In Public Discourse


Public debate is rife with poor reasoning, with certain confused or erroneous claims popping up again and again to affect opinions and policies. Some of these are owed to an inability to understand statistics, some are owed to a lack of scientific understanding, and some are philosophical mistakes. Logic and critical thinking courses already take up formal errors in reasoning. But there seem to me to be certain substantive claims commonly bandied about that do not survive any kind of philosophical scrutiny. I’ve thought it would be fun to put together a course organized around such claims. One could hope (dream?) that if enough students took the course, the quality of public discourse would be improved.

Two candidates for the syllabus:

“We have a reason to not Greek Phi normal.svg because to Greek Phi normal.svg is to play God.”

“We have a reason to not Greek Phi normal.svg because to Greek Phi normal.svg is to interfere with nature.”

(Note: of course, to point out the mistakes in these claims is not to thereby argue that any normative reliance on God or nature is mistaken. Nor is it to say that there isn’t some idiosyncratic or tortured interpretation of these claims, distant from how they’re actually deployed, according to which they’re not mistakes.)

Relatedly, there’s a recent interview with Julian Savulescu (Oxford) at Nautilus on these topics. And, by the way, a good reading for the “playing God” claim is Fred Feldman’s “Playing God: A Problem for Physician Assisted Suicide?“. (Other suggested readings welcome.)

I imagine there are already some such courses like this in existence—if you teach one or know of one, feel free to share the details or link to syllabi in the comments, along with your suggestions for other claims that should be addressed in the course.

(image: detail from “Who Needs Donuts?” by Mark Stamaty)

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