Nemonic Analysis

March 2, 2012

Over on the most excellent Feminist Philosophers blog, there was an extended thread wherein some aspects of one commenter’s (Nemo) contributions seemed (to me and several others) to be problematic from some feminist points of view. In a prior thread, I asked whether Nemo was trolling and was assured the contrary. In this thread, other people felt that Nemo was, in fact, trolling from an anti-feminist perspective. At this point, the train clearly was in the ditch. A bit later, I tried to recount my experience of the earlier parts of the thread wherein I was trying to keep charity toward Nemo at least in my behavor, but I couldn’t help feeling that something was off. The key bit:

That bit raises some interesting questions about niceness (perhaps another thread?), but also about credulity. Just as we might consider that Johnson’s normative expectations might influence her predictive expectations (esp. if she habitually lives in a situation where they are aligned or if commonly held beliefs about appropriate behavior around funerals were strong enough to dominate), I think that our assessment of the plausibility of explanations for her behavior also are strongly guided by our normative expectations. So, for example, a pretty basic normative expectation in many feminist contexts is treating women’s claims as good evidence, being inclined to non-insanity readings of their behavior, and not neglecting the surrounding context including not taking e.g., male behavior as by default unproblematic. My interpretation of Nemo’s mental model lying behind the “wondering what she was thinking” — backed up by the interactions we had — strongly suggest to me that these expectations are met. At least, I have a hard time explaining the exchange without giving up all three.

Nemo replied in a way that makes me want to explicate the bits of their posts that led me to my mental model. But I don’t want to do it in that thread (since I’ve dominated that enough). But I have a blog! Win-win! So, here goes. Hi Nemo! You wrote:

Bijan, I would like to say that I’m unaware of any grounds for inferring that I accorded any less evidentiary value to Johnson’s claims on account of her sex or her sexual orientation as such, or for that matter her posture as the complainant here. I would be very vexed to discover that I had done so.

I didn’t say that you accorded any less evidentiary value to Johnson’s claims on account of her sex or her sexual orientation as such. I said, “treating women’s claims as good evidence”. It’s very clear, I hope you agree, that you did not treat her claim about her own psychological state as good evidence for her psychological state. Indeed, your skepticism about her claims survived a huge amount (in my estimation, of course) of contrary evidence.

In may be that e.g., you’re cynical about human motivations or e.g., you think that people normally obsessively think about the rules of institutions they encounter or e.g., you think that lesbian Catholics in the US encounter enough Catholic harassment that they normally are hypersensitized to the possibilities of more harassment. Of course, you didn’t clarify any of this. Nor, when people pointed out that many lay Catholics have   contrary expectations of how these things were handled did you incorporate that into your range of “reasonably” credible possibilites. Heck, perhaps she was a canon lawyer type and thought that the priest would behave accordingly, thus though that she could get away with “flaunting” her sexual orientation!

So, it seems unquestionable that you were not treating her own claim about her own psychological state as good evidence of her psychological state. In context, it seems not unreasonable to wonder why. I’ll accept your contention that it was not due to her sex “as such”, but given how easily such bias can creep in (from context, even if an agent is internally scrupulous), I hope you’ll forgive me when I suggest that it’s at least plausible that you were doing so. If you’d like to avoid confusing me on this point, a few more markers would be pretty helpful.

I am most definitely inclined to non-insanity readings of women’s (and men’s) behavior; indeed, I thought the implication of my (more colloquial than clinical) reference to insanity – namely, that I did *not* believe Johnson was insane – was relatively clear, but I may have erred there.

I think so, though not merely with the quip. You set up a structure wherein the alternatives were that she was lying (or misreported) or overwhelmed by grief to the point of insanity. The simpler explanation — that she had done what she said she had done, to wit, never considered that it would be a problem — is hardly outre. People “don’t think” all the time! She hardly need to be insane with grief to be fairly seriously distracted. She could easily have shared the common belief that the church is and should be lenient about Communion at “important” events. Etc. etc. etc.

I was saying I found it implausible that she would not have considered the eventual outcome as a possibility, which, I hasten to add, insinuates neither that Johnson was culpable nor that the priest’s culpability, whatever it may have been, was in any respect diminished.

Note that this is, again, weaker than your earlier claim. “I found it implausible” vs. “it strains reasonable credulity”. Given that we have no first hand knowledge and some inconsistent and partial reports, I don’t think it’s completely out of line to find other accounts plausible (esp. if, as I expect, you are extrapolating from your own mindset).  (For me, a line like, “I find it difficult to imagine that if I were in her shoes that I wouldn’t have at least considered the possibility that the priest would deny me communion.” is both reasonable, avoids challenging her epistemic authority with respect to her own psychological states, and makes the point.)

Given all the people who were writing on the web that Johnson was trying to provoke or torment the priest and afterwards trying to exploit the situation, I think it would be helpful to mark explicitly (as you do here) your distance from such views.

I am not certain of the respect(s) in which, in your view, I was neglecting the surrounding context; I didn’t do so in any way obvious to me even in the light of your contributions to our exchange.

That questioning Johnson’s honesty was commonly done by people seeking to discredit her (morally speaking) is part of the surrounding context. Similarly, that she claimed to be heavily involved with Catholism and that the canon lawyer, the response of the archdiocese, and the numerous accounts about the expectations of the Catholic laity seems to support that it was reasonable not to expect him to deny her communion. (I.e., there’s a policy implication in the Archdiocese’s apology and as an active Catholic it’s as reasonable to suppose she was aware of that as suppose that she was aware of the Canon. If you meant that she should have expected that some priest would, against policy, misapply the canon at her mother’s funeral…well, that’s hard for me to extract from what you wrote.)

I don’t think any inference from my remarks that the priest’s behaviour was unproblematic by default would be warranted.

That’s because you neglect the context I mentioned above, to wit, that at that time your sort of questioning unleavened by any indication of your moral judgments was standard by people condemning her. Similarly, if it’s normal for priests not to deny communion (and policy and canon law support that not denial), then I don’t know why you’d think:

Unless she were momentarily insane with grief, I think she must have known that presenting herself for Communion under those specific circumstances was at least somewhat likely to lead to a denial or else to induce the priest to do something she knew *he’d* feel he was not permitted to do. That strikes me as an unusual thing to do even – and perhaps especially – at a religious ritual in honor of your late pious mother.

If she thought that the priest would be wrong to (or just wouldn’t) deny communion, why would she care, or even think about, whether the priest would be happy about it? Why would she care if the priest was going to be (wrongly, in her view) unhappy at her mother’s funeral? I guess I can parse this as “Why would she risk a priest being a jerk at her mom’s funeral?” but that certainly seems like a very strained reading considering your earlier “we should respect the rules set by the institution”.

In the end, I guess you have to ask yourself whether the fact that you can find a parsing that is compatible with the principles I enunciated (or like ones)  is sufficient in your own mind to counteract the impression I (and others) took away and the readings we made.

If you would sprinkle a few more markers in your comments, I’d personally be grateful. I’ll also continue to try to read you more charitably.


Update: I see Nemo replied to Anne’s articulation of similar points. The key point, I think, is this:

I can see what you’re getting at in #72, but if you will indulge me I hope I can offer a reasoned and reasonable demonstration that what you cited there is not, in fact, an example of what you or Bijan initially took it to exemplify.

I think part of the problem is that Nemo generally relies on “defeating (or defending) in detail”. While not a Gish Gallop per se, it can bear similarities. (I say this as someone who is very prone toward being overwhelming…one very difficult thing I struggle with is knowing when to let go of a subsubsubsubpoint, and actually doing so.)

I think this is an important point: It’s not always about you or what you’ve precisely said or what you exactly meant or thought. It can be how what you wrote seems in context. Consider a skillful abuser who plays mind games with their abusee by never saying anything categorically over the line. To torment without making any particular act specifically wrong is the game. Since it’s much easier to rebut something that is specifically wrong than to rebut a complex circumstance (“What did I say? Did I say you were wrong? DId I say you were ugly? I was just reflecting on how beauty works! Why do you mishear me that way?” <–This is hard to deal with!)

Now, suppose that someone is not an abuser but enacts a subset of that pattern, whether by happenstances or by a quirk of their personality. It’s not hard to see that that might, and might reasonably, be seen as part of an abusive pattern. Note that defending each bit (i.e., defending in detail) will tend to confirm the undesired interpretation.

Doesn’t this just screw Nemo, though? I.e., neither being right (and non-offensive) nor showing that their are right (and non-offense) get them off the hook! Eek! Or does this just show that I don’t care about substance but only about surface?

I don’t think so. Let us presume for a moment that we want interpretative charity, intellectual honesty, and respect for argument and evidence as general regulative ideals for a given intellectual community. (I certainly want those things.) We can also easily acknowledge that participants in the community are bounded in all sorts of ways: e.g., background knowledge and various capabilities (e.g., I’m better than average at mathematical thinking but much worse than many). So a core question is whether the 3 regulative principles I list above are sufficient to fairly and efficiently lead to good intellectual outcomes for the group. As generally understood, I think they don’t precisely because they don’t usefully account for unpleasant patterns (whether normatively unpleasant or just difficult in some way, e.g., while I have a fairly robust stamina for minute arguments, lots of other people find them overwhelmingly tiresome).

To see how this works out in the current situation, let’s presume (contrary to my belief) that every comment of Nemo’s in that thread was content-wise perfectly acceptable, given the correct reading. Now consider the difference between

  1. having to perform a really close, literal reading while also shutting down standard interpretative heuristics that are ordinarily quite reliable in order to correctly assess the content, and
  2. all readings (however sloppy) plus normal heuristics lead us to roughly the correct assessment.
Now, a good question is whether charity requires us to succeed in scenario 1. I think this is obviously dependant on the degree of effort required (both individually and communally) and the benefits that accrue (e.g., if the point is really worth hashing out and it’s hard to put other ways or if the subject of analyses deserves extra effort, e.g., a newbie or student). Of course, the community might be willing to invest this if there’s a lot of reciprocity or other investment from a person who systematically ends up in scenario 1. But I don’t see any direct pressure from those 3 ideals for the “difficult person” to aim for something closer to scenario 2.

So, this suggests other ideals: friendly helpfulness, perhaps, or audience sensitive clarity. “Supporting the general intellectual welfare”? I’m not sure how to put it.

I’ll note that one thing that lead me to less rather than greater charity is that (not unnaturally) it seemed to me that Nemo was more charitable to their own comments than e.g., to mine. For example, I wrote:

Perhaps she normally is not around homophobic catholics, after all. Including non-homophobic priests.

To which Nemo replied:

I expect that she is not. And since it is perfectly possible that a Catholic priest, at least one without great pastoral sensibility, could act likewise whether he were homophobic or not, I don’t think we can conclude, pace your implication, that this priest is homophobic.

Note that I did not technically imply that that priest was homophobic. Here’s a reading of what I wrote: Johnson normally never encounters homophobic Catholics and, indeed, her circle are all supportive. Plus, she hangs around with canon lawyers and Catholic policy makers who all have assured her that merely identifying her partner is not sufficient to get denied communion, esp. at funerals. (I strengthened it to the far fetched deliberately.) This easily explains her not thinking that her sexuality would be a problem. It does not require the denying priest to be homophobic. Thus, since there is one model of my claim wherein the priest is not homophobic, I did not imply that they were homophobic.

Of course, one can also reasonably surmise that one condition of being not-homophobic is not relentlessly (yet mistakenly!) enforcing homophobic rules (i.e., engaging ones pastoral discretion). With this, fairly natural from a feminist point of view, reading, then (I should think) that an inference that the priest is homophobic would be correct.

Notice that the actual reading cuts away at Johnson and of me, esp. in combination with standard heterosexist heuristics. To read Nemo sufficiently charitably here requires lowering defences against standard heterosexist heuristics, which I’m rather unwilling to do esp. when similar charity, or even as much charity as Nemo demands for their own comments, seems to be lacking on Nemo’s side.

Note also that I offered outs, e.g., asking Nemo to personalize rather than generalize their lack of credulity. Saying, “I can’t imagine not being on my guard were I in her shoes” is, for me, a lot easier to deal with than, “It strains a reasonable person’s credulity that her account is literally correct.”


Update 2: Nemo was unable to comment here because I had commenting privileges set rather tightly (i.e., to required login). I’ve today (March 5, 2012) liberalized the permissions (I hope) sufficiently.

I don’t know how active I can be in the next two weeks. The next few days are rather hectic for me and then I’m travelling. I’ll endeavour to respond sufficiently and in a timely fashion.

88 Responses to “Nemonic Analysis”

  1. swallerstein Says:

    Hello Bijan:

    From reading your blog, I get the impression that Nemo is on trial.

    If that is the case, what are the specific accusations against him?

    If I miss the point of your post, my apologies, but you don’t seem to debate Nemo’s arguments, but to hint at some unspecified misdemeanours.

    I have no interest in defending Nemo’s arguments, since as far as I understand them, I disagree with them.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Hiya swallerstein,

      I hope that Nemo isn’t on trial. We are engaged in a point-counterpoint about whether the impression I had formed about their comments in that thread are correct or reasonable. Nemo was responding specifically to my comment:

      So, for example, a pretty basic normative expectation in many feminist contexts is treating women’s claims as good evidence, being inclined to non-insanity readings of their behavior, and not neglecting the surrounding context including not taking e.g., male behavior as by default unproblematic. My interpretation of Nemo’s mental model lying behind the “wondering what she was thinking” — backed up by the interactions we had — strongly suggest to me that these expectations are met. At least, I have a hard time explaining the exchange without giving up all three.

      So those are the specific “charges”. I don’t think I merely hinted at this…indeed I quoted this passage above as well. Could you explain what seems unclear?

      I hasten to add that I raised these, and posted this follow up, mostly in hopes that either I’ll figure out that I’ve been failing in this exchanges in a correctable way, or that Nemo will, or both.

      I’m also actually quite interested in the dialectical and epistemic issues.

  2. jamiedreier Says:

    Hi Bijan,
    I have to admit I do not understand a lot of what you wrote. Here is one example:

    To read Nemo sufficiently charitably here requires lowering defences against standard heterosexist heuristics, which I’m rather unwilling to do esp. when similar charity, or even as much charity as Nemo demands for their own comments, seems to be lacking on Nemo’s side.

    This seems to me to be saying that you are deliberately reading Nemo’s comments uncharitably, and that your reason is that you think he has sometimes read your comments uncharitably. Have I understood you correctly? (I have a couple of thoughts on this point but they may be inapposite, since I may not understand what you’re saying.)

    Hm, blockquote works in wordpress, right? We shall see.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      I have to admit I do not understand a lot of what you wrote.

      This, combined with swallerstein’s feeling that I was hinting at what I felt I stated explicitly, is a bit demoralizing. Oh well. Onward.

      This seems to me to be saying that you are deliberately reading Nemo’s comments uncharitably, and that your reason is that you think he has sometimes read your comments uncharitably. Have I understood you correctly?

      (One clarification: I’m not articulating my current policy wrt Nemo. I’m trying to explain what was going on in the thread before it got all meta.)

      Well, I don’t think my readings were uncharitable, just not heroically charitable. That is, I think the mental model I formed (and e.g., Anne shared) was reasonable and didn’t, at least grossly, violate the normal requirements of charity. Thus, looking forward, I’m not convinced that I need to radically up my efforts to find an alternative reading of like comments.

      (This is distinct from any assessment I have now of Nemo. I’m perfectly happy to grant that 1) Nemo is at least pro-feminist and 2) thus my earlier model of them was wrong. But that’s distinct from whether it was reasonable for me to have formed that model in such a context. If it is reasonable, then I would suggest that Nemo will probably want to change their commenting strategy. If it is not, then I definitely want to change mine!)

      If the community standard was to prefer such heroic readings for such comments, then I would have to reconsider my assessment of what I need to do or not participate in the community or try to change the norms.

      If Nemo’s an interlocutor’s personal standard is that such heroism is to be expected, then there’s at least some argument that we just have a (relatively neutral) clash of norms or of personal styles. In that case, I think that charity didn’t require me to be that heroic initially, but once that was explained, then there is some pull toward such heroism. (Bounded, of course, in a variety of ways.)

      [I struck out Nemo because while that discussion is the case in hand, I’m not meaning to bang on about them per se.]

      However, if an interlocutor claims (implicitly or explicitly) that a certain heroic standard is appropriate and systematically fails to enact it, then that’s pretty significant evidence that something is wrong. E.g., either there’s less good faith than asserted or the interpretive standard is too high to be feasible (in which case I’m going to feel ok about my reasonable, non-heroic standards).

      Another way of putting it is that even in the three initial ideals, charity is only one principle and may be balanced by, e.g., a desire to get things right.

      (Often charity usefully extends to misreadings, e.g., if the correct reading is weaker than a suggested line, we may want to move to the stronger argument. But not always! Scholarliness requires accuracy of interpretation, not charity.)

      Hope this helps.

