The wayfarer
Perceiving the pathway to truth,
Was struck with astonishment.
It was thickly grown with weeds.
“Ha,” he said,
“I see that none has passed here
In a long time.”
Later he saw that each weed
Was a singular knife.
“Well,” he mumbled at last,
“Doubtless there are other roads.”

—Stephen Crane

If you have performed well on the exercises in this book and on your exams, it shows that you understand the merits of arguments—that you know how to clarify an argument, check the truth of various kinds of statements, evaluate the logic of different argument forms, and tell whether an argument is connected to the conversation. One explanation for your success might be that you are a good reasoner. But a better explanation might be that you are a good student—good students being more common than good reasoners.

If, however, you are now incorporating this understanding into your life, then you consistently care about the quality of arguments; you accept answers to your questions only when the argument is clear, addresses your question, is logical, and has premises that are probably true. This means you are acquiring the virtue of critical reflection. If you are at the same time seeking out new evidence from the world around you when it is needed, then you are also acquiring the virtue of empirical inquiry.

The virtues of critical reflection and empirical inquiry are the observable outcomes of the virtue of intellectual honesty. Besides honesty, there is normally no other plausible explanation for their existence (brainwashing could produce them, but brains washed clean of all motives are rarer than brains with clean motives). And these virtues have a low prior probability—we would be surprised to find critical reflection and empirical inquiry in an intellectually dishonest person. So if you are becoming more reflective and inquisitive, the best explanation is that you actively want to be such a person —that you now want not merely to adopt convenient beliefs but to know the truth about the questions you care about. This explanatory argument can provide the best possible indication that you are becoming more intellectually honest. Because, in the end, intellectual honesty is the best possible guide to good reasoning.


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A Guide to Good Reasoning: Cultivating Intellectual Virtues Copyright © 2020 by David Carl Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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