In the spirit of Martin Luther King, I have a dream! I have a dream that my philosophy students and myself might live passionately according to the following eight ethical principles:
Proposition 1: The intellectually honest critical thinker (IHCT) focuses not on the claim a person makes, but the argument by which the claim is supported.
Proposition 2: If the IHCT cannot demonstrate that the argument is invalid or unsound (deductive arguments) or weak (inductive arguments), then the IHCT will endorse the conclusion of the argument even if it requires them to relinquish long-held and cherished beliefs.
Proposition 3: The IHCT never dismisses a claim as being an “opinion” or “subjective”, but politely asks for an argument in support of the claim.
Corollary 1: The IHCT banishes the word “opinion” and “subjective” from their lexicon, as she knows that these words tend to invite her to ignore arguments supporting claims.
Corollary 2: The IHCT understands that theories explain facts, that facts were never theories and theories will never become facts, and that there are stronger and weaker theories depending on the support for the theory.
Corollary 3: The IHCT understands that a claim cannot be rejected because it is “just a theory”, and that the reason a theory never becomes a fact is not because it is less than a fact, but because it always maintains a structural relationship to facts such that it is an explanation of facts.
Scholium: Facts never “speak for themselves”, but are stupid, inert, and brute. It is only theories that make facts speak. A fossil in the earth is just a dumb fact. The theory of geology, the dating of strata, chemical decay, and evolution make this fact speak by coordinating it with a set of relationships that bring forth the how and the why. Far from being less than a fact, the production of theory is among the highest of human achievements.
Corollary 4: The IHCT knows that there are demonstrations through reason (e.g., mathematics) and demonstrations through observation and that observational evidence is not the sole means of “proving” or “demonstrating” a claim.
Corollary 5: The IHCT understands inductive, probabilistic reasoning and therefore understands that anecdote (single counter-examples) do not diminish the strength of an inductive argument (nor strengthen a weak inductive argument).
Proposition 4: The IHCT is prepared to provide arguments in support of claims she makes and not simply pull claims out of her ass and obstinately hold to them.
Proposition 5: The IHCT does not expect others to endorse or live by her claims when she lacks any supporting argument for these claims, and, lacking an argument, keeps such claims to herself, understanding that to make a claim public is to also enter the domain of what is public or what can be shared by others of completely different backgrounds and beliefs through reason and the capacity to observe the world (the only universally shared characteristics of humanity).
Proposition 6: The IHCT strives for humility, modesty, and a lack of ego, struggling to separate one’s sense of self-worth from the need to always be right.
Scholium: The IHCT understands that the failure to produce a good argument in support of a claim does not entail that she is stupid or worthless and that having a claim contrary to her own demonstrated, thereby overturning her own claim, actually improves her by bringing her closer to truth.
Proposition 7: The IHCT is charitable in her interpretation of the claims and arguments of others, striving to give them their most benign possible sense, avoiding the attribution of malicious motives, striving not to speculate about hidden motives, and providing missing premises where reasonable when they are not explicitly formulated.
Proposition 8: The IHCT loves truth, not what she would like to be true.
Alright, so such a dream is nearly impossible to live up to and would certainly put us at a deep disadvantage in a world such as ours, but one can still hope and strive.