  3. xenaresurrected Says:

    Hi, all. Excuse my hokey handle. Some blogs let me fiddle with different names on one account and some don’t. I used this one as a spoofy statement on a couple of atheist blogs. I prefer the narrative in the tv series from whence I hijacked my name to any religious notions of evermore. Xena kicks angel ass in her winged battle against Michael in the last season. I love the camp, and I kinda get a chuckle out of the reactions the show elicits in Classics majors, in case you were wondering about that backstory. Go ahead and keep calling me xena, or x if you’d like.

    BP, this is a great post. Not many people suspected of trolling get a whole post dedicated to them, for obvious reasons. Nemo should be flattered.

    SW, I think the fact that such busy professionals are still willing to engage Nemo demonstrates that he’s not on trial. Rather, the philosophers on fp are using his rhetorical style as a teaching tool. Philosophers abide by certain rules of debate to create an atmosphere of fairness and honesty. My own shorthand spin on these rules is actually a secondhand quote in one of Barbara Coloroso’s parenting manuals. (I’m raising a differently-abled child–I SO need these rules in my life) 3 simple questions to ask oneself when differing opinions start to get one’s heart pounding. Before commenting on a touchy debate, I ask myself:
    1) Is this statement true?
    2) Is this statement necessary? (ie relevant, or crucial to the discussion, not necessary as philosophers use the word)
    3) Is this statement fair?

    Ok, snark doesn’t work with the first question, but I try to keep my snark fair, if&when it’s required for purposes of bashing hatespeech peddlars. If you go back to the original fp post about that awful funeral, Jender has posted a link to a really good discussion about snark vs. concern-trolling. I believe it’s comment#78. Dan Hicks posted a link to an excellent source last year, when Nemo and I were playing another one of his semantics games. I’ll see if I can dig it up later. Dan’s manual outines a good number of arguments that are fallacious, or frowned on in philosophical discourse, with clear, concise explanations as to why.

    If Nemo’s ‘guilty’ of anything, it’s sophistry. He constructs very clever statements with built-in loopholes that don’t clearly state agreement or disagreement with the individual he’s quoting. Then when he’s confronted about WhyTF he’s quoting somebody like Josef Mengele on a post about anti-semitism, he says “I didn’t say I agreed with his practices, only that this particular quote about brain physiology in children from a certain region [not explicitly documented by Mengele as, but extremely well known for a high population of persecuted Jews] shows reduced frontal lobe blah blah blah, thereby demonstrating inferior mathematical abilities among this group.” Then he’ll go on to say that technically that particular statement wasn’t actually anti-semitic, bc there were no explicit statements made that referred to Jewish people in derogatory terms.

    HELLO!!! The brain physiology experiment in question was probably conducted at Auschwitz!!!

    *Note: this example isn’t an account of anything Nemo’s actually debated about. It’s just an example designed to present the overarching patterns inherent in the most annoying elements of his particular style. BP or JD can fill you in on the names of the many fallacious arguments entwined in an exchange like this, if you don’t feel like waiting for me to go through Dan’s manual for the jargon.

    Another one of my Nemo-peeves is the way he intentionally throws out strawman arguments, and then wastes ridiculous amounts of space telling the people who took the bait that they’re crappy philosophers for jumping on the strawmen. Yes people. Nemo has used this ploy more than once in the last few years.

    In a nutshell, Nemo is guilty of what we in less high-minded circles refer to as “the old bait and switch”. Now, that technique is sometimes forgivable. I’ve used it myself to avoid being wrongfully arrested, or escape other types of systemic injustice. But this behaviour is an ongoing pattern with Nemo. The rules of philosophical discourse are in place to prevent game-playing and time-wasting, but also to promote trust, bc ultimately philosophers are supposed to work for the people. They’re our lawyers, our priests&counsellors, our scientists. They’re supposed to seek out truth&fairness. Goal posts that constantly shift are at best unnerving, and at worst, dangerous. Without trust, no joint effort is possible.

    For many of Nemo’s exchanges, the very short list of possible outcomes can be summed up as follows:

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Hey xenaforever,

      Just wanted to say that I laughed delightedly at your “be nice to Bijan, little dude” line. You are definitely my hero!

  4. xenaresurrected Says:

    Thanks, BP. You’re pretty cool, too.

    I was still typing that extremely long-winded explanation of the unspecified misdemeanours(?) and trust for SW when your comment went up. I hope that works for everybody: philosophers, and aspiring philosophers on their way to truth&knowledge and all that other good stuff.

    I guess I’ll go ahead and finish that very short list of possible outcomes to a slanted debate with this, an outcome we’re trying to avoid. We’re not trying to put Nemo on trial. Like I said on the other post, Nemo has also engaged us in ways that are commendable.

  5. xenaresurrected Says:

    Bah. SOPA gets on my nerves sometimes, but didn’t I just go on about rules and fairness? If you have trouble viewing What’s Opera Doc? that’s the title on youtube. It’s the 6:33 minute clip posted by MsPhoenixrose.

  6. jamiedreier Says:

    Bijan,

    I think you must mean something different by “charitable” (in this context) from what I mean. As I use the word, with respect to interpretation, there could be no question of a heroic level. Interpreting charitably simply means interpreting in such a way that ambiguous or indeterminate sentences turn out true (alternatively: rational, or what a person with the evidence available ought to believe). One might be incredibly good at it, I guess (just straining to see how an application of charity could be counted heroic).

    Another way of putting it is that even in the three initial ideals, charity is only one principle and may be balanced by, e.g., a desire to get things right.

    My understanding of charity is that it is partly constitutive of an attempt to ‘get things right’. It isn’t an independent norm of ethics or etiquette requiring us to be nice.

    It may help to descend from the general and abstract to the particular, so here is an example. In her March 3 comment, Anne Jacobson told Nemo that what he was saying was unacceptable, because:

    That is, a woman claims a man injured her, he denies it and now her claim is merely worth a grain of salt. You take a man’s word to show hers to be without merit.

    Had Anne been reading what Nemo wrote on the assumption that he’d said something rational, she could not have made this gross error. (There are actually two large mistakes in those two sentences; Nemo explained what they are so I do not need to.)

    Now, if Nemo has made a similar error, that in no way excuses the errors of others. We are attempting to understand; it’s not a fight, so we don’t need rules promoting a fair fight. The fact that someone by their own fault has misunderstood you is not at all a good reason to reduce your attempts to understand them. I’m sure you agree about that; I’m just trying to spell out how the issue looks if one understands ‘being charitable’ as I am understanding it.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      As I use the word, with respect to interpretation, there could be no question of a heroic level. Interpreting charitably simply means interpreting in such a way that ambiguous or indeterminate sentences turn out true (alternatively: rational, or what a person with the evidence available ought to believe).

      First, there are often multiple interpretations of an ambiguous or indeterminate sentences which make them come out true. (I’m Quinean enough to say that there are always multiple interpretations of any sentence that makes it come out true.) So, that doesn’t seem like “charity” to me, but just reading. It’s, of course, even worse with “rational” or “what a person with the evidence available ought to believe”. Is this so that indeterminate or ambiguous sentences are interpreted as rational? Or that the proponent is rational? I certainly won’t interpret sentences I think of as wrong as ones which a person with the evidence available ought to believe, at least, in many cases. If it’s the interpretation that an interpreter ought to believe of that sentence given the available evidence, then I think charity sometimes asks us not to do that. For example, if I know that someone is prone to a certain sort of sincere error, the evidence dictates that I read their erroneous sentence as straight. However, if the error breaks their argument and I see a “nearby” sentence which would produce a stronger argument, then I (often) should treat the error as inadvertent and replace it with the corrected sentence.

      As most discussions are heavily enthymematic, we are called on to fill in the gaps. In a dialectic, i.e., where positions and arguments tend to have canonical sources (proponents), we typically aim to fill gaps with the strongest possible (“most charitable”) propositions (in the sense of the ones most likely to make the argument work out). But even there, it’s not determinate (typically, even post facto) what’s “strongest”. It’s possible to add propositions that help the local argument but cause the overall discussion to go a different way.

      If our goal is scholarly, then we generally don’t try to fill in the gaps with the dialectically best proposition, but the ones that are most accurate, i.e., which follow from the most accurate understanding of the proponent. This will, necessarily, require some violations of charity (in the above sense).

      In long standing epistemic community, we don’t just assess individual propositions in individual arguments, but we assess arguments strategies and sources of knowledge as well. Typically, our goal is some sort of epistemic efficiency (i.e., we get more or better knowledge for a given effort in a given time period) or stability (i.e., the community is sustainable/growing/improving). Thus, in addition to assessing individual assertions, we also assess people (or rather, propositions about e.g., their reliability), often as a way of assessing their future contributions. And there, we often want to be extremely charitable (since we like to respect persons), but often we recognize that such charity is misguided. We can always “save” a troll or similar disrupter from being judged as such with increasingly far fetched theories (the way that we can save any judgement). But that’s generally not overall epistemically productive.

      So, if someone who is not a student (esp. of mine) systematically requires far fetched and personally (or communally) exhausting interpretative charity to save them from being judged unreliable (or as possessing some other epistemic vice), and they do not reasonably uphold that level of charity themselves (it doesn’t have to be “toward me”), then I have pretty good reason to believe that they are trolling (or otherwise problematic). Because this is a very common trolling behavior.

      Ok, I’ll break this up.

      • swallerstein Says:

        Hello Bijan:

        Here is the Wikipedia definition of troll:

        “a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages in an outline community, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion”.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)

        That does not sound like Nemo to me.

        Nemo is a contrarian, the type of person who if he finds himself in a communist meeting, will argue for the merits of free markets and if he finds himself in the Ayn Rand society, will argue in favor of Fidel Castro

        Deep down inside, however, he’s a feminist: that’s why he exercises his contrarian talents in a feminist blog, not a machista blog.

      • Bijan Parsia Says:

        Hi swallerstein,

        Nemo is a contrarian, the type of person who if he finds himself in a communist meeting, will argue for the merits of free markets and if he finds himself in the Ayn Rand society, will argue in favor of Fidel Castro

        In my understanding, most people would find this to be culpable trolling. I.e., even if the intent were there, a reasonable person should know, or quickly realize, that such a discussion is fraught in that context and likely to be disruptive.

        I’m perfectly willing to believe that Nemo has reasonable intent which is why I’m spending this amount of time analysing the discourse and my reaction to it. As my reaction is shared by several other members of the community, I think it’s potentially helpful to try to unpack what’s going on and to try to figure out strategies for circumventing disruption. Note that the burden needn’t merely fall on Nemo!

        The risk, of course, is that Nemo gets piled on, tarred and feathered, or feels bad. I’m not so worried about the first two, but the third does concern me. Nemo, feel free to let me know whether anything I’ve written makes you uncomfortable and I’ll try to mitigate it and do better.

      • Bijan Parsia Says:

        BTW, I’ve been, in various situations, accused of trolling or being disruptive, etc. Obviously, one can use these metaclaims to troll or disrupt. This is why 1) I moved my part of the discussion over here and 2) that I’m trying to focus on my interpretative and model building processes rather than whether my model and interpretations are right per se.

        It’s a thin line though. As I’ve pointed out, saying “The way Nemo writes interacts with my interpretative framework to generate a mental model of them as non-feminism (or a troll)” isn’t infinitely better than “Nemo is a troll: here’s why”. Mention doesn’t entirely protect us from use (or problems associated with use) in a lot of context. “Will no one rid me of these meddlesome priests” is an order, regardless of the form of the phrase. Also, the more I articulate the model, the more likely I am to slip levels (as, obviously, I find the model pretty convincing).

        Given Nemo’s literalism, I suspect that making this sort of turn will be less fraught than usual. But it’s a risk. (More to the point, given their literalism, I’m more comfortable with that risk.)

  7. swallerstein Says:

    Bijan:

    A contrarian does not intend to disrupt, but to argue.

    A good reasoned argument is not a disruption.

    In fact, a contrarian gives us the opportunity to prepare the best arguments for our view point.

    We understand our own point of view better by exposing it to constant criticism and by defending it from criticism.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      swallerstein,

      If a contrarian doesn’t recognize when certain lines of argument are disruptive, then I don’t think their intent matters all that much.

      It’s perfectly possible for a good reasoned argument to be disruptive (even epistemically). A simple example is when it’s off topic, but there are lots of context where merely putting forth a good, reasoned argument is inappropriate. This is akin to the standard line in phil of science (was it Kitcher who said this) against the idea that science aims at truth. The problem is that truth is cheap (tautologies are all true). Interesting truth is hard. Analogously, “good reasoned” arguments are cheap. Dialectically useful ones are hard.

      Sometimes a contrarian argument is extremely dialectically useful. But often not. If contrarianism has instrumental value (as you suggest), then we need to assess whether a particular instance is actually promoting that value.

      Notice that being critical isn’t the same as being contrary. Take a simple example: We agree, for the sake of argument, to take some proposition as given. A contrarian might then present a good reasoned argument that it is false (or, heck, that it is true!). These actions are disruptive.

      Or consider a brainstorming session where criticism is explicitly forbidden. There are good epistemic reasons for doing that. It’s not that we never want criticism, but that all kinds of criticism all the time isn’t, at least for me, the best tactic. (I mean negative criticism, i.e., attempts at refutation.)

      • swallerstein Says:

        Bijan:

        You’re right that not all kinds of criticism are constructive or useful or interesting or worthwhile.

        However, as you well know, the standard argument in favor of permitting unlimited criticism (within the rules of politeness and argumentation) is that we who are the objects of criticism are not good judges of which criticism is useful/worthwhile and which criticism is not.

      • Bijan Parsia Says:

        However, as you well know, the standard argument in favor of permitting unlimited criticism (within the rules of politeness and argumentation) is that we who are the objects of criticism are not good judges of which criticism is useful/worthwhile and which criticism is not.

        I don’t think that that argument is remotely good. Or, at least, a ton of work is being done by “the rules of politeness and argumentation”. First of all, I don’t think people are necessarily good judges of criticism even of their own work. I get reviews on papers I submit to conferences and I have to assess that criticism. A lot of it is just bonkers. Others of it is simply wrong. Some of it is wrong, but takes some work to figure out exactly how. Of the last, some fraction gives me insight and some fraction is a waste of my time.

        Similarly, I’m strive to be very self-critical. Since I often know my own area (and mind best), I’m often in the best position to make effective criticism.

        Similarly, when I solicit outside criticism, I’m often directive about which sort of criticism (and on precisely what) I want in a given situation to minimize wasted effort (e.g., of the critic) and to keep my epistemic enterprise effective (e.g., sometimes premature criticism kills inspiration).

        I’m a big fan of reality checks, etc. but I don’t think we can be reflexively approving of criticism, much less contrarianism.

  8. jamiedreier Says:

    Bijan,

    The WordPress tree structure for comments is kind of nice, but it’s also confusing — I am not sure where to post this comment. I’ve decided to put it at the top level, even though it is a reply to your 12:20 (which was a reply to my 11:09).

    Anyway, of course there are apt to be several interpretations that make the sentence come out true. Charity is not supposed to be the only constraint on interpretation! (I do agree about taking a more holistic view, though, as opposed to applying charity to ‘individual propositions’, as you put it.)

    I certainly won’t interpret sentences I think of as wrong as ones which a person with the evidence available ought to believe, at least, in many cases.

    But you can’t decide whether to think of them as wrong until you have decided what they mean, so I think you are doing things in the wrong order here. Interpretation comes before thinking of them as wrong.
    In any case, I’m just telling you what I think it means to interpret charitably. I didn’t make this up – it’s from Quine, Davidson, Grandy, and probably many others. Obviously, I don’t insist that you use this (standard philosophical) meaning. I was just trying to forestall further confusion by pointing out that we seem to have different understandings of ‘charity’.

    I think my example shows, by the way, that it wouldn’t require ‘far-fetched’ (as you put it) interpretations to find sensible, true meanings instead of vicious false ones for what Nemo was saying. Anne picked implausible propositions, and went wrong in her interpretation precisely for that reason. So what I mean by ‘charity’ is useful, and does not (typically) contrast with ‘accurate’. It is an aid to Verstehen.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      But you can’t decide whether to think of them as wrong until you have decided what they mean, so I think you are doing things in the wrong order here. Interpretation comes before thinking of them as wrong.

      That was merely addressed to your alternative notion of charity in (emph added):

      Interpreting charitably simply means interpreting in such a way that ambiguous or indeterminate sentences turn out true (alternatively: rational, or what a person with the evidence available ought to believe).

      I’m confused by:

      But you can’t decide whether to think of them as wrong until you have decided what they mean, so I think you are doing things in the wrong order here.

      Huh? I mean, I look at a set of possible meanings which have a range of values attached to them: Plausibility, fidelity to the literal word, whether true, relevancy, etc. (Some of these may be sensitive to a particular dialectic context or purpose.) Charity asks me to pick the best (or from among the best) interpretation (typically using some sort of vector or weighted sum comparison). Note that this doesn’t require me to prefer truths! If interpreting it as true harms some other value (e.g., the overall rationality of the speaker), then I might weight truth lower.

