Having taught a variety of philosophy courses in my less than traditional career, one of the ideas I am most committed to conveying to my students is that it is not good enough – not by a long shot – to simply be “right.” Quite the contrary: it is better to be mistaken for good reasons than to be “right” by accident. After all, even a broken clock is “right” twice a day, but that doesn’t make it a reliable timepiece. It takes a real commitment to inquiry and logic to be mistaken based on genuinely substantive reasons. And the most important difference is, of course, that if you are mistaken, but on the grounds of solid reasons, then that mistake can be rectified by finding and correcting the mistake in those reasons. Because if you are mistaken on the grounds of good reasons, then it is necessarily the case that the mistake is somewhere in those reasons.
This can be a tricky notion for younger persons to accept. (It is an especially tricky notion for narcissistic sociopaths of any age to accept. Consider, for example, Donald Trump … ) The notion that “being right” is the only thing that counts, regardless of how one achieves that particular form of “right”, is arguably a driving factor behind a great deal of plagiarism. But conclusions that are achieved in fashions that are not methodologically sound are not “conclusions” of any kind, they are dogmatically asserted bullet-points, as cognitively vacuous as mere barnyard noises. Not only do such things fail to advance inquiry, they actively impede inquiry. Continue reading