Why the presumption of good faith can make our lives civil again

Taking time for thoughtful consideration has fallen out of fashion, writes Emily Chamlee-Wright. How can we restore good faith and good judgement to our increasingly polarized conversations?

  • The clamor of the crowd during a heated discussion can make it hard to tell who is right and who is wrong. Adam Smith wrote that the loudness of blame can stupefy our good judgment.
  • Equally, when we're talking with just one other person, our previous assumptions and knee-jerk reactions can cloud our good judgment.
  • If you want to find clarity in moments like that, Emily Chamlee-Wright recommends practicing the presumption of good faith. That means that we should presume, unless we have good evidence to the contrary, that the other person's intent is not to deceive or to offend us, but to learn our point of view.
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How should you react to speech you disagree with?

Disagreements should not equal censorship.

  • Defending someone's right to speak does not mean that you have to agree with what they say. The correct response is not censorship, but more discussion.
  • Physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis argues that in politics, defending the principle of a contested election is not the same as agreeing with or endorsing a candidate. "We should defend that principle even if we don't like the outcome of the vote."
  • The best way to test your ideas and beliefs is to argue them against someone with a different stance/point-of-view.


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Is social media killing intellectual humility?

"One way the internet distorts our picture of ourselves is by feeding the human tendency to overestimate our knowledge of how the world works," writes philosophy professor Michael Patrick Lynch.

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  • Social media echo chambers have made us overconfident in our knowledge and abilities.
  • Social psychologists have shown that publicly committing to an opinion makes you less willing to change your mind.
  • To avoid a descent into epistemic arrogance and tribalism, we need to use social media with deep humility.
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John Locke vs. John Stuart Mill: Using metaethics to examine claims

Considering strands of liberalism and how each determines right from wrong.

  • As a branch of analytical philosophy, metaethics explores the status, foundation, and scope of morality. Through this lens we can examine moral claims like those in classical liberalist thought.
  • Two voices stand out when it comes to liberalism and rights: John Locke's naturalistic point of view, and John Stuart Mill's moralistic/utilitarian stance. Locke believed that right and wrong could be determined rationally, while Mill believed in moral rules and the idea that what's right and wrong should be in service of human happiness.
  • Philosophy professor Daniel Jacobson argues that to live in a society, everyone must abide by the same rules and not allow for those rules to be circumvented when convenient.
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Should social media platforms censor hate speech?

Social media giants aren't legally obligated to protect free speech. But they should. Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen explains why.

  • Should social media companies censor hate speech on their platforms? Nadine Strossen, law professor and former president of the ACLU, says that while tech giants have no legal obligation to respect First Amendment rights, she urges them to allow as much free speech as is feasible.
  • Those who advocate censorship on social media worry about the harm caused by hate or disinformation, but they never examine whether censorship is going to be effective in actually addressing the root issue, says Strossen.
  • Online or offline, censorship doesn't work to make the world better. "Every hate speech law around the world to this day is disproportionately enforced consistently against the very minority groups who are hoped to be protected," says Strossen.
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