Closed-mindedness and Arrogance
Forthcoming in Alessandra Tanesini and Michael P. Lynch (eds.)
Polarisation, Arrogance, and Dogmatism: Philosophical Perspectives (Routledge)
Let’s begin with a quote from the President of the UnitedStates: “CNN’s Don Lemon, the dumbest manon television, insinuated last night while asking a debate “question” that I was a racist, when in fact I am“the least racist person in the world.”” This appeared on Donald Trump’s twitter account on July 31,2019, the morning after a televised debate in which Don Lemon, one of the few black anchors on CNN,asked the Democratic presidential candidates to addressTrump’s bigotry and growing racial divisions inthe U.S. My project here is not to diagnose Trump, nor is it to argue that he is a racist, though I thinkboth of those projects are worthwhile. On this occasion, my goal is to explore the relationship betweenclosed-mindedness and arrogance. The quote above simultaneously exhibits both. Trump closed-mindedly dismisses Lemon as a source of relevant questions and views, and arrogantly claims to be theleast racist personin the world . Here, and elsewhere, closed-mindedness and arrogance go hand-in-hand. Indeed, they are so often conjoined that we expect to find them together. Does this mean thatclosed-mindedness and arrogance are the same thing? Or, are they different things that are usuallyfound together but sometimes come apart? If they come apart, what does that look like? My task is totry to answer this set of questions, and shed some light on the relationship between closed-mindednessand arrogance.I intend this project to be a contribution to the developing field of‘vice epistemology,’ whichfocuses on dispositions, attitudes, and character traits that make us bad thinkers. The industry-term forthese qualities isintellectual vices. The foundational goals of vice epistemology include determiningwhich qualities are intellectual vices, and providing analyses of those qualities. Here, I propose analysesof closed-mindedness and arrogance that allow us to distinguish between them, while also explainingwhy they are so often found together. If this is on the right track, closed-mindedness and arrogance arecorrelated, but they are not the same. By way of preview, section I identifies closed-mindedness withbeing unwilling to engage seriously with intellectual options or unwilling to revise one’s beliefs. SectionII identifies arrogance with under-owningone’s cognitiveshortcomings and over-owningone’s cognitivestrengths. These analyses of closed-mindedness and arrogance allow for cases where they come apart.Section III focuses on a sub-set of such cases in which agents are closed-minded but not arrogant. Realworld illustrations include academics, who engage with flat-earthers, and activists, who engage withwhite supremacists, while being unwilling to revise their own beliefs that the earth is round and thatpeople are people. The final section explains why we should nevertheless expect closed-mindedness andarrogance to be found together.
What is it to be closed-minded? Below, I propose an analysis of the trait of closed-mindedness. I don’tassume that the trait of closed-mindedness is always vicious. Rather, I treat the analysis of the trait, andits status as an intellectual vice, as separate questions. Though closed-mindedness is usually vicious, Iwill be suggesting that is isn’t always vicious, and might even be virtuous. Let’s begin with a paradigmcase of a closed-minded speech act.
Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record setting freezing temperatures throughout the countryand beyond. Global warming is an expensive hoax! (January 29, 2014)1 This dismisses a view that presumably conflicts with something the speaker already believes (that theearth isn’t getting warmer). In dismissing a claim, one might fail to engage withany evidencewhatsoever. Or, one might engage with evidence, but do so in way that is superficial and doesn’tseriously evaluate the claim (by citing shifting weather patterns that mischaracterize global warming).Any decent analysis of closed-mindedness will need to count the above dismissal of global warming asclosed-minded—if it didn’t, we would be suspicious of the analysis.What more can we say about this dismissal of global warming? For starters, global warming is animportant topic, as are the topics of religion, human rights, and immigration (to name a few), in contrastwith trivial topics, such as which celebrity has the best hair and which baseball pitcher has the best fastball. Global warming is also true—the planetis getting warmer. Perhaps it goes without saying that thedismissals above are also intentional—the speaker knowingly and voluntarily rejects global warming. So,suppose we were to claim that:(CM1) Closed-mindedness consists in intentionally dismissing views that are important and true,when they conflict with something one already believes.What is wrong with that analysis? It is far too narrow—it excludes lots of cases that an analysisof closed-mindedness should include. To begin with, we can be closed-minded in dismissing views thataren’t important.Suppose I am