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The Decline of Reason

By John Morton

The United States has become a nation of screaming toddlers having a collective meltdown.  Jonathan has a great post on denying Sara Sanders service at a Virginia restaurant.  There are so many examples of boorish behavior.  One example is how protestors and politicians love to use the f-word; evidently they think that printing it on a sign makes their point more intellectual. 

Jonathan’s review of D.C. Rasmussen’s book The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought strongly affected my view on this situation.  These friends discussed and argued, agreeing and disagreeing on many ideas.  I bet neither one carried a sign to protest the other’s opinion and neither was kicked out of an Edinburgh pub because the publican disagreed with one or the other.  Hume and Smith were the greatest thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, which basically invented the modern world. 

I became more hopeful after reading “To Get Along Better, We Need Better Arguments” by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Wall Street Journal, July 14-15, 2018).  He offers the following advice:

*Stop thinking of [arguments] as fights or competitions.  The goal of a good argument is not to attack enemies or to make opponents look silly….The point of engaging in argument is to improve our understanding of one another and of important issues.

*Be candid….State your premises clearly, admit your assumptions and spell out each step in your argument.

*Be respectful….To argue well, you need to recognize that there are points to be made on both sides and to anticipate the strongest objections to your own position.

*Be patient.  Short, simple slogans are memorable, but good arguments take time.

Let’s start a new age of enlightenment by insisting that teachers, politicians, business leaders, and public officials make good arguments.  It’s easy to diss, insult, and ridicule opponents with slogans, jokes, and name-calling.  It takes more discipline to carefully construct an argument to make a case. 


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Isn't this quite rich? After a decade of blistering, offensive, and unrelenting vitriol, you people claim to have suddenly discovered the value of civility! It couldn't possibly be that it is because you folks are the elite now that your minds have changed, could it?

It's going to take a hell of a lot of you sort specifically denouncing the horrifying claptrap your kind have peddled since 2007 or so before regular folks will even consider readmitting you all to the realm of civilized discourse.

Have a good day, Prof. Morton.


I don't know who "you people" are that you are referring to. Where have I or John Morton used "blistering, offensive, and unrelenting vitriol"? Can you find a single quote to back up this assertion? If so, where? When?

Or, are you lumping me or John in with some other group? If so, I don't appreciate that conflation.

I suppose it is self serving to say that John and I have known each other for more than 20 years, and his principles of honesty and treating others with respect have shined through.

Your post is confusing to me for these reasons.

Sadly, it always takes two to have a respectful conversation. As Schiller wrote "The most pious man may not live in peace if he does not please his wicked neighbour." (Or however you would translate this).

Thanks for mentioning the article though, I'll try to incorporate it into my Economic Philosophy course next year.

What a wonderful quote! Thanks! --JW

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