      In any case, I’m just telling you what I think it means to interpret charitably. I didn’t make this up – it’s from Quine, Davidson, Grandy, and probably many others. Obviously, I don’t insist that you use this (standard philosophical) meaning.

      I am using it in the standard way, I think.

      However, I don’t think the formulation which focus on truth are accurate or useful, much less substitutable for ones focusing on “rationality”. (And I’d prefer to have a thick, expansive notion of rationality in play. I think there are a wide range of epistemic virtues and that they shade off into moral/aesthetic virtues.)

      I think charity should be applied holisitically. As a consequence I think metaissues play an important role as well.

      (I don’t know if it helps you to know that I am trained in philosophy and I don’t think I’m using a very outre variant here. To the degree that anyone’s variant is narrower, I’m prepared to defend mine against that. This will typically come down to differences in accounts of rationality.)

      None of this, and nothing you’ve said, makes it odd that there would be degrees of charity and that some interpretations might require more effort or more unwieldy other assumptions. This is why charity is not paramount: I’m not required to give up all other norms in order to interpret someone as rational. Sometimes, that’s a good move, e.g., “Perhaps I’m the one who’s crazy!” But not always or typically.

      Does this help? I don’t know if it helps you to know that I am trained in philosophy (to the PhD level, though I work now in computer science, but heavily on logic), so I’m reasonably familiar with standard philosophical notions. And charity, of course, has a variety of formulations and substantive scopes. I’m happy to agree on one for the purposes of discussion.

      BTW, I don’t agree with your reading of the Anne-Nemo exchange, but haven’t finished writing up the comment. Sorry!

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Jamie,

      Ok, now to consider your example.

      First, I’m not sure what this is supposed to show. There can be errors on all sides without any particular error being decisive. (I presume a pretty strong fallibilism.) Similarly, if we’re going to evaluate what level and sort of charity would overall promote a good dialectic, then we have to be very careful in the examples we pick. IOW, just because a certain level of charity would help in one example doesn’t mean it’d be successful overall. (Consider the EBay scam of giving exemplary service on auctions for relatively low value items to build up a positive relationship, then running off on a high value exchange. We need to consider a reasonable level of context.)

      But even a farily narrow scope doesn’t lead me to either:

      Had Anne been reading what Nemo wrote on the assumption that he’d said something rational, she could not have made this gross error. (There are actually two large mistakes in those two sentences; Nemo explained what they are so I do not need to.)

      or:

      I think my example shows, by the way, that it wouldn’t require ‘far-fetched’ (as you put it) interpretations to find sensible, true meanings instead of vicious false ones for what Nemo was saying. Anne picked implausible propositions, and went wrong in her interpretation precisely for that reason. So what I mean by ‘charity’ is useful, and does not (typically) contrast with ‘accurate’. It is an aid to Verstehen.

      Let me stipulate that Anne made some errors. Some key questions are 1) what are the mistakes, 2) what occasioned the mistakes, and 3) do the mistakes reflect a lack of charity (the distinction from 2 is between direct cause and whether charity would have prevented them). You seem happy to defer to Nemo’s diagnosis, so let’s go with that.

      Before we even get to the “grain of salt” bit, it should be noted that this is, first of all, not even an instance of a woman making a claim and a man denying it — or, at least, it was not so known to me when I made the comment.

      I take it that this is Error 1. But notice that a) it requires a ridiculous version of the “treating women’s claims as good evidence” principle I articulated and Anne appealed to and b) the case Anne raised is not the strongest example of Nemo’s putative violation of that principle in the thread!

      Isn’t a) obvious? If her male lawyer came out and said, “Johnson did not expect that her sexuality would be an issue” do you really think that it respects the “treating women’s claims as good evidence” principle to deny it then, but accept it if Johnson herself comes out and makes the statement? While there are cases where we want to put distance between a spokesperson and the original person, this is clearly not such a case.

      It seems hugely uncharitable to read Anne’s comment this narrowly, even if we focus on her comment. If we focus on her point, then a highly charitable reader would have said, I think, “Oh, this example is not quite spot on, but here’s the stronger example. I see what you mean.” Note that Nemo goes on to a very elaborate discussion of exactly who might have said what and even comes down with the possibility that there was reason to believe that the priest was the “ultimate” source of one of the claims. Thus, the purely literal reading of the principle is not plausibly Nemo’s.

      Now Error 2:

      For what it’s worth, to take a statement with a grain (or pinch) of salt does not mean to regard it as “without merit” or “merely worth a grain of salt”; it means, per phrases.org.uk, “to accept it but to maintain a degree of skepticism about its truth”. You may not regard that clarification as significant here, but it I offer it anyway.

      So, we grant that “with a grain of salt” means “with a possibly small amount of skepticism” rather than “as only having a grain of salt’s worth of merit. Look at the original quote:

      Anne, that part is also unbelievable to me. Well, not absolutely unbelievable, but worth taking with a grain of salt nonetheless.

      “unbelievable” (which in the context of the thread is reasonably taken as pretty strong, cf the discussion of whether Johnson was credible wrt her lack of anticipation of being denied communion) –> “not absolutely unbelievable” –> “worth taking with a grain of salt”. I hope you can see that this sequence makes it easy to get to a reading where in “taking with a grain of salt” is intended as “just enough skepticism to prevent it being absolutely unbelievable”.

      Note that in both cases, it’s perfectly possible that Anne could have “been reading what Nemo wrote on the assumption that he’d said something rational”. It’s not irrational for Nemo to wonder if Johnson was sincere in her reports or that the explanation of some aspects of the events was wrong. (No one, I trust, would have denied that. I certainly didn’t. I denied that Johnson’s report of her psychological state was so implausible that it was rationally unacceptable.) Anne was interpreting that statement in light of a mental model of Nemo which made certain insinuations plausible.

      BTW, how the hell is all this usefully contrarian? It’s not hard to get to a correct, afaict, example of how Nemo’s comments plausibly violated the principle. Do we need to “sharpen” our arguments to this level to make progress? I don’t feel that this is very efficient. Similarly, Jamie, you picked this one example and even escalated it (“true meanings” vs. “vicious false ones”). It’s esp. frustrating when the original point is so small. I replied initially because, based on other’s testimony, I was trying to read Nemo as perhaps a little literal minded, but generally reasonable and pro-feminist. But when I offered a plausible reading of “what she was thinking” we got escalating denials that those readings were plausible (unto me being unreasonable). It wasn’t, “I can’t imagine me, in her place, not so anticipating” or “I think she must be being a bit hyperbolic” or “I suspect that the media report is wrong”. It was a pretty strong denial that her own (reported) words about her own psychological state were without credibility. There was a slow evolution of Nemo’s claim toward weaker ones, but without reflection.

      This is disruptive. Disruption leads people into error. I think it’s clear that Anne had a brain fart about the meaning of “grain of salt” per se, but I’m don’t think that the impression was unreasonable.

      Now, perhaps you find these applications of charity to Anne’s comment far fetched. I, obviously, don’t so much. (I think both that the charitable thing to do is 1) take Anne not as giving a literal reading of Nemo’s words but commenting on the impression they give to her (and many others!) and 2) turn the focus on the solider cases. Obviously, if we are in an adversarial situation these forms of charity may not be required of Nemo. But given the tremendous frustration that several people voiced in that and other threads, I would personally try harder to make sense of the source of the frustration, rather than defend myself on narrow grounds exactly because such narrow defenses often miss the point. Cf my abuser analogy. Given the history of how women are generally treated epistemically, I would be hesitant to go for the “gross error” reading rather than the “there may be a thinko/typo, but I get the point” reading.

  9. jamiedreier Says:

    Bijan,

    1. You said,

    I certainly won’t interpret sentences I think of as wrong as ones which a person with the evidence available ought to believe, at least, in many cases.

    Maybe I just misunderstood what you meant. I thought you were saying, once you have decided that you think of the sentence as wrong, then you will not interpret it to mean something a person with the evidence available ought to believe. But that would be the wrong order.

    2. I’m pretty sure that Davidson’s principle of charity does indeed require you to prefer truths.

    3. I think there is really a family of notions, all called ‘charity’. Come to think of it, Grandy called his the ‘principle of humanity’. If the thing you mean is in this family, then I guess we are on the same page – except that I don’t see how this can come in degrees, and I don’t see why the fact (if it is a fact) that somebody else in a discussion failed to use charity well would be a reason for you to stop using it.

    4.

    I think charity should be applied holisitically.

    I already said I agree with that.

    5. Finally: I was suspecting (almost assuming) that you had a philosophy background, which is why I did not bother to try to give a detailed account of what the principle of charity is supposed to be, but only gestured toward what I figured you already knew. ☺

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Quick hit then back to class prep.

      Re: 1

      When I, on the merits, have decided that some sentence, P, is false charity does not require me to believe that P is true or that “someone with the available evidence ought to believe that P”. Could you just explicitly and fully formulate this variant of the principle? Is it, “One ought to interprete ambiguous or indeterminate sentences turn out to be what a person with the evidence available ought to believe”. If the interpreter is required to believe it, that’s one thing. If the interpretee (with their evidence base) “ought to believe it, that’s another. I was interpreting you as claiming the former, but I guess you meant the latter?

      I don’t see how that works out. Suppose that S states X which has reading P and I think that on the balance of evidence available to S, one (including S) ought not to believe P. Suppose, also, that the P reading of X is has a good deal of textual and dialectical support. Now what?

      (This is why truth simpliciter is also not a good value to try to maximize. There may be readings that make more of S’s utterances true at the cost of rendering their line of argument incoherent, boring, vacuous, etc.)

      Re: 2. Does this just show that there isn’t “a” standard principle of charity? I’m using a notion which is recognizably in the critical thinking and philosophical traditions even if it doesn’t align exactly with some particular formulation. (BTW, you have a classicus locus in mind for the requirement to prefer truth per se? Several formulations seem to support maximizing other values (e.g., agreement). A pure truth maximizing principle would allow for the tautological reinterpretation of all sentences which would be silly. Consider this from “On the very idea of a conceptual scheme”:

      But the principles involved must be the same in less trivial cases. What matters is this: if all we know is what sentences a speaker holds true, and we cannot assume that his language is our own, then we cannot take even a first step towards interpretation without knowing or assuming a great deal about the speaker’s beliefs. Since knowledge of beliefs comes only with the ability to interpret words, the only possibility at the start is to assume general agreement on beliefs. We get a first approximation to a finished theory by assigning to sentences of a speaker conditions of truth that actually obtain (in our own opinion) just when the speaker holds those sentences true. The guiding policy is to do this as far as possible, subject to considerations of simplicity, hunches about the effects of social conditioning, and of course our common sense, or scientific, knowledge of explicable error.

      So putting aside for the moment that the principle of charity as is reasonable in context of radical interpretation need not be the same as in the context of effective dialectical interaction in a common language, my thought that an interlocutor who demands very literalistic readings of their text and yet does not enact that standard themselves should not be read according to that standard seems reasonable and in accordance with Davidson’s principle of charity. In particular, it seems reasonable to think that there are negative insinuations or other, negative, goals. (Of course, ex hypothesi, we have that in this case there are not negative goals per se, but then the question becomes how to handle someone who’s behavior is relevantly similar to a malevolent actor.)

      (I trust it’s uncontroversial that people can do a lot of harm while sticking to the literal truth. E.g., you can sow considerable confusion by filling the conversation with things that seem false but are true but difficult to unpack.)

      So, to be clear, my point was not retaliation but that given that pattern I don’t think even charity requires me to think that the problem in the conversation is my charity or closeness of reading.

      Re: 3. Obvious, as I made this point as well, I agree. Even if you stick to “interpret so as to maximize the rationality of the utterances” you will still have choices if there is no unique maximum and if there are various notions of rationality.

      I’m really confused why you don’t understand how it can come in degrees. Here’s a simple, very impoverished model:

      Suppose an interpretation I is charitable toward a set of sentences Gamma in proportion to the number of sentences Gamma makes true. Done. Degrees of charity.

      If we allow a plausibility or entrenchment relation over sentences, we can distinguish between fully charitable Is (i.e., models of P) on the basis of what other background sentences the interpretation requires in order to make all of P true. Thus, for example, if I have to give up, oh, classical logic in order to make P true, then this would be a rather extreme reading. I don’t see that that’s required of me by charity all the time. Ordinarily, I make use of a number of heuristics about the kind of persons I encounter: One set of heuristics might apply to students, another to MRA activists, yet another to feminists, and yet another to creationists. Obviously, I might misapply those heuristics and, of course, being heuristics they will not always give the correct answer. I think charity requires me to be reasonably aware of this and willing to assess things on a case by case basis, when warranted (which trigger various metaheuristics, obviously).

      In this particular case, the conversational markers trigger all sorts of warning bells, but we have contrary testimony and some interesting contrary evidence. However, I don’t think those markers aren’t there, which is why I think it’s reasonable for me to keep redeveloping the mental model that I do. Pragmatically, I think if Nemo would just alter some of those markers it’s highly likely, presuming the good faith assumptions are correct, that conversations of FP won’t go off the rails so easily.

      Re: 4 You agree with holism, but still don’t see how charity comes in degrees and evidence about someone’s sincerity might be relevant to how to interpret the rest of them? That confuses me.

      Re: 5 Really? But…

      In any case, I’m just telling you what I think it means to interpret charitably. I didn’t make this up – it’s from Quine, Davidson, Grandy, and probably many others. Obviously, I don’t insist that you use this (standard philosophical) meaning.

      is hard to read as anything other than 1) I’m not using the standard definition, and 2) that I don’t even know what the standard definition is while 3) you are using “the standard” definition. How else was I supposed to read it? (Esp. as arguably there isn’t a single definition within those writers much less across them.)

      I still owe an account of why I think your example doesn’t show what you think it shows🙂

      • Bijan Parsia Says:

        BTW, I think that the idea of charity must extend to other behavior or aspects of behavior. So, for example, I try to interpret utterances so as to minimize their meanness. Sometimes this requires attributing an error to a person (i.e., that they didn’t mean to say what they said or they don’t really believe it but are joking). You can pack this into an expansive notion of rationality, or you can just read charity more closely to the everyday meaning.

  10. annejjacobson Says:

    I am alarmed at being said to make a “gross error.” I also am concerned that Jamie’s comment – “She said X and he explained she was wrong, so she made in fact two gross errors” – is an instance of the sort of reasoning I have been objecting to.

    We have had decades or centuries or millenia of women maintaining that a man has engaged in injurious behavior followed by the man maintaining he did not, with the result that the audience decides what she said is to be taken with a grain of salt. What range of interpretations do we need for “taken with a grain of salt” for this to be objectionable on feminist grounds? As we think of this, let’s consider this form of reasoning with reference to a specific sort of case where feminists have struggled to get people to think more accurately. So consider: Susan says that Bill raped her; he denies it and the audience then takes what she said with a grain of salt. I looked up “takes with a grain of salt” and there are various interpretations from “is sceptical about” (Mirrriam Webster) through “thinks unlikely to be true” (Cambridge online) to “thinks is false” (source not remembered). Under any of these interpretations, many feminists have argued, the reaction is wrong, though it is VERY common.

    The simple fact of a man’s denial that he engaged in injurious behavior should not lead us to be sceptical about what she said or to think that what she said is unlikely to be true. And indeed, when the gender is reversed, we don’t. Take this familiar sort of case: The male manager of a store claims she was stealing goods and she denies it.

    Do we think take what he said with a grain of salt and let her go? Not in any circumstances I am aware of. At the very least, we think that we need to go through all the evidence.

    The evidence that the priest offered in the material Nemo provided at the time was the word of one unnamed witness. The woman making the allegations had, on the other hand, all those attending the funeral, plus the funeral director (who claims the priest did abandon the funeral while he – the funeral director – got another priest from a retirement home to officiate). We also have the official church response, which is unlikely to be a simple knee jerk reaction. With this background, he doesn’t just get off.

    In any case, the most important and fundamental facts of the case that we were relaying remain uncontested: it was her mother’s funeral and she was refused communion. Nemo’s response has been to downplay or distract from the importance of this fact. It has been alienating for our readers. If one can see that this sort of case of reasoning as structurally the same as some reasoning in the case of rape, then maybe one can see what is so objectionable.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Hi Anne!

      Yes, I probably gave away too much in my reply to Jamie wrt Nemo’s reading of “with a grain of salt”.

      I think the main (minor, totally understandable) infelicity in your comment was the phrasing “now her claim is merely worth a grain of salt”. That’s ambiguous between “you equate her merit with the merit represented by a grain of salt [i.e., not very much]” and “now her claim is merely worth [taking with] a grain of salt”.

      Nemo (and Jamie) seem to be making the first reading. But, I would hope they both agree, the second reading is both possible and what charity would (at least narrowly, though I’d argue broadly) require.

      So, I gave away too much in my longer reply to Jamie. Of course, that even on the first reading what you wrote is reasonable does make the case stronger.