a die-hard Angels fan. I believe that Nolan Ryan has the best fast ball,and I dismiss alternative views without a hearing. My interlocutors would be right to call me closed-minded, dogmatic even, despite the fact that our disagreement is over a trivial matter. And this stillholds, even if my beliefturns out to be true, and my interlocutors’ conflicting claims turn out to be false.I am dogmatic in my belief about Ryan because I willfully dismiss alternatives to it, whatever theircontent and whatever their truth-value. Closed-mindedness and dogmatism do not require the dismissalof views that are true or important. This brings us to the following analysis:(CM2) Closed-mindedness consists in intentionally dismissing views when they conflict withsomething one already believes.This it still too narrow. Dismissing isn’t required. I can be closed-minded and dogmatic byintentionally avoiding views that conflict with my own, or ignoring them, or isolating myself from them. Ineed not dismiss them, where that involves recognizing and rejecting them. More broadly, I can beclosed-minded and dogmatic by being unwilling to engage seriously, or engage at all, with views thatconflict with my own. How about:(CM3) Closed-mindedness consists in being unwilling to engage, or engage seriously, with viewsthat conflict with something one already believes.Now, this is a rough approximation of dogmatism, which is a sub-set of closed-mindedness.Dogmatism involves an unwillingness to engage, or engage seriously, with relevant alternatives to abelief one already holds. But, closed-mindedness is broader than dogmatism. Whereas dogmatismrequires having a belief or view, about which one is dogmatic, closed-mindedness does not require us toalready have beliefs about a topic. Suppose someone is being confronted with evidence about globalwarming for the very first time. In arriving at an initial belief about it, she can still be closed-minded in
the way that she engages with evidence. She doesn’t need extant beliefs about global warming in order to, say, ignore evidence about glacial retreat. She may have a bias against the sources of that evidence.If this is right, agents can be closed-minded not just in the ways they engage with evidence, but also inthe ways they engage with sources and in the ways they conduct their inquiries more generally.Consider the following, again drawing from the Trump Twitter archive:
“The Washington Post and New York Times are, in my opinion, two of the most dishonest media outlets around. Truly, the Enemy of the People!” (April 19, 2019)
Here, as in the opening statement about Don Lemon, the speaker is dismissing sources rather than viewsand evidence. Further, in addition to being closed-minded with respect to sources, views, and evidence,we can be closed-minded with respect to which questions we ask, which methods we use, and which
inquiries we pursue in the first place. Let’s call this set of things ‘intellectual options.’
We only need a bit more tinkering. First, I want to allow agents who are unable, albeit willing, toengage with intellectual options to be closed-minded. This allows us to count people who areunwittingly stuck in on-line echo chambers as closed-minded. It likewise allows us to count people withimplicit biases as closed-minded, even if they want to rid themselves of those biases. (These agents neednot be blameworthy). Second, there is a way in which all of the analyses above are too broad and counttoo many people as closed-minded. This is because they don’t place any relevancy restrictions on intellectual options. Suppose a small-town police detective is investigating a run-of-the-mill break-in. We shouldn’t count her as closed-minded for ignoring the possibility that (e.g.) David Bowie’s ghost did it. That possibility isn’t relevant! But, our current analysis does count her as closed-minded. Granted,figuring out what makes an option relevant is tricky (Battaly 2018a). Below, I’ll be assuming that
if anoption is found often enough in our epistemic environment, it is relevant (Battaly 2018b). Putting all of this together, we can propose the following analysis:
(CM) Closed-mindedness consists in being unwilling or unable to engage (seriously) withrelevant intellectual options.
One final qualification on dogmatism is needed. We said above that dogmatism is anunwillingness to engage (seriously) with relevant alternatives to a belief one already holds. But, supposeyou run across an atypical conspiracy theorist, who is willing to engage seriously with alternatives to herconspiracy theory. She actually weighs the evidence against her theory, and even admits that theevidence is conclusive. Still, when it comes to revising her belief , she balks. She just isn’t willing to revise her belief in the conspiracy theory. This agent is still dogmatic even though she seriously engages withalternatives. Accordingly:
(DG) Dogmatism consists in being unwilling to engage (seriously) with relevant alternatives to abelief one already holds, or in the case where one is willing to engage seriously with those alternatives, it is a subsequent unwillingness to revise one’s belief.
