On Disingenuity

by Chris_Leong1 min read26th Dec 20182 comments

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Suppose someone claims that all morality is relative, but when pressed on whether this would apply even to murder, they act evasive and refuse to give a clear answer. A critic might conclude that this person is disingenuous in refusing to accept the clear logical consequences of their belief.

However, imagine that there's a really strong social stigma against asserting that murder might not be bad, to the point of permanently damaging such a person's reputation, even though there's no consequence for making the actually stronger claim that all morality is relative. The relativist might therefore see the critic as the one who is disingenuous; trying to leverage social pressure against them instead of arguing on the basis of reason.

Thus in the right circumstances, each side can quite reasonably see the other as disingenuous. I suspect that everyone will have experienced both sides of the coin at different times depending on the issue being discussed.

This post was produced with the support of the EA Hotel

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The critic could respond that our only measure of a moral system is whether its conclusions agree with our intuitions, so we should find conclusions about which we have strong intuitions.

The relativist could respond that our intuitions are noisy and so we should use error-correcting heuristics like Occam's Razor and bounding the score impact of each intuition.

This seems trivially true. If there is social pressure that applies (especially if the conversation is public), then any utterance will be somewhat altered from the underlying true beliefs of the speaker.

It's worth reading some Leo Strauss, regarding esoteric writing which can be interpreted correctly by your intended audience but which will pass inspection by those who would punish the expression of such ideas. This is probably the standard starting point.