Monday, February 19, 2007

Bad philosophy

David Mills at Mere Comments gives us a nice example of bad philosophical argumentation for our dissecting pleasure.

To summarize Mills' argument: Secular colleges and universities have no "statement of faith". Some anonymous people at these secular colleges have prejudicially rejected "The Bell Curve" prior to scientific investigation, contradicting the unstated--and therefore probably partially incoherent--secular canons of free inquiry. Therefore, an explicit statement of faith is a desired characteristic of a religious university.

Let's have some fun counting all the things wrong with this argument.

First, of course, is Mills' reliance on anonymous sources. Naturally, I assume he's telling the truth, but by keeping his sources anonymous, he is not telling us enough of the truth to evaluate his argument. How high up in the academic hierarchy are these sources? Are they expressing their personal or professional opinions? What actual decisions have they made on the basis of their prejudice? How many of them are there?

Second, Mills is making a hasty generalization. The existence of some people within an institution is not a sufficient basis for generalizing their characteristics to the whole institution. One could easily find a dozen or so Marxist professors of political science, but to generalize from that sample to the conclusion that political science departments were therefore Marxist would be obviously fallacious.

Third, Mills does not consider that secular institutions might have a different paradigm about imposing institutional values on its members, a paradigm different from requiring members to explicitly adhere to an ideology and then attempting to root out deviance. The fact that Mills' sources do in fact remain anonymous is good evidence that there are values in the institutions which the sources are members of, and they know their personal prejudices contradict those values. Even unspoken, these institutional values are doing the job that Mills' expects of them; there is no need for inquisitions to root out the deviants.

Mills finally draws a non sequitur conclusion: Because secular individuals hold bad opinions, it is therefore desirable in religious institutions to explicitly state these bad opinions and enforce their orthodoxy: It's better, I suppose, to be consistently prejudiced.

(h/t to Mirror of Justice)

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