Now that we have working definitions of closed-mindedness and dogmatism, we can addresstheir scope and their status as intellectual vices. Closed-mindedness (and dogmatism) can be broad in scope — a person might consistently refuse to engage with intellectual options no matter what the topic.Here, closed-mindedness is an entrenched disposition: we can count on dispositionally closed-mindedpeople to dismiss (ignore, etc.) sources and evidence across the board. But, its scope can also be more
targeted. A person might only be closed-minded with respect to particular topics or sources. For instance, he might only be closed-minded in evaluating the behavior of his children. Or, more seriously, he might only be closed-minded in dismissing sources that don’t look like him.Indeed, closed-mindedness can be even more targeted than this: he might, on rare occasion, dismiss a negative evaluation of his children, even though he is usually open to such evaluations. He might, in other words, perform a closed-minded act as a ‘one-off.’ In other words, he might do the same thing that a closed-minded person would do.The analyses above do not presuppose that closed-mindedness and dogmatism are intellectual vices. To determine whether they are, we need more information about intellectual vice.2 We can conceive of intellectual vices as dispositions, attitudes, and character traits that make us bad thinkers. Since there is more than one way to be a bad thinker, there is more than one kind of intellectual vice :effects-vices and character-vices. Closed-mindedness and dogmatism will be effects-vices whenever they produce a preponderance of bad epistemic effects, e.g., when they produce false beliefs and obstruct knowledge. They will be character vices whenever they are driven by bad motives, such as the fear of being wrong, the lack of curiosity or of the desire to get the truth, or wanting to believe whatever is easiest or feels good. Note that character-vices and effects-vices can (and often do) overlap.When I address intellectual vices below, I focus on effects-vices.3 Closed-mindedness is usually an effects-vice, as opposed to an effects-virtue: it usually produces more epistemic bads than goods. To illustrate, as dogmatism about a belief that is false, it can lead to the maintenance, strengthening, and compounding of false beliefs. As a dismissal of sources, especially of women and people of color, closed-mindedness can take the form of epistemic injustice, and can impede the development of intellectual virtue in these agents (Fricker 2007). As a failure to look for sources outside our own echo chambers, closed-mindedness can result in misplaced confidence in our beliefs, our abilities, and our ‘trusted’ sources (Nguyen forthcoming). And, in all of these forms it can obstruct the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. In short, closed-mindedness is usually intellectually vicious. But below, I suggest that some closed-minded actions might not be intellectually vicious, and might even be intellectually virtuous.
Let’s explore the trait of arrogance (without assuming that the trait is always vicious) and return to ouropening quote. Claiming that one is ‘the least racist person in the world’ is paradigmatically arrogant. Why? For starters, the speaker seems to be oblivious to a limitation that he has. Here, I assume that racism is a limitation, and that (at the very least) the speaker is not immune to implicit racial bias.Racism is a limitation in all domains of our lives, including the intellectual domain — it prevents us from seeing people of color as credible sources of knowledge. My focus below is on intellectual arrogance and our intellectual limitations, which also include: ignorance and gaps in knowledge, cognitive mistakes, unreliable processes and biases, deficits in cognitive skills, and the intellectual vices themselves (Whitcomb et al. 2017). One way to be intellectually arrogant is to be oblivious, or otherwise inattentive, to one’s intellectual limitations. So, we can begin with the following analysis: (AR1) Arrogance consists in an unwillingness or inability to be attentive to one’s (intellectual) limitations.
But, agents can be arrogant even if theyare attentive to their limitations—even if theirlimitations do pop up on their radar. For instance, a person might be attentive to his limitations, butpublicly deny that he has them. At the extreme, such denials can take the form of hyperbolic over-compensations, e.g., that one is “the least racist person in the world.” More ordinarily, they consist inflat denials, e.g., that one has made a cognitive mistake, or that one has deficits in skills or knowledge.Agents may also be attentive to their limitations but be ‘in denial’ privately, such that when theirlimitations come to mind, they don’t accept that they have them. Further, a person can be arrogant bybeing complacent about limitations that pop up on his radar. He might even admit those limitations tohimself and others, but not care that he has them.Our analysis needs to account for these cases. Borrowing a useful concept from popular culture,we can add that arrogance involves a failure toown one’s limitations. At a minimum, owningone’slimitationswill involve actions, such as admitting one’s limitations to oneself and others, and motivations, such as caring about them (Whitcomb et al 2017).It need not involve ‘taking responsibility’ for one’s limitations in any strong sense, since one need not be blameworthy for them. One can thus failto own one’s limitations by, e.g., refusing to admit them, pretending not to have them, beingcomplacent about them, and so forth. This brings us to:
(AR2) Arrogance consists in an unwillingness or inability to be attentive to or own one’s(intellectual) limitations.Of course, arrogance isn’t just about limitations.