      The overall effect, of course, is pretty clearly not very feminist.

  11. annejjacobson Says:

    I should add that one thing one should not do is feed the trolls. Engaging in explaining why many of our readers have found Nemo’s comments very offensive is to feed the trolls. So I do not intend to revisit this issue.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Hi Anne,

      I generally agree. I do hope you’re ok with my bleeding it off over here. I do not entirely despair of making some headway. I mean, there’s some despair, no question! But it’s just a grain of pepper’s worth of despair🙂

      I do hope Jamie will retract his characterization of your comments. Jamie?

      • annejjacobson Says:

        Hi, Bijan, I just stopped. We haven’t seen you for a bit, and I hope we haven’t gotten at odds.

        I was very glad you provided this space for a discussion!

      • Bijan Parsia Says:

        We’re not at all at odds! I’ve just been swamped with papers and teaching and trip prep (and this discussion ;)). I’ve a comment or two for the derailment post.

  12. Bijan Parsia Says:

    BTW, this grain of salt thing is a great example of how local charity can hurt overall charity and why Nemo’s failures to live up their standard reasonably supports reading them less charitably.

    In this case, it’s sort of established (by Nemo’s and swallerstein’s testimony and by certain markers in Nemo’s comments) that Nemo is a “close and careful if literal reader”. That’s certain fairly charitable (i.e., it puts the disruption in a more positive light). And it led me to take their reading of the phrase (in toto; nothing about the phrase “with a grain of salt” indicates that the skepticism is minor) and their reading of Anne’s words. Dang it!

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      I.e., a “grain of salt” almost certainly doesn’t refer to a (small) crystal of salt, but to a grain measure of salt, i.e., in SI 65 milligrams. Not huge, but a fair bit more than a single crystal.

  13. swallerstein Says:

    Anne:

    It is not a good idea to feed trolls, but no one has shown that Nemo is a troll.

  14. swallerstein Says:

    Bijan:

    The fact that you refer to my “testimony” instead of my “arguments” or “claims” seems to confirm what I suggested above: that Nemo is on trial here.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      I certainly didn’t mean that implication.

      As far as I know, you made some claims about Nemo based on your personal observations and experiences. I don’t recall you pointing to the evidential base of those claims (e.g., threads where you found Nemo’s contributions valuable) or articulations of how Nemo’s behavior in this thread was beneficial. So, it’s testimony, report, etc. not direct data. Or, “claims” if you prefer.

      How does this make it a “trial” more than assessing various sorts of evidence is something one does in a trial? What else am I supposed to do?

      (BTW, I’ve already conceded that Nemo is not an intentional bad actor and am open to their not being a bad actor. I do believe that it is reasonable to have a model wherein they are a bad actor based on their behavior in the two threads I’ve seen. I’m trying to show why I think that. I’ve also tried to explain, in bits and pieces, how one might short-circuit such model formation.)

      What’s the implication of it being a “trial”? Am I acting improperly? It’s not like I can impose any punishment. Nor do I desire to. But you seem to intend a critique by this. Could you spell it out for me, please?

      • swallerstein Says:

        Bijan:

        A trial, as you well know, is a process where someone or some people are singled out from others, accused of some offense to the collectivity and judged.

        I tend to think that trying someone for what they say or opine is not a good thing, that we should foment a maximum of free debate as long as it is polite and follows normal rules of arguing.

        Putting people on trial for non-orthodox opinions and heresies has a long and ugly history, which you are undoubtedly aware of.

        While it is true that you (Bijan) cannot impose any punishment on Nemo, he could be banned from the Feminist Philosophers Blog as a result of the discussion here, since I imagine that the discussion here is being read by other participants in the FP blog who have the power to ban Nemo or at least to limit his input in the blog.

      • Bijan Parsia Says:

        I tend to think that trying someone for what they say or opine is not a good thing, that we should foment a maximum of free debate as long as it is polite and follows normal rules of arguing.

        I’m confused as to how I’m doing anything other than engaging in free debate that is polite and follows the normal rules of arguing. The content is a meta-issue about personal behavior (but mine as well!), very true, and that is, let me emphasise, very fraught. No question!

        It was unfortunate that Nemo didn’t have the requiste accounts to join. But I did lift those restrictions (that I had forgotten about). I’m not sure what else I can do to indicate my sincerity. I mean, you take my use of the word “testimony” as evidence that I’m…trialing? Trial trolling? Doing something wrong, in any case.

        While it is true that you (Bijan) cannot impose any punishment on Nemo, he could be banned from the Feminist Philosophers Blog as a result of the discussion here, since I imagine that the discussion here is being read by other participants in the FP blog who have the power to ban Nemo or at least to limit his input in the blog.

        This seems to say that I should not engage in free debate that is polite and follows the normal rules of arguing iff someone else might do something bad as a result? I certainly can endorse that, but I think you overstate my influence and my purpose. My goal is not to get Nemo banned and nowhere have I called for that.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Relatedly, would you say that I’m being contrarian toward Nemo? Usefully contrarian? If not, why not?

      I guess I just don’t really see the difference other than I think I’m more charitable toward Nemo and Nemo’s positions than I think they are to me and I think I mark it better. Obviously, you probably disagree!

      • swallerstein Says:

        I didn’t see this comment before.

        A contrarian is generally considered to be a character trait of someone who automatically or almost automatically contradicts group opinion. When a group says X, the contrarian says not X or not exactly X. The contrarian represents the antithesis of the
        thesis–antithesis–synthesis process.

        You seem to represent group opinion in this case, that is, the general group opinion of the FP blog, the thesis.

        I never claimed that Nemo is especially charitable. In fact, his arguing style tends not to be charitable.

  15. Jamie Says:

    I am alarmed at being said to make a “gross error.” I also am concerned that Jamie’s comment – “She said X and he explained she was wrong, so she made in fact two gross errors” – is an instance of the sort of reasoning I have been objecting to.

    That is absolutely (and very obviously) not what I said. I gave no such reading.
    Now I see that you’ve labeled me a ‘troll’. That’s blatantly false and deliberately insulting. Under the circumstances, there’s not much point in my writing anything else.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Now I see that you’ve labeled me a ‘troll’.

      Sorry, where did Anne label you a troll? It doesn’t seem to be explicit.

      That’s blatantly false and deliberately insulting. Under the circumstances, there’s not much point in my writing anything else.

      The circumstances of one commenter on my blog labeling you as a troll means that there’s not much point in you responding to what I’ve written? That’s a bit disappointing. Would you prefer to send me email?

      Or do you think what I’ve written is problematic?

      • Jamie Says:

        Anne posted here only in response to me, and then added that revisiting the issue would be “feeding the trolls”.
        Your follow-up, indicating some despair, appeared to me to indicate that you mainly agreed (though not 100%).
        I am embarrassed about having commented in a way that you, the blogger, find trollish (or whatever in the neighborhood you think), and I do not want to compound my mistake.

      • Bijan Parsia Says:

        Sorry, that was unclear. I’m also in the tricky position of trying to give everyone uptake without saying anything false. Tricky!

        I would hope that given my analysis you would retract your characterization of what Anne wrote as containing “2 gross errors”. But I’m willing to discuss it.

  16. Jamie Says:

    Bijan, I believe I misunderstood the nature of the invitation to continue some discussion here at your blog. I apologize.

    The issue of what charity is and how to apply it was interesting albeit (as you noted) somewhat tangential. I am inclined to agree with much of what you said — that charity is one virtue (of an interpretation) among others, and that charity itself must be applied holistically. I meant my first remarks to be clarificatory and preliminary, rather than to kick off a long discussion of the principle of charity. However, it now seems to me that I have merely been sticking my two cents in where it was (they were?) not wanted or needed, and I regret having done it.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Jamie,

      What do you think the nature of the invitation was? I didn’t have too much in mind other than discussion with Nemo about whether we could figure out a mutual strategy for improving our interactions on FP and discussing the philosophical issues surrounding interpretation, derailment, communal epistemic regulation, etc. For the latter, the discussion of charity seem on point.

      • Jamie Says:

        I’m now not sure — but it seems to me that you regard whatever I’m contributing as a bit of a chore, waste of time, or something similar. Not constructive.

      • Bijan Parsia Says:

        Sorry to give that impression. Obviously, I feel that there is some failure to communicate. I’m not sure whether it’s you or me. I am the common denominator, so I could well be me. I don’t seem to be doing a terrific job of being convincing, cf swallerstein’s comments.

        So I despair. See my first comment in reply to you:

        This, combined with swallerstein’s feeling that I was hinting at what I felt I stated explicitly, is a bit demoralizing. Oh well. Onward.

  17. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Actually, these last few exchanges are great examples why you really want a wider notion of charity (if your goal is promoting an epistemic community). Mutual respect is obviously hugely important, and mutual respect has to be marked appropriately so people don’t take to many hits to their self-respect in order to keep things going.

    So, for example, I have a fair bit of anxiety that by sticking to the example at hand that I’ll be seen as piling on, making a mountain out of molehill, putting someone on trial, and, in general, being a terrible actor. I don’t think I’ve done that. I didn’t intend to do that. But swallerstein has said that I seem to be doing that. Worse for me, that I’ve done so in a bad way (unspecified charges of vague misdemeanors…I was afraid that my problem in the OP is that I put too much in! note that when I repeated the “charges” in shorter form, there was no uptake; so I’m unsure what happened.)

  18. Jamie Says:

    Yes, I can see you are in a difficult position. Okay, stand by (I will post what I had already mostly written in response to you).

  19. swallerstein Says:

    Bijan:

    I too can see that you’re in a stressful position and I have no desire to make your life harder for you.

    I joined Word Press in about 60 seconds in order to participate in your blog, so it’s not all that difficult.

    Why don’t we all take a break from this conversation and maybe someday we’ll all be able to converse about something more agreeable.

  20. Jamie Says:

    Bijan,

    First, I’m not sure what this is supposed to show. There can be errors on all sides without any particular error being decisive. (I presume a pretty strong fallibilism.)

    Yes. That’s why I said it was an example. I think it’s fair to assume that we both understand that examples are not decisive.

    I take it that this is Error 1. But notice that a) it requires a ridiculous version of the “treating women’s claims as good evidence” principle I articulated and Anne appealed to…

    Isn’t a) obvious? If her male lawyer came out and said, “Johnson did not expect that her sexuality would be an issue” do you really think that it respects the “treating women’s claims as good evidence” principle to deny it then, but accept it if Johnson herself comes out and makes the statement?

    I don’t follow you. I honestly don’t understand what the principle you’re talking about has to do with this example.

    The (first) mistake that Anne made was in claiming that Nemo takes “a man’s word to show hers to be without merit.” That simply wasn’t true. But the mistake wasn’t in taking a woman’s spokesman’s claim to be a claim of the woman’s! That would be an utterly trivial mistake. (I hadn’t even noticed it.)

    I hope you can see that this sequence makes it easy to get to a reading where in “taking with a grain of salt” is intended as “just enough skepticism to prevent it being absolutely unbelievable”.

    I don’t, no. (What was going on there was that Anne used the word ‘unbelievable’, Nemo echoed it, then said more carefully what he actually meant, in his own words.) But I hope you see that insufficient charity led to an incorrect reading (whether that reading was reasonable, as you think, or not, as I think). It’s not clear to me whether you are denying this. Could you say straight out whether you are denying it?

    It’s not irrational for Nemo to wonder if Johnson was sincere in her reports or that the explanation of some aspects of the events was wrong.

    No, it’s not. So then Anne told him that he’d taken a man’s word to show the woman’s to be without merit, and that he’d said the woman’s word was merely worth a grain of salt. Both of those would indeed be irrational. And he hadn’t done either one.

    Similarly, Jamie, you picked this one example and even escalated it (“true meanings” vs. “vicious false ones”).

    I didn’t mean to escalate it (and I don’t believe I have). I was telling you what I think it is an example of. I still feel that this is a very clear example of what I had in mind, and I am not sure why you don’t agree that it is. As you said, Anne simply made a mistake. Her mistake was, in fact, to substitute a vicious meaning for the actual intended one. Twice. I take it you think this was not because of insufficient charity, but I think you are wrong. I don’t think the mistakes were “just typos”. That comment accused Nemo of being viciously dismissive of a woman’s claims on the basis of a man’s denial. (And in the same comment she threatened to ban him from the blog.) So the example does not seem to me to be so trivial as you would have it.

    I agree, by the way, that “the original point was so small”. I didn’t mean for you to spend so much effort responding. Really all I was doing was explaining what I mean by ‘charity’, so that we would not misunderstand each other. Examples help.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Yes. That’s why I said it was an example. I think it’s fair to assume that we both understand that examples are not decisive.

      But we both agree that they can have considerable affect on the shape of a discourse? I mean, you picked (I trust) a convenient example to make a point about charity and a point about Nemo being wrongly treated. (Or at least the former; the latter would help.) But ok. Let me grant this.

      I don’t follow you. I honestly don’t understand what the principle you’re talking about has to do with this example.

      As I understand it, Anne was attempting to give Nemo an illustration of how what he wrote either did or was reasonably seen to (my preferred reading) violate the principle of treating women’s claims as good evidence (a form of charity!). The passage from Nemo I quoted is their argument that their comment didn’t violate the principle. But that defence relies on a silly reading of the principle.

      The (first) mistake that Anne made was in claiming that Nemo takes “a man’s word to show hers to be without merit.” That simply wasn’t true. But the mistake wasn’t in taking a woman’s spokesman’s claim to be a claim of the woman’s! That would be an utterly trivial mistake. (I hadn’t even noticed it.)

      Nemo takes it as a defence that they didn’t take “a man’s word to show hers to be without merit” that the putatively merit weak claim was not made, or known to be made, by a women (and, indeed, that the “man’s word” was also not known to be made by a man: “Thus, this claim was not attributed to [the woman] but to others of indeterminate gender.” and “The source for the explanation that the priest at some point experienced a medical episode that rendered him unable to continue was also a source of indeterminate gender.” Here’s the whole comment.)

      It’s certainly possible that Nemo is wrong about this, but they spend a good deal of time on it. It has the side effect of making Anne (and me) look, well, silly, since that’s a silly principle to be have.

      (It might not be as silly as it seems, but let’s go with it :))

      You clearly don’t endorse that, but I hope you can see why I thought you did.

      But I hope you see that insufficient charity led to an incorrect reading (whether that reading was reasonable, as you think, or not, as I think). It’s not clear to me whether you are denying this. Could you say straight out whether you are denying it?

      Hmmm. I’m reluctant to come out either way solidly. I think this is because I have a charity conflict. If I localize on Nemo’s statement and try to maximize there, then I’ll probably end up reducing the attributed rationality of Anne. And, obviously, vice versa. I could try to split the difference and say that the reading led to an incorrect view of Nemo but that it was not due to either 1) culplably insufficient charity (i.e., Anne met all or most of, her interlocutionary obligations, but there was a supererogatory reading that would have been correct) or 2) insufficient charity simpliciter (i.e., I give a reading where she comes out right, but the right interpretation is false of Nemo). Or, I could go with “the spirit was right even though the letter was wrong”.

      Frankly, I really wish I weren’t in this position over what is, in the end, a tweesy point that doesn’t even, after pages of discussion, have much to do with Nemo’s original intent!

      It’s not irrational for Nemo to wonder if Johnson was sincere in her reports or that the explanation of some aspects of the events was wrong.

      No, it’s not. So then Anne told him that he’d taken a man’s word to show the woman’s to be without merit, and that he’d said the woman’s word was merely worth a grain of salt. Both of those would indeed be irrational. And he hadn’t done either one.

      Just because it’s not irrational to so wonder doesn’t mean that the mode of presentation of that wondering is not, in context, misleading or inciting.

      I didn’t mean to escalate it (and I don’t believe I have). I was telling you what I think it is an example of. I still feel that this is a very clear example of what I had in mind, and I am not sure why you don’t agree that it is.

      Well, even if accurate “gross error”, “vicious”, etc. are escalatory. Is there any doubt of this? I mean, perhaps you meant that they weren’t escalating because Anne already took it to that level? Or that it’s not escalating because it’s a fair description? But, the truth can escalate hostile situations, can it not? This is why diplomacy and etiquette are founded on lies.

      As you said, Anne simply made a mistake. Her mistake was, in fact, to substitute a vicious meaning for the actual intended one.

      I was unable to fine where I said that. I see:

      Let me stipulate that Anne made some errors.

      But that’s a stipulation for the sake of argument, not a claim by me. I also see:

      I think it’s clear that Anne had a brain fart about the meaning of “grain of salt” per se, but I’m don’t think that the impression was unreasonable.

      But that’s not the same error, and I retract that.

      I take it you think this was not because of insufficient charity, but I think you are wrong. I don’t think the mistakes were “just typos”. That comment accused Nemo of being viciously dismissive of a woman’s claims on the basis of a man’s denial. (And in the same comment she threatened to ban him from the blog.) So the example does not seem to me to be so trivial as you would have it.

      I don’t see where Anne says Nemo was vicious. I guess you just mean that she attributed a vice to him, not that she was accusing him of specific malevolence? My impression of the “threatening” comment was that Anne was trying to get Nemo to understand what many found unacceptable about his comments. FP is not an open comment forum. They have, e.g., the Be Nice rule. They are also trying to foster a positive space for women and feminists. It’s hard to see how to do that without exerting some control. This is the internet, after all. I’ve tried to explain how I think Nemo could avoid giving the negative impression that I and others built up. A this point I’m not hugely concerned in justifying that impression further. Perhaps I’m just too damn touchy. So, one solution would be for me to leave the discussion. Another one would be for Nemo to modify their style a bit. (Though it would be tricky for a while until “credit” has been built up.)

      I don’t think it’s trivial, obviously. But I think you are more charitable to Nemo than to Anne. There’s a sort of state wherein we can kinda ding everyone just a little and say there’s a huge misunderstanding. But I guess this won’t be palatable.

      I agree, by the way, that “the original point was so small”. I didn’t mean for you to spend so much effort responding. Really all I was doing was explaining what I mean by ‘charity’, so that we would not misunderstand each other. Examples help.

      Sure! Wrenching this back to charity per se, I still don’t see that either a rationality standard or a truth standard can yield anything but at least two incompatible readings of Anne’s and Nemo’s comment, together. (So holism; charity requires optimizing rationality over several agents; or rather we have charity duties toward several agents and both on the truth of what they said and on interpretations of what they did.)

      You could argue that Nemo’s “actual” meaning was clear so charity requires sticking with that. But given any reasonable account of ordinary linguistic error, speaker’s meaning, etc. it’s going to be very hard to defend that.

      My other way of going is to grant a narrower sense of charity (so your reading comes up) but deny that that level of charity was required or wise. The over all goal of Anne qua moderator is, I warrant, to keep the comment section “unstuck” and attractive to a body of readers and commentators. if there is a locus of disruption, she has to make choices of which action will be best overall. Banning Nemo will offend or distress some people and (perhaps) not banning them might offend or distress others. We can try to invoke other values (justice?!) to resolve this tension, but, I’m not sure there’s a strong justice claim here.

      I guess this isn’t hugely satisfactory. I’ll try to clarify a bit more in my response to Nemo.

      I’ve no idea why mine are the only comments I must moderate!

  21. Nemo Says:

    Thank you Bijan.

    I started composing this long before most of these other comments appeared; accordingly much of it relates to your initial post which probably seems like ancient history by now. Warning: this is a looong one.

    I would like to second, for the benefit of anyone happening to read this who does not reading this, your recognition of the excellence of the FP blog, which is most earnestly recommended, and to which your own contributions and those of the other FP commenters I see have joined the thread here, are in no wise insubstantial.

    I confess that I would have preferred that we consult before undertaking to reproduce here so much of my commentary from there, but I say that not to make you feel bad or to suggest that I would have objected. I’m actually reasonably comfortable for now with the way this is working. I’m indebted to you for the seriousness and good faith that generally distinguish your approach to my comments, and I wish your blog success.

    One last prefatory remark: I’ll be experimenting here with block quotes, a new (to me) trick that Bijan obligingly put me on to. I apologize in advance if I mess it up – I won’t know until I post.

    [Bijan wrote:] I didn’t say that you accorded any less evidentiary value to Johnson’s claims on account of her sex or her sexual orientation as such. I said, “treating women’s claims as good evidence”. It’s very clear, I hope you agree, that you did not treat her claim about her own psychological state as good evidence for her psychological state. Indeed, your skepticism about her claims survived a huge amount (in my estimation, of course) of contrary evidence.

    Yes, I concur that you didn’t say that I accorded any less evidentiary value to her claims, etc. I think the explanation there (though it does not excuse my misreading) is that I was responding to what I thought you meant, having reflexively avoided an interpretation that strikes me as potentially problematic and thus (I presumed) not intended, namely that there is a normative gender-related basis for treating any class of claims generally as good evidence without regard to the gender-neutral criteria, facts and circumstances that are ordinarily understood as bearing upon evidentiary value.

    Perhaps that is not exactly the meaning you intended either, but maybe the best thing is to ask you to clarify what you mean by “treating women’s claims as good evidence”, and particularly what, in your view, it entails above and beyond treating human claims about psychological states in a non-gender-biased way.
    I’m also not sure I understand precisely what you were referring to as Johnson’s claim about her own psychological state. The story we were looking at says that she was deep in grief, that she reacted with stunned silence (which I guess implies a state of mind, though possibly the journalist’s), that she is now angered and outraged, that she thought for a moment that the priest would change his mind, and the paper quotes her as saying that she “stood there in shock … grieving” (which I believe is the only first-hand claim in the list). Which is the claim(s) you’re thinking of?

    [Bijan wrote:] It may be that e.g., you’re cynical about human motivations or e.g., you think that people normally obsessively think about the rules of institutions they encounter or e.g., you think that lesbian Catholics in the US encounter enough Catholic harassment that they normally are hypersensitized to the possibilities of more harassment. Of course, you didn’t clarify any of this.

    I may be misreading you here, but do I detect the suggestion that it would generally be incumbent upon, e.g., a cynic (small “c”, naturally) to clarify that they are cynical?

    [Bijan wrote:] Nor, when people pointed out that many lay Catholics have contrary expectations of how these things were handled did you incorporate that into your range of “reasonably” credible possibilites.

    I might have missed a bit in that long FP thread, but relying solely on my recollection, I was aware only that a couple of people asserted, based on anecdotal personal experience with family members and such, that the treatment of Communion in other circumstances (divorce, etc.) had produced different outcomes that may arguably have been inconsistent with this outcome. (The general applicability of this was questioned, as I recall, by the only apparently Catholic commenter to address it.) What evidence were you thinking that I should have incorporated?

    [Bijan wrote:] So, it seems unquestionable that you were not treating her own claim about her own psychological state as good evidence of her psychological state. In context, it seems not unreasonable to wonder why.

    Until we’ve clarified some of the preceding matters, I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves. But let’s assume for now, arguendo, that I was not treating her own claim about her own psychological state as good evidence of her psychological state. I was going to ask here what you view as the context, but since you treat this more explicitly below, I will return to that.

    [Bijan wrote:] I’ll accept your contention that it was not due to her sex “as such”, but given how easily such bias can creep in (from context, even if an agent is internally scrupulous), I hope you’ll forgive me when I suggest that it’s at least plausible that you were doing so.

    Still subject to the assumption (for now) about my not having regarded a claim of Johnson as good evidence, I’d say the hypothesis that this was due in part to her sex is at least basically plausible in the sense that it does not entail contradiction and that it is explanatory (even if the phenomenon it purports to explain – that I did not treat her claim as good evidence – is not, I think, a particularly extraordinary one). Yet I do not see a basis for establishing that it has a high likelihood of being true or that it otherwise possesses qualities associated with plausibility in degrees greater than its competitors. Accordingly, I would say that it lacks warrant or justification for our preferring it, much less for actually holding it to be true.

    I suppose plausibity can be conceived as relative to a given body of evidence, and this particular hypothesis is less plausible to me because I have access, albeit imperfect, to my own thought processes (at least conscious ones); additional evidence is available to me that would cast doubt on it. But even absent that, I do not think much justification for it exists on anyone else’s part either.

    I would also note that the bias hypothesis allows for two sub-hypotheses, one involving (as you say) an internally scrupulous agent and the other not. Logically there should be at least a somewhat lower degree of justification for belief that the second sub-hypothesis is true than for the belief that the broader main hypothesis is true. Did you get the sense from the responses in the other thread that this was generally being borne in mind?

    I myself am trying to bear in mind the ways in which gender bias can, as you say, creep in despite an internally scrupulous agent. From my own conscious perspective, of course, I see it as purely incidental (to my assessment of the story; though perhaps not to the story’s actual outcome) that the story involved a woman instead of, e.g., a gay man. I have both rational and emotional objections to the dogged pursuit of the explanation that does involve my putative gender bias, not the least of which is that I felt it rapidly took an oppressive turn on FP.

    [Bijan wrote:] If you’d like to avoid confusing me on this point, a few more markers would be pretty helpful.

    I’d like to avoid confusing anyone on that point, though I confess to attaching more importance to avoiding warranted confusion than unwarranted confusion. Would it be wishful thinking to ask whether, specifically as between the two of us, it would adequately reduce the likelihood of future confusion if I offered now a durable admonition that any interpretation of my past or future remarks as endorsing gender bias – at least consciously – is unintended and disavowed?

    [Bijan wrote:] I think so, though not merely with the quip. You set up a structure wherein the alternatives were that she was lying (or misreported) or overwhelmed by grief to the point of insanity. The simpler explanation — that she had done what she said she had done, to wit, never considered that it would be a problem — is hardly outre. People “don’t think” all the time! She hardly need to be insane with grief to be fairly seriously distracted. She could easily have shared the common belief that the church is and should be lenient about Communion at “important” events. Etc. etc. etc.

    Well, if it was not originally clear that my implication was away from rather than toward an insanity-based behavioural reading, I hope that it has since been made clear. I reiterate that my reference to insanity was colloquial rather than clinical, roughly as where one says, e.g., “they’d be insane to pass up this opportunity”, which, primarily, inclines toward the view that they will not do so, and secondarily, does not really imply that if they do not do so it should be interpreted as a medical symptom. I think we have said all that can fruitfully be said about my reference to insanity and that we understand each other’s points about it. Let’s move on from that.

    [Bijan wrote:] Note that this is, again, weaker than your earlier claim. “I found it implausible” vs. “it strains reasonable credulity”.

    Hmm. Is it definitely weaker (from the speaker’s perspective)? I’m not sure that that was intended. Upon reflection, I would think that something might possibly strain credulity short of being wholly implausible to me. These are not very concrete terms to begin with. However, I grant this and move on.

    [Bijan wrote:] Given that we have no first hand knowledge and some inconsistent and partial reports, I don’t think it’s completely out of line to find other accounts plausible (esp. if, as I expect, you are extrapolating from your own mindset). (For me, a line like, “I find it difficult to imagine that if I were in her shoes that I wouldn’t have at least considered the possibility that the priest would deny me communion.” is both reasonable, avoids challenging her epistemic authority with respect to her own psychological states, and makes the point.)

    I see what you mean. I’m wondering if, thus transformed, it would then technically be a point about my psychological state. I’m generally reluctant to make those in philosophically-minded (even if not actually philosophical) discourse. But if they are essentially the same point, would you agree that counterargument not directed to that point is, well, beside the point?
    At any rate, on balance I wish I had used your suggested phrasing.

    [Bijan wrote:] Given all the people who were writing on the web that Johnson was trying to provoke or torment the priest and afterwards trying to exploit the situation, I think it would be helpful to mark explicitly (as you do here) your distance from such views.

    That was basically a correction aimed at someone else’s suggestion that it followed from what I had written before that Johnson was culpable or that the priest was not culpable.

    Don’t you think that we helpfully distinguish ourselves from those people who were writing on the web that Johnson was being exploitative, etc., chiefly by not being among them in the first place? And would you agree that the views expressed by those other people have no logical relevance to my points?

    I sense, by the way, that you are significantly more familiar than I with what was commonly being said and by whom on that subject, so that was not particularly part of the context from my perspective. Perhaps by saying that was being neglectful of context you are implying that I ought prudently to have surveyed and familiarized myself with a sufficient sample of what was being said in the world wide peanut gallery before commenting. If so, I can’t say it’s a duty that I will undertake with great relish in future.

    [Bijan wrote:] That questioning Johnson’s honesty was commonly done by people seeking to discredit her (morally speaking) is part of the surrounding context. Similarly, that she claimed to be heavily involved with Catholism and that the canon lawyer, the response of the archdiocese, and the numerous accounts about the expectations of the Catholic laity seems to support that it was reasonable not to expect him to deny her communion. (I.e., there’s a policy implication in the Archdiocese’s apology and as an active Catholic it’s as reasonable to suppose she was aware of that as suppose that she was aware of the Canon. If you meant that she should have expected that some priest would, against policy, misapply the canon at her mother’s funeral…well, that’s hard for me to extract from what you wrote.)

    If she thought that the priest would be wrong to (or just wouldn’t) deny communion, why would she care, or even think about, whether the priest would be happy about it? Why would she care if the priest was going to be (wrongly, in her view) unhappy at her mother’s funeral? I guess I can parse this as “Why would she risk a priest being a jerk at her mom’s funeral?” but that certainly seems like a very strained reading considering your earlier “we should respect the rules set by the institution”.

    Let me propose a hypothetical scenario that may shed some light on my line of thought here. Imagine a citizen with a reasonably well-informed layperson’s understanding of the law who is interacting with a reasonably well-trained police officer.

    Depending on the circumstances, it seems to me that there are things that the citizen could do that she would have very good reason to suspect would have some likelihood (it could be well under 50%, but still be nontrivial) of causing her to be arrested, even if it’s the case both that (i) the citizen subjectively believes that the arrest is more likely not to occur and that if it does occur it would be unjustified, and (ii) a reviewing court would upon examination properly find the arrest not to be in compliance with the law and would overturn it (without it necessarily being the case that the police officer was being a jerk or was not well-trained). (Needless to say, the relative justice or wisdom of the legal requirements themselves are beside the point here.)

    People will ordinarily weigh both the relative probability/improbability of an event occurring, and the degree of negative consequences if it does occur, in deciding how much weight to accord to that as a decision-making factor. Bearing this in mind, I took a passing interest in Johnson’s interior decisional processes. Here, “I wonder what was she was thinking?” would not be a rhetorical question and it certainly would be incorrect to infer a value judgment from it. It was an earnest if idle reflection of curiosity about something that tends to interest me about human psychology.

    Since you’ve alluded to the canon lawyer’s professional opinion that the priest’s denial of Communion probably did not comport with the requirements of the law, there are a couple of further things I think are worth noting about it.

    First, notwithstanding his conclusion, even he seemed (I thought) not to find astonishing that an ordinary priest under the circumstances could misapply the law even in good faith. I wonder if this is perhaps similar to a civil judge, in my hypothetical scenario above, finding that a police officer’s on-the-spot application of law to facts in deciding how to react, while strictly erroneous, was nonetheless not frivolous, incomprehensible, or for that matter wholly unanticipatable.

    Second, the lawyer seemed to imply that the same basic situation might have been brought within the requirements of the law if the priest had taken further measures to verify that the “obstinacy” and “manifestness” requirements of the canon were present. So we may be talking about a situation in which, from a canon law perspective, the error of law was principally procedural rather than substantive. If so, then still going with my police officer conceit (though I don’t wish to spin it out too far), this might be viewed as similar to a police officer making an arrest based on a hunch and a few facts which, taken together, a court later finds did not formally rise to the level of sufficiently probable cause — even if it turns out that additional investigation would have revealed that the officer’s hunch was correct.

    In such a case, the court might say that the citizen was in a legal sense entitled to expect that they would not be arrested, but I think it is generally understood that this does not necessarily mean that the citizen had no warrant (the epistemic kind, not the arrest kind!) for taking into account a reasonable possibility that they would be arrested.

    I agree that there is a policy implied in the Archdiocese’s apology (which policy would be one of the current archbishop, apparently not universal), but it’s not necessarily one that suggests that the facts of this case did not put it close to the line.

    [Bijan wrote:] If you would sprinkle a few more markers in your comments, I’d personally be grateful. I’ll also continue to try to read you more charitably.

    I will endeavour to do the same in reading you. Could you clarify the kinds of markers you have in mind? I sort of have the impression from one of your earlier comments that you think it might be incumbent on me to “leaven” my comments with more indications of my moral judgments. I must say that although I do that from time to time in offhand remarks on various things, in the context of more sustained commentary or argumentation I rarely do so. By now this is a habit, but one that I believe is grounded in a perception that a speaker’s moral judgments are, generally, at best irrelevant to and at worst detract from objective analysis of most kinds of arguments.

    [Bijan wrote:] To see how this works out in the current situation, let’s presume (contrary to my belief) that every comment of Nemo’s in that thread was content-wise perfectly acceptable, given the correct reading. Now consider the difference between

    1. having to perform a really close, literal reading while also shutting down standard interpretative heuristics that are ordinarily quite reliable in order to correctly assess the content, and
    2. all readings (however sloppy) plus normal heuristics lead us to roughly the correct assessment.

    I am not sure I understood this.

    [Bijan wrote:] Note that I did not technically imply that that priest was homophobic. Here’s a reading of what I wrote: Johnson normally never encounters homophobic Catholics and, indeed, her circle are all supportive. Plus, she hangs around with canon lawyers and Catholic policy makers who all have assured her that merely identifying her partner is not sufficient to get denied communion, esp. at funerals. (I strengthened it to the far fetched deliberately.) This easily explains her not thinking that her sexuality would be a problem. It does not require the denying priest to be homophobic. Thus, since there is one model of my claim wherein the priest is not homophobic, I did not imply that they were homophobic.

