Monday, February 13, 2012

I Disagree With Your Disagreement...

Sometimes I enjoy disagreeing just to be a provocateur. And, as I near my one-year anniversary of blogging, I have noticed, followed, and contributed to not a few online disagreements. Some, admittedly, have had little couth (my actions included), and some, more recently, have had a bit more tact.

To be clear, I am not opposed to disagreement. In fact, one of the most important things I learned in seminary was that interacting (via reading, discussion, etc.) with those from a differing perspective is just as important (if not more so) as interacting with those from within your own boundary markers. If your actual desire is to engage people with issues (i.e. hand-to-hand, eyeball-to-eyeball), rather than simply fire rhetorical artillery from a safe point, we must cultivate our ability to understand their argument(s) from their vantage point.

So, then, how are we to disagree?

Each semester, I begin my various philosophy classes with three academic virtues for studying the discipline. It might not be obvious, but there can be a fair amount of disagreement (student v. student and, often, student[s] v. Instructor) as our differing philosophical perspectives (e.g. the existence of God, ethical systems, epistemological frameworks, etc.) become more apparent. Therefore, if these academic virtues can work towards fostering a healthy classroom environment, perhaps they might also be useful as we think through web-based disagreement. The three academic virtues are:

  1. Contextual sensitivity,
  2. Presuppositional awareness, and
  3. Open-minded humility
Now, I cannot take credit for creating the definitions behind these virtues, but I can offer some insight into how these virtues might affect our disagreement(s).

First, contextual sensitivity ought to help us accept others’ differences (e.g. race, gender, philosophical/theological perspective, etc.) at face value. Second, presuppositional awareness ought to help us recognize both the presuppositions we bring to the “dialogical table,” as well as the presuppositions embraced by our dialogue partners. Third, open-minded humility ought to help us remember that we might be wrong in our suppositions, and, therefore, ought to come to the “dialogical table” with a deep sense of humility.

So, proceed in your disagreement(s), and may we do so with wisdom, grace, and humility.

Postscript: Please also be sure to read Stephen Altrogge's helpful insights (here and here) on how to disagree.

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