Monday, March 10, 2008

Statement of Purpose

Everybody cares about political and moral issues, but very few people treat them carefully. Debate about such issues too often results in a lot of anger, hatred, insults and invective.

In particular, people don't know how to reason properly -- that is, how to support or defend their beliefs with good arguments, rather than flawed ones. Also, people don't often appreciate that there are many morally worthwhile goals, goals which often compete with one another. We're often pushed in different directions by different moral considerations. Often, in order to do one good thing, we must often give up on another.

We frequently do a great deal of harm when we debate moral and political issues.

This is most apparent in our treatment of those with whom we disagree. We think that our own positions are so obviously and straightforwardly correct that we are stunned that someone could think otherwise. We are are quick to conclude that anyone who disagrees with us must be selfish, stupid, or somehow deficient. Otherwise how could they hold an opinion different from our own?

Once this sentiment is spoken out loud, it offends the people it is aimed at, and they retaliate in kind, and the debate will be poisoned. So no progress gets made on that topic, and the trading of insults also stunts discussion on other topics, and resentment lingers.

Too often, we engage in these tactics that incite the worst in others, as well as ourselves. And, in doing so, we encourage the people we offend to defend themselves using the same tactics we use against them. And then we reply in kind, and we all get caught up in an unproductive cycle of name-calling, ad hominem argument, demonizing and exaggeration, etc. Each side, trying to do what it believes to be right and good, becomes more desperate in the face of an opponent that seems to be willing to use any tactic to thwart progress. And so each side believes it must use any means necessary to stop the other side, denouncing their opponent for doing the same sort of thing they themselves are doing.

Such 'debate' -- if it can truly be called that -- only incites our hatreds, and does little to increase our understanding of the moral choices we face. It harms our character as individuals and as a society, and does not move us toward better government.

You don't create good government by creating bad people.

The purpose of The Civil Debate Page is to point out the errors that distract us from understanding the real issues and choices we face in life, morality and politics. By revealing these errors, we can engage in debate that raises our understanding and improves our character. This is the best way to improve our government and our society.

Civility doesn't mean giving up on what you believe and compromising and being bipartisan for the sake of getting along. Civility doesn't mean not criticizing ideas that you disagree with. Civility means standing up for what you believe without resorting to disrespectful or unproductive behavior. Civility is like being a good sportsman and engaging in fair play: you play for one team and try to beat other teams, but you don't cheat in order to win.

The Civil Debate Page is divided into several sections that address different aspects of this mission.

The Why Do People Disagree on Politics & Morality? section explains why the answers to moral controversies are difficult to find, and why we frequently face moral dilemmas.

The Moral Considerations section lays out moral goals, values and concepts that are common to us all, and that factor in to various moral and political issues.

The Logic and Good Reasoning section gives information on how to reason successfully (i.e., in a way that preserves truth).

The Evasion, Faulty Reasoning, Name-Calling, and Rhetoric sections point out behaviors that can stand in the way of productive, civil debate. They try to sort out and explain what behavior good or bad, and to provide examples.

The Applied Issues section deals with current moral and political controversies, explaining what moral considerations are at play in the particular controversy.

Ultimately, I hope that The Civil Debate Page will lead people to a greater understanding of what morality and good reasoning involves, and discourage them from simply disparaging those with whom they disagree.

Life is difficult and contentious enough without creating needless animosity.

No comments: