Sago Boulevard

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Reasonableness and Truth

It's important to distinguish between two concepts that are too often conflated in popular discourse. Confusing reasonableness with truth breeds rhetorical shouting matches where level-headed debate is appropriate and far more useful. Bill Vallicella draws attention to this distinction as it regards an issue particularly prone to this very confusion:
I maintain that atheism is reasonable. Calling a position reasonable, I simply mean that reasons can be adduced in its favor, reasons that are plausible and consistent with what we can claim to know. Of course, I also maintain that theism is reasonable since all sorts of arguments can be given for it, arguments that are valid in point of logical form and that feature premises that are plausible and consistent with what we can claim to know.

Since a position and its contradictory can both be reasonable, but cannot both be true, it follows that truth and reasonableness are distinct properties.

Taking to heart this relatively simple point would go a long way towards improving popular discourse - and probably even scholarly discourse as well.