Common sense isn't so common

I’ve written previously about Bryan Caplan’s work. I’m very much in agreement with one of his latest posts, in part on meeting and talking with people about his ideas. Here’s the good stuff from Bryan:

Since the publication of my book, I’ve been meeting a much wider range of people. I’ve talked to an elite Republican book club, a room full of vaguely Marxist academics at the New School, retirees, Cato, Heritage, a conference of largely leftist philosophers, the State Department (!), the Yale law school, DC economists, and UVA social scientists. I’ve also spoken on a wide range of radio shows and podcasts, left and right.

What have I learned? Primarily, I’m more convinced than ever that virtually everyone is sincere. The legions of people who imagine that their opponents secretly agree with them are utterly deluded. Even when you’ve got undeniable facts on your side, your opponents probably think that those facts don’t matter; you’re missing the deeper picture.

The lesson I draw: Sincerity is greatly overrated. It’s an easy and widely distributed virtue. So what is in short supply? Common-sense. Literalism. Staying calm. Listening. Sticking to the point. Accepting and working through hypotheticals.

Addendum:  I pulled this out of the comments section of the above blog entry, written by a fellow named Chris, and I think it makes a couple more important and useful points:

 … a useful test when debating someone. Ask your opponent what statements, if true, would convince him to change his position. If no such statements exist, then the debate is over.

Similarly, I frequently ask myself the same question: what type of data and/or reasoning would convince me that my position is wrong. If I can’t think of any, then I need to take a deep breath and evaluate how I reached my opinion in the first place.

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  • Michael  On December 3, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    “Ask your opponent what statements, if true, would convince him to change his position. If no such statements exist, then the debate is over.”

    Isn’t that the difference between faith and reason?

  • Curt  On December 4, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    Indeed, I guess the point is that there’s no real use in arguing matters of faith.

    But as I think about it, even some positions which we might consider to be reason-based probably rest on some bedrock of faith. Faith that science and scientists work rationally, faith that our senses give us true reflections of the world out there, faith that rationality provides a path to the truth.

  • Jim  On December 9, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    I disagree it is the difference between faith and reason.  Why? People of faith change their minds everyday – religious to atheist and vice versa, global warming denier to global warming believer and visa versa, et al. A question must have been asked that changed their mind! My conclusion: no belief is strong enough to resist a logical question.

    Curt’s point that all is based on faith is a valid one. When you realize that science is based on faith at some level, it becomes much more palatable to accept people with faith in God, Nature, etc.

    I believe the authors point was a comment on the human mind closing down once a comfort level is reached. He finds it important to question his own premises if he can’t find a question which might change his mind.

    And I agree with him: common sense is indeed it short supply!

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