By  Gary Gutting

As a philosophy professor, I spend much of my time thinking about the arguments put forward by professional philosophers. As a citizen (and an occasional columnist for The Stone), I also spend lots of time thinking about the arguments put forward by Democrats and Republicans on currently disputed political issues. Of course, there are differences in logical sophistication and complexity between the philosophical and the political arguments. But, allowing that popular political arguments require shortcuts from full academic rigor, there is not, I think, that much difference between the logical acumen of politicians and philosophers.

But there is one respect in which philosophers’ arguments are far superior to those of politicians. To be taken seriously, a philosophical argument has to begin from a thorough understanding of an opponent’s’ position and formulate the position so that it is as plausible and attractive as possible. Politicians, by contrast, typically load the dice by attacking the weakest versions of their opponents’ views they can find.

We could greatly improve the quality of our political debates if we simply held to the philosophers’ rule of understanding and charitably formulating our opponents’ views….

 

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Source: The New York Times

Gary Gutting is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and a leading authority on the work of Michel Foucault