    I find very persuasive your explanation that you did not technically imply that that priest was homophobic, and, in retrospect, at the very least I shouldn’t have said “pace your implication”. Moreover, it’s not something you should have had to explain in the first place; I simply ought to have paid more careful attention to what you were saying. I apologize.

    [Bijan wrote:] Of course, one can also reasonably surmise that one condition of being not-homophobic is not relentlessly (yet mistakenly!) enforcing homophobic rules (i.e., engaging ones pastoral discretion). With this, fairly natural from a feminist point of view, reading, then (I should think) that an inference that the priest is homophobic would be correct.

    Given how confusion has tended to multiply in this discussion, I should ask for clarification here which of the several “rules” arguably relevant to this case you are referring to.

    To read Nemo sufficiently charitably here requires lowering defences against standard heterosexist heuristics, which I’m rather unwilling to do esp. when similar charity, or even as much charity as Nemo demands for their own comments, seems to be lacking on Nemo’s side.

    Again, as I am gingerly trying to avoid further misunderstandings of things you have written, could you clarify what you are referring to as defences and as standard heterosexist heuristics?

    That about covers my preliminary thoughts on the OP (whew!). I’ll now turn to a smattering of comments from the remainder of the thread – though I haven’t had much time to read through it – in a poor attempt to do it all justice.

    [Xena wrote:] Another one of my Nemo-peeves is the way he intentionally throws out strawman arguments, and then wastes ridiculous amounts of space telling the people who took the bait that they’re crappy philosophers for jumping on the strawmen. Yes people. Nemo has used this ploy more than once in the last few years.

    Xena, I’m sorry if I’ve done that. I always thought I had a pretty healthy aversion to strawman arguments, not to mention to telling other people that they’re crappy philosophers. I’m not 100% sure what you’re referring to; isn’t the way strawman arguments work that the person jumping on one is the same person who offered it up in the first place? But I’ll accept that it’s happened, so no need to dig up examples. More importantly, though, if you see me using strawmen in future, or committing any kind of fallacy, just point it out then and there (I can take it!).

    [Bijan wrote:] I take it that this is Error 1. But notice that a) it requires a ridiculous version of the “treating women’s claims as good evidence” principle I articulated and Anne appealed to and b) the case Anne raised is not the strongest example of Nemo’s putative violation of that principle in the thread!

    Isn’t a) obvious? If her male lawyer came out and said, “Johnson did not expect that her sexuality would be an issue” do you really think that it respects the “treating women’s claims as good evidence” principle to deny it then, but accept it if Johnson herself comes out and makes the statement? While there are cases where we want to put distance between a spokesperson and the original person, this is clearly not such a case.

    I disagree. First, recall that the claim to which the “grain of salt” comment related here was the claim, based on something in the WaPo story, that the priest simply abandoned a mass in progress.

    The priest’s absenting himself was reported in the story on the basis of (highly incomplete, as it later turned out) eyewitness accounts, specifically not including Johnson’s. This is completely different from your lawyer-client scenario. A lawyer is generally supposed not to make independent testimonial claims concerning their client; statements they make as an advocate are – at least by virtue of a legal fiction – imputable to the client directly. (Indeed, if it becomes apparent that a lawyer could also be called as a witness, they typically have to decline or discontinue the representation.)

    I don’t think one can validly characterize third party eyewitness accounts, even from family members, as being basically equivalent to a claim by Johnson as to her psychological state. I find a) to be, not only not obviously true, but actually false.

    [Bijan wrote:] However, I don’t think those markers aren’t there, which is why I think it’s reasonable for me to keep redeveloping the mental model that I do.

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, you came to believe by whatever process that the warning bells were false positives (for lack of a better term), or even that in a particular context they were consistently false positives. You might still think that what you had theretofore regarded as markers were still there, but would you reconsider their status as “markers” if they weren’t actually marking anything? Also, although we know, as you noted, that heuristics can be misapplied and even when properly applied sometimes yield the wrong result, at what point does one stop saying “Well, this is just a heuristic, no big deal that we’ve encountered an exception” and start saying “This is starting to look like evidence of a more serious problem with this heuristic?” I’m just curious, not suggesting that this is (or is not) the case.

    [Anne wrote:] In any case, the most important and fundamental facts of the case that we were relaying remain uncontested: it was her mother’s funeral and she was refused communion. Nemo’s response has been to downplay or distract from the importance of this fact. It has been alienating for our readers. If one can see that this sort of case of reasoning as structurally the same as some reasoning in the case of rape, then maybe one can see what is so objectionable.

    Anne, I don’t think that criticism is entirely fair. I agree that the basic facts you identify are important and fundamental (and really, very little I wrote about this makes a great deal of sense *except* in the light of the importance of those facts). At the same time, I trust we agree that the significance of greater facts can sometimes be appreciated in the light cast by lesser facts.

    I am grieved that this should have been alienating for a subset of our readers, and I would like to find a way out of the forest – particularly since, as this thread of Bijan’s has shown, the negative response from some quarters to my comments has itself been deeply alienating to another subset of our readers.

    I am also alarmed that this whole affair may have set back my promotion to moderator on FP by weeks, if not months. (Just kidding there.)

    [Bijan wrote:] I think the main (minor, totally understandable) infelicity in your comment was the phrasing “now her claim is merely worth a grain of salt”. That’s ambiguous between “you equate her merit with the merit represented by a grain of salt [i.e., not very much]” and “now her claim is merely worth [taking with] a grain of salt”.

    Nemo (and Jamie) seem to be making the first reading. But, I would hope they both agree, the second reading is both possible and what charity would (at least narrowly, though I’d argue broadly) require.

    Bijan, in developing the second reading, what significance did you attribute to Anne’s immediately following sentence (“You take a man’s word to show hers to be without merit.”)?

    [Jamie wrote:] (What was going on there was that Anne used the word ‘unbelievable’, Nemo echoed it, then said more carefully what he actually meant, in his own words.)

    Jamie, I think you have hit the nail on the head there. Bijan, I think it might have been preferable if you had quoted not only my response, but Anne’s relevant phrase to which I was replying, where she said “the priest, unbelievably to me, walked out on the whole thing.”

    • Nemo Says:

      Holy heck are there some typos and editing errors in there. Looks like I’ll be needing the charity!

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      I don’t think one can validly characterize third party eyewitness accounts, even from family members, as being basically equivalent to a claim by Johnson as to her psychological state. I find a) to be, not only not obviously true, but actually false.

      Hmmm. Well, this is pretty weedy.

      at what point does one stop saying “Well, this is just a heuristic, no big deal that we’ve encountered an exception” and start saying “This is starting to look like evidence of a more serious problem with this heuristic?” I’m just curious, not suggesting that this is (or is not) the case.

      There’s no definite point per se. But I look to how often and how severely it’s wrong, whether it’s specific to a kind of situation or general, and how amenable it is to tuning. Of course, breaking its use may be hard or functionally impossible. Then I try to warn people about it.

      Bijan, in developing the second reading, what significance did you attribute to Anne’s immediately following sentence (“You take a man’s word to show hers to be without merit.”)?

      I read that consistently, i.e., “You take a man’s word to show her to be without [full] merit.” (I.e., “now her claim is merely worth [taking with] a grain of salt”.)

      Jamie, I think you have hit the nail on the head there. Bijan, I think it might have been preferable if you had quoted not only my response, but Anne’s relevant phrase to which I was replying, where she said “the priest, unbelievably to me, walked out on the whole thing.”

      Ok, let me correct. Anne wrote:

      There’s a specified rite for the burial and she didn’t get it because the priest, unbelievably to me, walked out on the whole thing..

      Nemo, you replied:

      Anne, that part is also unbelievable to me. Well, not absolutely unbelievable, but worth taking with a grain of salt nonetheless.

      One of the local religious blogs has publicized a conflicting account according to which the excuse offered to the family at the time (that the priest had some medical episode that prevented him from making the trip graveside) was genuine, and more importantly that the parish did ensure that a substitute was found for the committal rite.

      Ok, I believe I’ve been reading the last part of the second paragraph uncharitably (i.e., it expresses a good marker of congenial concern). However, I’m still puzzled by the “unbelievable” trope. Anne, I believe, meant it in a Moore paradoxical way, i.e., “I can’t believe that it’s raining”. It’s not an indicator of epistemic confidence, but and intensifier of moral outrage. Nemo’s use is not the same: it’s purely epistemic. So the “also” doesn’t jibe. That’s where it seems that Nemo is casting doubt on the (let me call it) pro-Johnson (if not literally Johnson) account.

      With that, it’s not a strain to read the second contrary to its intent, as denying the family’s trustworthiness.

      That would be my account of how that bit of discourse went astray. I’m happy to accept that the first paragraph is a linguistic error, but I think the reaction is more understandable if you see the mismatch in the use of “unbelievable”.

  22. xena Says:

    In light of Nemo’s new request to find a way around the usual login procedures, I think Bijan has been more than charitable.

    1) I have encountered Nemo in Blogland numerous times over the last 2 years.

    2) The little grey gravatar beside Nemo’s comments on fp proves that he has been commenting there for a long time without leaving his email address. I’m too lazy to backtrack for proof as to precisely how long, but I can confidently say that he’s been doing so for at least a year, and may have been doing so for the entire 2 years that I’ve been reading his comments.

    3) Nemo frequently provides links to articles to back up his claims. If memory serves me, he’s also linked to academic journals that are difficult to access without a subscription; therefore he is well aware of the procedures involved in logging into different types of sites.

    4) Extrapolating from what little self disclosure Nemo has given us, I can safely surmise that he is educated past the undergrad level, and can guess that he may be a good deal more educated than that. He has also stated on a debate pertaining to Obamacare that his family is in a healthcare related field, and he has reservations about Obama and Clinton’s proposed changes to the American healthcare system. This tells me that Nemo is definitely American, and quite possibly a wealthy, privileged American.

    5) And yet Nemo can’t figure out how to login to WordPress to comment here? He has to ask Bijan for help to deal with this problem?

    Bijan, I’m not sure what in your heuristics has allowed you to drop the usual security protocols on your site for this extremely far fetched claim, besides criticism from the other commenters, but I would not have been so kind. My heuristics are screaming “that does not compute!” Without even thinking about it, I could offer Nemo 3 different solutions that don’t require bothering you to bend over backwards for him. However, those solutions would all make Nemo a better troll, if that’s what he is.

    This last request of Nemo’s has stretched my credulity to the limit. I am now inclined to give his claims as much credit as I give claims that sasquatch exist. Remotely possible, but so unlikely that it’s not worth my time to give it more than a passing thought.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      I’m going to try to reduce the length a bit. Let me know if I neglect things you want addressed. Thanks for joining in!

      Perhaps that is not exactly the meaning you intended either, but maybe the best thing is to ask you to clarify what you mean by “treating women’s claims as good evidence”, and particularly what, in your view, it entails above and beyond treating human claims about psychological states in a non-gender-biased way.

      I think it means recognizing that women, as a class, generally exist under epistemic (as well as other sorts of) threat and that one useful way to counteract both the general tendency of people (shared by most of us) in patriarchal situations to read women’s testimony negatively and to provide support for women is by altering prima facie assessments in their favor.

      Merely aiming at non-gender-bias is probably insufficient, certainly not for the both goals.

      Obviously, not every space need or should be like this, but lots of feminist spaces work that way.

      And, obviously, we have to have some extended notion of claimant, etc. And it doesn’t mean that this extra charity or bias is extended indefinitely in all circumstances, etc.

      I’m also not sure I understand precisely what you were referring to as Johnson’s claim about her own psychological state.

      See:

      Unless she were momentarily insane with grief, I think she must have known that presenting herself for Communion under those specific circumstances was at least somewhat likely to lead to a denial or else to induce the priest to do something she knew *he’d* feel he was not permitted to do. That strikes me as an unusual thing to do even – and perhaps especially – at a religious ritual in honor of your late pious mother.

      This casts doubt on:

      Johnson stood there for a moment, thinking he would change his mind, she said. “I just stood there, in shock. I was grieving, crying,” she said. “My mother’s body was behind me, and all I wanted to do was provide for her, and the final thing was to make a beautiful funeral, and here I was letting her down because there was a scene.”

      Even if it doesn’t directly contradict it.

      (There’s no way I can pull everything out of these threads to this level of detail. For example, I remember there was a claim that she didn’t expect her sexuality to be an issue…but I can’t find it at the moment😦 I’m not sure, however, if this level of detail is necessary or even helpful.)

      I may be misreading you here, but do I detect the suggestion that it would generally be incumbent upon, e.g., a cynic (small “c”, naturally) to clarify that they are cynical?

      In certain contexts, sure.

      Still subject to the assumption (for now) about my not having regarded a claim of Johnson as good evidence, I’d say the hypothesis that this was due in part to her sex is at least basically plausible in the sense that it does not entail contradiction and that it is explanatory (even if the phenomenon it purports to explain – that I did not treat her claim as good evidence – is not, I think, a particularly extraordinary one).

      You strongly dismissed perfectly plausible alternative readings of Johnson’s behavior that had at least some anecdotal support. You declined the explicitly opportunity to make your wondering personal or on the basis of general cynicism. You did not apply any comparable wondering on the priest, indeed, you argued that non-homophobes might act as he did. Etc. Thus, when I read:

      Yet I do not see a basis for establishing that it has a high likelihood of being true or that it otherwise possesses qualities associated with plausibility in degrees greater than its competitors. Accordingly, I would say that it lacks warrant or justification for our preferring it, much less for actually holding it to be true.

      It seems to me that you are asking for a higher standard to be applied to you in this context than you applied to Johnson. Not just her claims, but her.

      I have both rational and emotional objections to the dogged pursuit of the explanation that does involve my putative gender bias, not the least of which is that I felt it rapidly took an oppressive turn on FP.

      I’m sure! Note that I’m not trying to doggedly pursuit this explanation. I went into that thread trying not to hold that explanation. I only revealed my thoughts on that when other people indicated that they had the same mental model.

      I’d like to avoid confusing anyone on that point, though I confess to attaching more importance to avoiding warranted confusion than unwarranted confusion. Would it be wishful thinking to ask whether, specifically as between the two of us, it would adequately reduce the likelihood of future confusion if I offered now a durable admonition that any interpretation of my past or future remarks as endorsing gender bias – at least consciously – is unintended and disavowed?

      I guess it hasn’t been clear, but I’ve been working with some such basic understanding for a while. That is part of why I’ve written all this! While I truly cannot speak for others, I don’t think my interpretive processes are so very outre. So, I hope we can do more than merely avoid stumblings between us.

      For example, it’s clear that I could have said, “Do you mean that you can’t imagine yourself not anticipating that the priest would possible scorch you?” Indeed, I thought I had done that, but you didn’t pick up on it and away we went!

      BTW, I don’t think the confusion is unwarranted. People are often getting a very small or otherwise biased slice and are also functioning in a wider world where people who, for example, “wonder what she was thinking” mean ill by it. So, you fall afoul of a reasonable all things considered strategy. It’s not reasonable to ask for exceptions to be made for you by default.

      I go into new feminist context, as a man, expecting to receive stricter examination and less charitable readings of what I say. So I work harder to establish that that strictness isn’t necessary in my case. But the strictness is all things considered reasonable.

      Given that we have no first hand knowledge and some inconsistent and partial reports, I don’t think it’s completely out of line to find other accounts plausible (esp. if, as I expect, you are extrapolating from your own mindset). (For me, a line like, “I find it difficult to imagine that if I were in her shoes that I wouldn’t have at least considered the possibility that the priest would deny me communion.” is both reasonable, avoids challenging her epistemic authority with respect to her own psychological states, and makes the point.)

      I see what you mean. I’m wondering if, thus transformed, it would then technically be a point about my psychological state. I’m generally reluctant to make those in philosophically-minded (even if not actually philosophical) discourse. But if they are essentially the same point, would you agree that counterargument not directed to that point is, well, beside the point?

      They are not essentially the same point. Your original version denied that alternative explanations were reasonable. That’s a much stronger claim. Here, you are presenting evidence based on your own psychology. The inherent weakness (in general) yet appeal (to you) of such evidence is evident.

      Don’t you think that we helpfully distinguish ourselves from those people who were writing on the web that Johnson was being exploitative, etc., chiefly by not being among them in the first place?

      Not if what we right is relevantly similar, no. Also, recall that your audience on FP will be familiar with relevantly similar cases.

      I sense, by the way, that you are significantly more familiar than I with what was commonly being said and by whom on that subject, so that was not particularly part of the context from my perspective.

      I spent some time in the comment sections of some Catholic blogs. In fact, some linked from the canon lawyer.

      Perhaps by saying that was being neglectful of context you are implying that I ought prudently to have surveyed and familiarized myself with a sufficient sample of what was being said in the world wide peanut gallery before commenting.

