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The Principle of Charity (Giving Reasons Ch 6)

The Principle of Charity (Giving Reasons Ch 6)


This video is an overview and supplement to
chapter 6 of David Morrow’s book Giving Reasons. In chapter 6 Morrow focuses on the principle
of charity, which says that you should interpret an argument or a claim from someone else to
be as strong as possible, or as reasonable as possible. You should give it the spin that’s most likely
to make it true. In other words, you should give your opponents
and the arguments that you read and hear the benefit of the doubt. Applying the principle of charity produces
a charitable interpretation of the argument or claim. This contrasts with an uncharitable interpretation,
which is often obviously false and could lead to a straw man argument. We’ll talk more about that later. I think what really goes on with the principle
of charity is that you are being invited to put yourself in the place of the person giving
the argument. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt
the way you would want them to give you the benefit of the doubt if you said something
or wrote something that could be taken in two different ways. This amounts to a kind of intellectual golden
rule, treating people the way you would want to be treated. Morrow gives three rules that you can use
to apply the principle of charity in your own reading and speech. The first is to confirm what seems to be wrong
or outrageous in somebody else’s argument and look for reasons that they might have
that would support it. One way to do this is to say, “You seem
to be saying [such-and-such], is that right?” You would give the person a chance to check
your interpretation and correct it if you have misunderstood them. The second rule is to look for hidden premises
that might strengthen the argument once they are articulated. This would be especially the case if you are
looking at an argument that has a normative conclusion that seems to be drawn from descriptive
premises. The hidden premise is often going to be a
normative premise. In Morrow’s example on pages 58 and 59 premise
B is wrong for the reasons that he describes, but it’s also wrong because it is a descriptive
premise and the argument needs a normative premise in order to work. Take a closer look at that example and I think
you’ll see what I mean. The third rule Morrow gives is to take a closer
look at fallacious arguments, arguments that have some kind of error to them or make some
kind of mistake. Try to find a way there could be some truth
in them. This is helpful because very few people are
so irrational or perverse as to believe an obviously fallacious argument. Most people most of the time think that they
have good reasons for believing what they believe. So even when you think they have made a mistake
in their argument in their reasoning you should try to find the kernel of truth that attracts
them to it, and this will help you respond to their argument more effectively. That’s my brief supplement and overview of
chapter six of Morrow’s book. I look forward to discussing it with you soon. Goodbye.

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