Paradox of the devil’s advocate Reply

By Aleksey Bashtavenko  of Academic Composition 

On Liberty” is widely regarded as a classic of political philosophy. Therein, John Stuart Mill argued that there is a fundamental similarity between scientific and political discovery. As Karl Popper evinced, scientific discovery must be falsifiable. In other words, science does not prove what is true, it only shows what is false. As a result, there is an evolution of knowledge where scholars routinely challenge each other to produce the strongest possible theories. By definition, science is an empirically informed academic metier and because of that, scientists can often refute one another’s findings by simply showing how they are not compatible with the tangible reality. As dull and monotonous as laboratory work may seem to the students of humanities, its saving graces are not to be underestimated.

On the other hand, theology and ideology are grounded in abstraction rather than experimentation. Just like scientists, theologians and political thinkers are passionate about their beliefs and that is why they are willing to devote a great deal of effort to justifying them. In stark contrast, the practitioners of the abstract disciplines cannot subject their views to a critical test in an environment where it is determined whether their views are compatible with reality. Due to this, theologians and political thinkers are much more vulnerable to the confirmation bias than the bona fide scientists.

John Stuart Mill was fully aware of this problem and he was quite disconcerted by the dogmatism of political philosophers and theologians alike. In light of the absence of comprehensive falsifiability of purely abstract ideas, it is all the more important to subject them to the most rigorous standard of proof possible. To do that, it is imperative for even the staunchest of believers to play “devil’s advocate” by forming the strongest possible arguments in defense of their own views. Only by virtue of such an exercise it will be possible for believers to regard their worldview as the “living truth” rather than as the dead dogma.

Mill went so far as to claim that although the Catholic Church was one of the most oppressive institutions of his day, the clergy always made it a point to play the devil’s advocate before inducting one of their peers into sainthood. By engaging in this exercise, the Catholic elites were able to find plausible reasons on which their beliefs were predicated and in turn, this strengthened their convictions. On the other hand, Christians of lesser distinction participated in rituals without understanding their significance and predictably, their beliefs degenerated into a “dead dogma”.

Today, liberal professors of humanities outnumber their conservative peers by a ratio of 12:1. Instructors of such disciplines who even  dare to question the orthodoxy face grave, if not career-ending consequences. In such scholarly milieus previously famed for their objectivity and scholarly neutrality, the act of questioning the liberal orthodoxy is just as risky as being openly gay was in the 1950s. Consequently, the academic environment has become an echo chamber where the ideological orientation of the academic left has become a dead dogma rather than a living truth.

In light of these developments, the professors of the humanities should not be surprised that even many of the moderate Democrats have refused to support Hillary Clinton. When they abandon their pedagogic duties in favor of their mission to indoctrinate students into the view that represents the consensus of the elites of their group,  they deprive even their staunchest supporters of opportunities to become true believers in their cause.

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