      Not a bad idea. Again, some people (e.g., myself!) might be reacting anticipatorily, having had prior negative experiences. This is why markers are helpful.

      People will ordinarily weigh both the relative probability/improbability of an event occurring, and the degree of negative consequences if it does occur, in deciding how much weight to accord to that as a decision-making factor. Bearing this in mind, I took a passing interest in Johnson’s interior decisional processes. Here, “I wonder what was she was thinking?” would not be a rhetorical question and it certainly would be incorrect to infer a value judgment from it. It was an earnest if idle reflection of curiosity about something that tends to interest me about human psychology.

      That would be find if you didn’t find the panoply of reasonable explanations I gave incredible. (To be fair, in your first reply you also noted that you didn’t really want to know about the possibilities, only the actualies.) But then consider if you had, instead of this, written: “That’s possible, I suppose [so you don’t even have to grant the plausibility]. I guess we won’t know whether she anticipated the denial unless she gives a longer interview.”

      I believe the thread would have been much shorter😉

      I will endeavour to do the same in reading you. Could you clarify the kinds of markers you have in mind? I sort of have the impression from one of your earlier comments that you think it might be incumbent on me to “leaven” my comments with more indications of my moral judgments.

      It can help. I also recommend not pursuing every point. (I know! I’m so the pot.) It’s helpful to mark when the counterpoint you receive is good.

      Your more recent comments have all these and seem to be less subject to unfavorable impressions, fwiw.

      I must say that although I do that from time to time in offhand remarks on various things, in the context of more sustained commentary or argumentation I rarely do so. By now this is a habit, but one that I believe is grounded in a perception that a speaker’s moral judgments are, generally, at best irrelevant to and at worst detract from objective analysis of most kinds of arguments.

      When discussing moral issues, I think that’s less true. If the points under discussion are tangential to a main line and the main line is about moral judgments, then that’s distracting and can be not unreasonably perceived as sidetracking. Getting ever more precise sometimes makes things less clear, as overwhelming amount of detail overwhelms.

      (Note that I offer these as things I try and often fail to do rather than dictats from on high. I’m also falling asleep!)

      Let me pause here and end this reply with an analogy. When I was younger, my beloved and I we would have these big ole fights. Epic disputes about nothing that we both hated. During one dispute, I was told that I was always critical and never thanked her or praised her or had something good to say about her. I pointed out that just a few hours before I had thanked her for doing X and before that had spent a good twenty minutes about how good Y was. She was shocked. She remembered them clearly, of course. But they weren’t affecting her in the right way. Note, it’s not like I hadn’t been snarky and critical! Indeed, we worked out that the admixture of the two made it hard to get the good effects of the good things I was, in fact, saying.

      So, we worked out a system wherein every day, before we slept, we would each tell the other at least one thing that we appreciated about each other. And the listener would work to absorb it. No snark allowed. Honest efforts to speak and hear the good.

      We’ve not missed a night in over 10 years. It has made so many aspects of our relationship…our lives…easier, happier, stronger.

      So, sometimes it’s not about what’s warranted, it’s about what works. Functioning in a social group requires dealing socially.

      Fairly or unfairly, you ended up tagged as a troll. That usually requires a bit of work to overcome. (Obviously, you’re engaged in some of that work now.) But consider how you, a person heavily committed to careful readings, made some non-careful readings on pretty serious issues. That supports that the bar might be a bit high. Some “extraneous” stuff, instead of relying on always careful reading alone, can help avoid misunderstanding. And that can make the objective analysis of arguments in a group context go better. Even if it does introduce other risks. But trying to eliminate all of some particular kind of risk shouldn’t be the goal. Minimizing the overall risk should be.

      Cheers.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Bijan, I’m not sure what in your heuristics has allowed you to drop the usual security protocols on your site for this extremely far fetched claim, besides criticism from the other commenters, but I would not have been so kind.

      Maybe I deal with a lot more fussy computer nerds? Plus, I also tend to get balky at having to sign up with Yet Another Thing, even if it is easy. So I was doing unto others…

  23. xena Says:

    Oh boy. Hi Nemo. I missed your long comment when I posted my little snippet above. I haven’t read the looong one yet, so keep in mind that my skepticism at this point is only directed to your claim that you couldn’t login to wordpress. I’ll discuss your other comment after I’ve had me dinner🙂

    • Nemo Says:

      Xena, what I meant – unstated premises and all – w/r/t the login was that it looked like I needed a WordPress, Twitter or Facebook account to leave a comment, that I didn’t have any of those, and that I was not particularly inclined to sign up with yet another third party service just for that purpose (with all due respect to Bijan’s worthy blog).

      I realize that it’s no great practical difficulty to do so (otherwise every single other person besides me on the planet would not be on Facebook, for example), so I didn’t mean I *couldn’t* do so and *then* log in, or that it was too hard for me to figure out, or a massive inconvenience or whatnot. If I’ve imposed on Bijan I hope they’ll let me know.

      The pep talk about how privileged I probably am cheered me up though! 🙂

      • xena Says:

        I don’t face either, Nemo. If I could create my own yearbook photo for my schoolyears, it would be my thriftstore-clad self sitting in a posh-looking university library with some decrepit, half-unstitched old tome on my head. The caption would read: “Facebook. ur doin it wrong!”

        But WordPress? WordPress is simple, free and nobody spams you or tries to poke you. If it’s a matter of not wanting to login with an email address that identifies your place of employment, or your school, there are other email providers. Your request just made me scratch my head. That’s another one of the quirks that make people wonder if you’re trolling.

        But don’t we also sometimes entertain ourselves with wishes that the eccentric in our midst–be s/he privileged or dirtpoor–is some kind of budding Hephaestus type?

  24. xena Says:

    Ok, Nemo. The portion of your comment that quotes me is fair enough. I think I did call you out when the strawman thing happened during one of our debates. That was another one that turned absurdly long and silly. The call-out may have lost its impact bc I followed it with my usual joking. I can only deal with so much hair splitting before my eyes cross and my head fills with looney tunes and giggles.

    I never wanted to go into philosophy, btw. My first love was anthro. Tho I was raised in a secular home, I always knew that Xtian mores have shaped a vast majority of our cultural norms. As I continued to study other cultures, I discovered that my lack of religious training put me at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of interpreting other cultures’ religious customs. The methodology I learned in the Social Sciences was inadequate for the cross-cultural comparisons I was attempting, given that I was missing the early religious training that most anthro students start out with. I thought taking a few philosophy courses would help.

    Funny, I found the discipline so counter-intuitive (or at least so counter to my social science training), and a few of the profs I worked with to be SOO condescending, that I found myself going deeper and deeper into the discipline just to prove to some unknown somebody that I’m capable of doing it. I think I have about the equivalent of a second year philosophy background, but with zero training in essay writing. My first prof was such a knob that I got the impression that he would give me a crappy grade, no matter what I did. Or the reverse: if I was better than I thought, he would accuse me of plagiarism, like another prof had hinted at. So I refused to hand in my essays in both classes, flunked out of school, and continued to audit phil courses, sometimes with permission, sometimes without.

    A full year later, much of what I’ve learned is slipping back into the ethos. I might actually be a crappy philosopher by now🙂

    So I very briefly stated my opinion on Ms. Johnson’s suffering on fp. I’m not willing to continue quibbling over canon law. I’ll let you and the other commenters you’re debating with settle your own disagreements.

    • Nemo Says:

      Well, Xena, it sounds as though you got handed a raw deal that was incommensurate with your obvious gifts and the natural truth-seeker’s disposition that you displayed. But even if you don’t resume a formal philosophical formation, I encourage you not to regard the experience as a total washout. I’ve always liked Twain’s aphorism about not letting your schooling interfere with your education, and perhaps more important, Einstein’s observation about your education being what’s left over after you’ve forgotten everything you learned in school.

      In my view, academic philosophy at the current juncture (sauf exceptions) might not have been the easiest setting in which to acquire insight into Western religious thought anyway, notwithstanding the latter’s profound relationship to philosophy. You gamely gave it a go, and I hope you don’t feel too bad about the whole thing, though none could blame you if you did. Perhaps you will find your path takes you back into anthro if that’s what you want; perhaps it will lead somewhere else. I get the impression that you might be at something of a crossroads – if so, that’s always a source of anxiety, but potentially exciting too!

      • xena Says:

        Thanks, Nemo. I guess you could call it a crossroads. I sometimes feel like I just got my ass kicked in an ambush and it’s more like a withdrawing and regrouping, to count my losses and plan my next strategy for covering that exposed flank next time around.

        I’m thinking of using some of my ample spare time to jot down some story ideas that have been in my head for awhile, now. I hear writers are as underpaid and ignored as sex workers since the flood of internet freebies that reduced so many entertainers’ professions to mere hobbies. But being an underpaid&ignored writer is better than being an underpaid&ignored physical labourer, I guess. Why break a sweat for crap results when I can do something I enjoy and get nothing for my efforts too?

        I love Twain’s work. His simple, clear, yet profound voice is something I try to emulate in my own writing. Einstein was a character, too🙂

      • swallerstein Says:

        Xena:

        I hope that you do pursue your writing project.

        That you have a gift is clear from your commenting style, and you should develop it.

  25. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Just a heads up. Today is rather hectic so I probably won’t be able to discharge all the conversational debt I’ve racked up!

    I very much appreciate Jamie’s and swallerstein’s consideration and uptake and Nemo’s cheerful participation. No despair!

  26. Bijan Parsia Says:

    I’m going to try to reduce the length a bit.

    Rarely have falser words been posts!

    My comment ended up in moderation, and I replied in the wrong place. I win the internets!

  27. Nemo Says:

    Thanks for the reply, Bijan.

    By the way, fwiw, I noticed a couple of days ago that my FP comments were systematically going into the moderation queue, which seemed to me an unnecessary albeit private infliction of humiliation. But now (insult to injury?) my comments don’t seem to register at all, so I’m leaning towards thinking that I’ve been banned outright. Who knows. It’s a shame, not to mention a shaming, and I have some strong feelings about that, but I guess I might as well keep my own counsel. Funny, the turns things take. I’ll miss the old talks.

    I think it means recognizing that women, as a class, generally exist under epistemic (as well as other sorts of) threat and that one useful way to counteract both the general tendency of people (shared by most of us) in patriarchal situations to read women’s testimony negatively and to provide support for women is by altering prima facie assessments in their favor.

    With “treating women’s claims as good evidence” thus defined – if you will pardon another one of my strict readings – your earlier statement that it seemed unquestionable that I had not treated Johnson’s claims as good evidence appears less convincing than previously. Can’t someone recognize that women as a class generally exist under epistemic threat and that one way to counteract, etc, and provide support, etc. is by altering prima facie assessments in their favor, and yet do as I did?

    I query (and it is just a query) whether what you meant by “treating women’s claims as good evidence” is really more just the last bit of what you wrote above, with the result that if one has not altered prima facie assessments in the claimant’s favor (at least for claims of psychological state), one has ipso facto not treated her claims as good evidence. But even if that is the case, I would submit that it’s hard to make a strong inference, from someone’s skepticism about a claim, that they have not already placed a thumb on the scales in favor of acceptance.

    I agree with you that some extended notion of claimant is appropriate, but of questionable applicability here; as to the claim of psychological state is there anyone else to extend it to except, perhaps, the journalist? The other claims discussed at FP based on the original story were, it seems to me, by and large either not claims of psychological state, or not claims fairly characterizable as Johnson’s by proxy/spokesperson/advocate, or both.

    A final point on this before moving on: while I agree with your observation about women as a class being generally under epistemic threat, I think a person could be forgiven for forming an impression that the epistemic threat in this specific case been mitigated by, or perhaps has not fully materialized due to, a clearly strongly opposite tendency in most of the press and other media, which seem to have internalized on this particular subject, if anything a more rigorous and proactive approach than even you ventured to taking Johnson’s claims as good evidence.

    Indeed, in the narrow subject area of the intersection of the Catholic Church and sexuality, the Church and its adherents exists under a great deal of epistemic threat themselves, which I say without judgment or sympathy but with some intuition that it might not be philosophically or feministically(?) required to exclude all awareness of that when critically examining media accounts. (Not that the Church/priest are gainsaying Johnson’s claims of psychological state, of course, so it’s not too relevant to my earlier comments but generally pertinent to the scandal.)

    You strongly dismissed perfectly plausible alternative readings of Johnson’s behavior that had at least some anecdotal support.

    The question of whether they were perfectly plausible, except in the relatively weak sense which I already conceded, is one of the very things we are disputing. But as I suggested earlier, plausibility can be conceived as relative to a body of evidence. We both had the same news account before us, but presumably the rest of the evidence that each of us supplied to our respective analyses – e.g., our respectively assembled bodies of knowledge about human behaviour, human institutions, Catholics, or what have you – differed. (I’ll note that that may overlap with evidence based one’s own psychology, a concept you alluded to elsewhere in your last reply, but is not quite the same thing.) Perhaps that does mean that I should have been more careful to “own” my assessment; we had different bodies of evidence available to us.

    You did not apply any comparable wondering on the priest, indeed, you argued that non-homophobes might act as he did. Etc.

    I’m not fully certain what kind of wondering about the priest would have been comparable, given that the thoughts and behaviour of a communicant (regardless of sex) are the basis of one kind of study in human psychology, and those of a cleric distributing communion (regardless of sex) a different study entirely and one reasonably well mined elsewhere the thread. I suppose I could have invoked the example of a male communicant being denied Communion and then comparably wondered about him, but cui bono? And particularly given that (i) as to Johnson’s claim of psychological state, there was no counterbalancing claim by the priest, and (ii) the thread seemed to offer no shortage of reflections on the priest, I’m not sure it was incumbent on me to pile on.

    It seems to me that you are asking for a higher standard to be applied to you in this context than you applied to Johnson. Not just her claims, but her.

    Another fundamental area of dispute; I still think the hypothesis about Johnson fares better than the hypothesis about me under the same neutral standard. But let’s assume arguendo that I am asking for a higher standard to be applied to me in this context than I applied to Johnson in my comments. Compare the negative consequences to Johnson if I applied the wrong standard to her against the negative consequences to me (much personalized nastiness, a probable FP ban, etc.) if the wrong standard is applied to me. Is a higher standard an unreasonable expectation, as a safeguard against the oppressiveness of an unfair result?

    BTW, I don’t think the confusion is unwarranted. People are often getting a very small or otherwise biased slice and are also functioning in a wider world where people who, for example, “wonder what she was thinking” mean ill by it.

    Fair enough. Yet no doubt some people have left me sorted into the pile of those who do mean ill by it, the existence of which slightly bigger pile will then slightly increase the odds of the next person being so sorted, and so forth. Isn’t there at least a degree of self-reinforcing circularity there?

    Not if what we right is relevantly similar, no. Also, recall that your audience on FP will be familiar with relevantly similar cases.

    I suspect we disagree on what qualifies as “relevantly similar”.

    I also recommend not pursuing every point. (I know! I’m so the pot.) It’s helpful to mark when the counterpoint you receive is good.

    I struggle with the not pursuing every point as well, other than points I’m comfortable conceding or have nothing to say about. Part personality, part training (you know what often happens if, say, you omit – intentionally or not – to address a point made in a paper you’re responding to). And we both know that small points can have big consequences. But I feel it’s also a sign of respect, after a fashion. After all, if someone else thought a point was worth making in the first place…
    With regard to marking when the counterpoint I receive is good, what makes you think I haven’t been? 🙂

    When discussing moral issues, I think that’s less true. If the points under discussion are tangential to a main line and the main line is about moral judgments, then that’s distracting and can be not unreasonably perceived as sidetracking. Getting ever more precise sometimes makes things less clear, as overwhelming amount of detail overwhelms.

    Also a fair point. Yet moral judgments depend on facts and the characterization of facts, so we might as well try to get them straight. (What makes a line “main” anyway? A question of perspective I suppose.)

    But consider how you, a person heavily committed to careful readings, made some non-careful readings on pretty serious issues.

    I’d have said a couple of insufficiently careful readings, on some secondary issues, and which prompted mea culpas. Maybe we’re not thinking of the same instances though. One’s own errors are sometimes easily forgotten or downplayed, I realize.

    Some “extraneous” stuff, instead of relying on always careful reading alone, can help avoid misunderstanding. And that can make the objective analysis of arguments in a group context go better. Even if it does introduce other risks. But trying to eliminate all of some particular kind of risk shouldn’t be the goal. Minimizing the overall risk should be.

    Well put.

    • swallerstein Says:

      Nemo:

      I’m distressed to hear that your comments are not being printed in the FP blog.

      If it’s true, it’s a loss for the blog.

      I could say more, but what I say might just make your situation worse.

      • Bijan Parsia Says:

        If there is a ban, I’m hopeful that it will be reversed.

      • Nemo Says:

        Thanks SW (and Bijan).

        Whether or not it would make my situation worse, I think it could conceivably make yours worse, and I’d hate to see that. So no worries; the sentiment is received and appreciated.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      With “treating women’s claims as good evidence” thus defined – if you will pardon another one of my strict readings – your earlier statement that it seemed unquestionable that I had not treated Johnson’s claims as good evidence appears less convincing than previously. Can’t someone recognize that women as a class generally exist under epistemic threat and that one way to counteract, etc, and provide support, etc. is by altering prima facie assessments in their favor, and yet do as I did?

      Sure. But I’m not arguing that you don’t share that value. I’m arguing that I kept finding myself reading your comments as violating that value. Or, at least, suggestive thereof.

      I query (and it is just a query) whether what you meant by “treating women’s claims as good evidence” is really more just the last bit of what you wrote above, with the result that if one has not altered prima facie assessments in the claimant’s favor (at least for claims of psychological state), one has ipso facto not treated her claims as good evidence. But even if that is the case, I would submit that it’s hard to make a strong inference, from someone’s skepticism about a claim, that they have not already placed a thumb on the scales in favor of acceptance.

      It depends on the skepticism and expression thereof and surrounding context.

      I’m not sure what else to say. I continue to think that my interpretation of the communion comment thread (up to the point where someone else expressed exacerbation in the “troll feeding”) was reasonable. I can accept, and rather believe, that the content was wrong, but I persist in thinking it was reasonable. Perhaps I’m unreasonable or, at least, unreasonable on this point.

      Perhaps it has to do with the strength of the inference? I don’t think anyone held that that thread was conclusive evidence of your diabolical, but naked, will to derail the feminist revolution. But that’s level of certainty or malevolence isn’t required to be uncomfortable with your comments.

      I agree with you that some extended notion of claimant is appropriate, but of questionable applicability here; as to the claim of psychological state is there anyone else to extend it to except, perhaps, the journalist? The other claims discussed at FP based on the original story were, it seems to me, by and large either not claims of psychological state, or not claims fairly characterizable as Johnson’s by proxy/spokesperson/advocate, or both.

      I really try to stick to defending my own bits, where possible. (There’s a big exception in this discussion, I know.) And mine were mostly about how to understand her behavior and claims about it. That’s the primary focus of our interaction there.

      Let me grant that you just meant your wondering as a throwaway and we got into a “pedantic tornado” which prevented a simple exit. Esp. early in our exchange you seemed unwilling either to accept my alternative explanations as plausible or to come up with others of your own. But Johnson’s behavior and reaction aren’t inexplicable. Her really really 100% certain actual psychological state is, of course, in accessible. It might have been a stunt, for example. (It’s obviously possible!) But that’s not a hugely plausible or, perhaps more importantly, charitable explanation.

      A final point on this before moving on: while I agree with your observation about women as a class being generally under epistemic threat, I think a person could be forgiven for forming an impression that the epistemic threat in this specific case been mitigated by, or perhaps has not fully materialized due to, a clearly strongly opposite tendency in most of the press and other media, which seem to have internalized on this particular subject, if anything a more rigorous and proactive approach than even you ventured to taking Johnson’s claims as good evidence.

      But this isn’t how threatened communities behave. Threatened communities often take what might be, in context, minor threats as more major. Pooping on a victory is insulting as well as threatening (a victory should be a time to relax, not to be more vigilant). And, of course, while an epistemic victory (arguably), the event itself was far from good. I trust it’s obvious that empathy for Johnson might lead people to resist perceived attacks on her. (And, as I said, there were plenty of commenters elsewhere whose comments bore some family resemblances to yours but who were clearly out to trash her.)

      Indeed, in the narrow subject area of the intersection of the Catholic Church and sexuality, the Church and its adherents exists under a great deal of epistemic threat themselves

      They are at risk of having to give up beliefs, but they are not at risk of being seriously challenged as epistemically or morally noteworthy agents. That’s the big difference, not that one might be wrong, or even largely wrong, but that one is somehow inherently wrong or lacking in epistemic weight. Consider Aristolte’s line in the Politics:

      For the slave has no deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature…Clearly, then, moral virtue belongs to all of them; but the temperance of a man and of a woman, or the courage and justice of a man and of a woman, are not, as Socrates maintained, the same; the courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying….All classes must be deemed to have their special attributes; as the poet says of women, “Silence is a woman’s glory,” but this is not equally the glory of man.

      Skipping ahead a bit as I don’t know if it’s worth hashing the object level details again, I just want to respond to:

      With regard to marking when the counterpoint I receive is good, what makes you think I haven’t been?

      Ignoring the snarky aspects of this, I’ll just reiterate that I was shocked by your comment:

      Bijan quite capably offered a rebuttal which didn’t 100% convince me otherwise, but that’s all.

      Before that comment, I had no sense that you thought my rebuttal was capable, much less anything more than 0% convincing. Take it as you will.

  28. swallerstein Says:

    Hello Nemo:

    Here is a great article by Jeremy Stangroom on being a contrarian.

    http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=46

    Don’t worry about my situation. I don’t have much energy for posting in blogs which ban critical voices.

    I detest sermons, so I’ll spare everyone a sermon copied from Mill, etc.

    I hope that we can all continue conversing from time to time in this open space.

    Bijan: congratulations on a great blog!!!!

  29. Jamie Says:

    Wow, that’s a depressing finish to an interesting discussion. Nemo, have you tried posting a comment recently to FP? I wonder how many other people are banned. It’s one of those things that might never occur to me, since all of the examples are per force out of our sight. But now that one case is visible (here), I wonder how much submerged iceberg there is.

  30. Nemo Says:

    Sure. But I’m not arguing that you don’t share that value. I’m arguing that I kept finding myself reading your comments as violating that value. Or, at least, suggestive thereof.

    Got it. But let me clarify what I was getting at there: if we take that particular definition, is it still “unquestionable” that I wasn’t taking Johnson’s claims as good evidence? To put it another way, that definition struck me as basically consisting in an internal awareness with few or no necessary implications in any given case for the final assessment of the claims – such that regardless of outcome (whether someone accepted, partially accepted, or rejected Johnson’s claims) it would *always* be questionable whether someone had “treated them as good evidence” within that definition. Hence my earlier wondering whether you actually had in mind something that imposed more proactive or result-oriented obligations. But I think I understand better now from your follow-up comments what you were getting at.

    I’m not sure what else to say. I continue to think that my interpretation of the communion comment thread (up to the point where someone else expressed exacerbation in the “troll feeding”) was reasonable. I can accept, and rather believe, that the content was wrong, but I persist in thinking it was reasonable. Perhaps I’m unreasonable or, at least, unreasonable on this point.

    In retrospect, probably not unreasonable. Perhaps there was a reasonable basis for inferring that. But I do think that it was a close call at best, and that the presumption or onus should properly have switched back at least weakly in the other direction well before the thread ground to a halt.

    Perhaps it has to do with the strength of the inference? I don’t think anyone held that that thread was conclusive evidence of your diabolical, but naked, will to derail the feminist revolution.

    Maybe not, but “occasional lurker” seemed to think that it constituted independently satisfactory evidence that I was a troll. Anne, much more disappointingly, was not too many paces behind in reaching a similar conclusion. And whichever people were responsible for banning me (if, as I surmise, that’s what’s happened) clearly took it as sufficient evidence of something pretty bad.

    But that’s level of certainty of malevolence isn’t required to be uncomfortable with your comments.

    Agreed. But I think a greater level of certainty than existed might fairly be required in order to excuse oneself from putting up with the discomfort (or from pursuing private alternative means of alleviating it, such as ignoring the comments). After all, we ostensibly hold these discourses under the auspices of some level of commitment to free expression, and it’s often been observed that that principle is only ever meaningfully engaged with respect to expressions that make us uncomfortable (expressions that make no one uncomfortable not being in any need of forbearance).

    Her really really 100% certain actual psychological state is, of course, in accessible. It might have been a stunt, for example. (It’s obviously possible!) But that’s not a hugely plausible or, perhaps more importantly, charitable explanation.

    Very true. I never suggested it was a stunt, of course, and purely on the basis of the few sources available to us at the time, and limited knowledge even of her characteristic attitudes and dispositions, I completely agree that that hypothesis is not hugely plausible vis-à-vis alternatives (albeit basically plausible a priori). Moreover, I find the idea of it being a stunt so distasteful that I suspect I might be negatively biased against that explanation in spite of myself. To the extent any of us maintain an interest in this story any more, more evidence might become available one way or the other I suppose.

    But this isn’t how threatened communities behave. Threatened communities often take what might be, in context, minor threats as more major.

    That’s a good observation. It occurs to me that it might not be without some explanatory value in accounting for the priest’s behaviour.

    (And, as I said, there were plenty of commenters elsewhere whose comments bore some family resemblances to yours but who were clearly out to trash her.)

    That metaphor brings to mind racial profiling, for some reason. And indeed, I did feel have the vague impression at the time of being rounded up with the usual suspects.

    They are at risk of having to give up beliefs, but they are not at risk of being seriously challenged as epistemically or morally noteworthy agents.

    Could you clarify what you meant by having to give up beliefs? I’m not sure I agree about not being seriously challenged (though I’ll grant it’s not the same variety of epistemic threat as that evoked in the passage from the Politics). And it does not escape notice that they have, in the United States, historically been on the receiving end of what Schlesinger famously identified as one of the most deep-seated biases in American culture.

    Ignoring the snarky aspects of this, I’ll just reiterate that I was shocked by your comment:

    “Bijan quite capably offered a rebuttal which didn’t 100% convince me otherwise, but that’s all.”

    Before that comment, I had no sense that you thought my rebuttal was capable, much less anything more than 0% convincing. Take it as you will.

    I didn’t mean to be snarky; my reply about marking good counterpoints was just a bit of joking banter. Apparent fail though.

    Anyhow, with regard to my comment in the other thread regarding your rebuttal, I think I might have only recently arrived at the conclusion myself when I wrote that. The conclusion about the rebuttal being at least somewhat convincing, that is; not about your capability. While I might, at least initially, have regarded the case as an inherently weak one, I never had the *slightest* unfavorable view of the capability with which you were arguing it.

  31. Jamie Says:

    No, it’s not. So then Anne told him that he’d taken a man’s word to show the woman’s to be without merit, and that he’d said the woman’s word was merely worth a grain of salt. Both of those would indeed be irrational. And he hadn’t done either one.

    Just because it’s not irrational to so wonder doesn’t mean that the mode of presentation of that wondering is not, in context, misleading or inciting.

    Right. But how is that responsive to what I said? If you (or Anne) think that the mode of presentation is misleading or inciting, you can give some argument for that. But what Anne said is a false accusation, attributing to him a vicious remark that he did not make. (Two, in fact.)

    As you said, Anne simply made a mistake. Her mistake was, in fact, to substitute a vicious meaning for the actual intended one.

    I was unable to fine where I said that.

    Oy. Okay, “As you stipulated… "as you agreed"… "as you did not contest" … "as we both know"…

    I don’t see where Anne says Nemo was vicious. I guess you just mean that she attributed a vice to him, not that she was accusing him of specific malevolence?

    Yes.
    Are these important points? I don’t see how. What she attributed to him was a vicious remark (or would have been, had he said it). He didn’t make it. The remark he did make was not vicious.
    I’m stumped by your refusal to agree with this. And I’m more stumped by the idea that it’s important whether you ‘said’ or ‘stipulated’ that it was a mistake, or whether Anne attributed a vicious remark to Nemo by using the word ‘vicious’ or without using the word.

    My impression of the “threatening” comment was that Anne was trying to get Nemo to understand what many found unacceptable about his comments.

    Okay. But the point is, she did that by threatening him.

    Perhaps I’m just too damn touchy. So, one solution would be for me to leave the discussion. Another one would be for Nemo to modify their style a bit.

    You do not strike me as touchy at all. But I might be mistaken! Because here you seem to be saying (uh, implicating, communicating by your comment…) that if Nemo had not been banned (and had not modified his style), you would have left the discussion. Is that true?

    You could argue that Nemo’s “actual” meaning was clear so charity requires sticking with that.

    Hm, actual meaning of the passage that Anne mischaracterized? I do think that was quite clear. But I have a feeling this is not what you’re talking about now.

    Banning Nemo will offend or distress some people and (perhaps) not banning them might offend or distress others.

    No doubt.
    The same could be said about banning you or me.

  32. Jamie Says:

    ARGH!
    I was fully expecting that my blockquote tags didn’t match up. But I got those right and missed one stupid right corner bracket to close the stupid italics.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Fixed it for you.

    • swallerstein Says:

      Jamie:

      By now I’ve gotten totally confused about who said what to whom.

      Couldn’t all of you who use quotes find a way of quoting which specifies who says what to whom and when?

      Otherwise, it makes it very hard to follow the conversation and it is a conversation which is worth following.

      Thank you.

  33. Jamie Says:

    Yes, SW, of course. Sorry about that.
    In my latest, the only person I am quoting is Bijan, except for the two occasions of quote-embedded-in-quote, where the embedded quotation is of myself (that is, I am quoting Bijan, who was quoting me).

    Whew, thanks for fixing the italics, BP. It’s such an unsettled feeling.

  34. swallerstein Says:

    I don’t know Nemo and in this discussion, I (and I suspect others) have always assumed that he is male, white, and middle-class. Maybe others know stuff about him that I don’t know.

    However, what if Nemo were a woman, black, a lesbian, an illegal immigrant, disabled, poor, homeless, writing from the computer in a public library, with an eating disorder, sexually abused by a Catholic priest while a child, sexually harassed by a macho logic professor while a student….?

    Would she still be a troll?

    Would that change our opinion of her opinion?

    And please don’t say that a poor, black, lesbian, homeless, illegal immigrant with an eating disorder who was sexually abused while young and sexually harassed while a student could not possibly have Nemo’s opinions, because it just isn’t so.

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Hi swallerstein,

      I don’t know Nemo and in this discussion, I (and I suspect others) have always assumed that he is male, white, and middle-class. Maybe others know stuff about him that I don’t know.

      I don’t have a clear image of Nemo. I think I tend to picture them as male, but throughout these exchanges, I’ve periodically recalled that I know nothing about them and that they could be, e.g., female. So my working model has been that Nemo could have any of those attributes.

      Further specific personal information could well change my interpretative tendencies. It’s hard for them not too!

  35. Nemo Says:

    [Bijan wrote:] I read that consistently, i.e., “You take a man’s word to show her to be without [full] merit.” (I.e., “now her claim is merely worth [taking with] a grain of salt”.)

    All things considered, supplying the “full” in “You take a man’s word to show hers to be without [full] merit” might be what you referred to earlier as heroically charitable, possibly demi-deifically charitable. And given that, to get us this far, some degree of charity will presumably already have been expended on Anne’s immediately preceding sentence (both in supplying the “taking with” in “now her claim is merely worth [taking with] a grain of salt” and in overlooking the problems with Anne’s saying “That is, a woman claims a man injured her, he denies it”), there’s not a lot of gas left in the tank, as it were.

    Nevertheless, had Anne herself deigned afterwards to clarify or correct the reading, I likely would have accepted it, notwithstanding that my own attempts to clarify or correct readings of things I’d written were not received very graciously (except by you and one or two others).

    [Bijan wrote:] However, I’m still puzzled by the “unbelievable” trope. Anne, I believe, meant it in a Moore paradoxical way, i.e., “I can’t believe that it’s raining”. It’s not an indicator of epistemic confidence, but and intensifier of moral outrage. Nemo’s use is not the same: it’s purely epistemic. So the “also” doesn’t jibe. That’s where it seems that Nemo is casting doubt on the (let me call it) pro-Johnson (if not literally Johnson) account.

    In comment #75 from the other thread, I specifically indicated to Anne regarding the “unbelievable” language that “I understand that by this you [Anne] meant that you believed it but found it shocking.”

    So on that particular point I think you and I are, and have been, on the same page. What was happening there was simply that I made a modest jeux de mots in picking up on Anne’s use of “unbelievable” to segue into my epistemic assessment. However, since it would have been false and misleading for me to suggest that I found it *strictly* unbelievable that the priest had definitively abandoned a mass, I felt the need (following the pun) to dial it back with the bit about accepting it instead with a “grain of salt”.

    By the way, as I subsequently I noted in comment #96 in the FP thread, later newspaper accounts clarified the eyewitness claims that the priest had left at some point during the eulogy, by adding that he was already back in his place by the time the remarks were concluded. I blame the original Washington Post journalist for not supplying that (presumably available) detail from the outset, which misled both Anne and me as to what was being claimed had happened.

    Whether my doubts about the claim had epistemic warrant at the time, or instead were simply prescient, I’m glad for the mourners’ sake that it seems now not to have been the case.

  36. Nemo Says:

    Maybe time to start a new post thread, for the sake of clarity?

    By the way, I tried to leave a comment on FP today that has gone into the moderation queue – however, I’m hopeful, because for a while they had stopped even being accepted when I pushed the button, so this may signal an upgrade in my condition there from injury to mere insult. We’ll see.


  37. […] add this post at Nemo’s request. It carries over from the prior discussion, which was getting […]


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