It is also about strengths. Indeed, in claiming tobe“the least racist person in the world,” the speaker doesn’t just deny a limitation, he simultaneouslyand mistakenly lays claim to a strength. Relatedly, consider:”My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject [climate change], but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture” (Cummings 2018).One way to be arrogant is to over-estimate one’s intellectual strengths—one’s knowledge and abilities — as demonstrated above. This is a kind of over owning. Agents can be arrogant by over owning their strengths in other ways, too. They might be obsessed with their strengths, or constantly refer to them in conversations, or have too much confidence in them. An agent can even be arrogant by being overly attentive to his strengths—his strengths might constantly pop up on his radar. We need our analysis of arrogance to account for these cases, as well. Putting all of the above together, we can propose the following:
(AR*) Arrogance consists in an unwillingness or inability to be attentive to or own one’s (intellectual) limitations, or a disposition to be overly attentive to or over own one’s(intellectual) strengths.
Like closed-mindedness, arrogance can be broad or narrow in scope. A person might be arrogant with respect to all of her intellectual limitations and strengths, or only arrogant when it comes to (e.g.)her quantitative skills. She may even lack arrogance generally, but on a single occasion, pretend to have a quantitative skill that she doesn’t have, thus performing an arrogant act as a ‘one-off’ (doing what an arrogant person would do). Arrogance is also usually vicious. It produces some of the same bad epistemic effects as closed-mindedness, though it won’t be as wide-reaching. The immediate effects of
arrogance will primarily impact the arrogant agent himself, rather than other agents. As under-owning one’s limitations, arrogance can sustain one’s own ignorance and incompetence. As over-owning one’s strengths, arrogance can produce misplaced confidence in one’s beliefs and intellectual abilities, and can even facilitate laziness.One of the examples above is comparative: the speaker claims to be “the least racist person in the world.” So, we might wonder whether our analysis of arrogance is missing a comparative or interpersonal element. Borrowing a helpful distinction from Alessandra Tanesini, we can think of arrogance as intrapersonal, and haughtiness as interpersonal (2016: 82). The proposal above treats arrogance as intrapersonal: arrogance is a stance towards one’s own intellectual limitations and strengths, which need not be comparative.4 Consider the above example of having a “natural instinct for science.” This is not a claim about being better than others at science. It is simply a claim to have an ability — one that the speaker presumably lacks. Implied comparisons to others aren’t required for arrogance — perhaps, unsurprisingly, one can be arrogant while thinking only about oneself and nota bout anyone else! Nor does arrogance entail “a sense of superiority or disrespect for other agents”(Tanesini 2016: 82). In Tanesini’s words:
A scientist may be arrogant in the way in which he conducts his inquiry, even when this is carried out by himself alone. He may…be unwilling to contemplate that he has made a mistake when an experiment produces results that are not credible…. It would seem possible to stand inperfect isolation, absolutely indifferent to the behaviors of others, and yet be arrogant (2016:82).
Compare haughtiness, which Tanesini describes as a kind of disdain for others. People who are both arrogant and haughty assume that their ‘superior’ intellect “entitles them to a range of privileges that they deny to others”(2016: 75).5 For instance, they think it entitles them to make assertions without being answerable to questions or challenges. The key point for present purposes is that an agent can be arrogant without being haughty. Still, we should expect arrogance to often be accompanied haughtiness. We return to the correlation between arrogance and haughtiness in the conclusion.
Finally, closed-mindedness is alack of the trait of open-mindedness. Where, open-mindedness is a willingness or ability to engage (seriously) with relevant intellectual options and to revise one’s beliefs. Arrogance, as an unwillingness or inability to attend to or own one’s intellectual limitations, is likewise alack of the trait of intellectual humility. Where, intellectual humility is a disposition to be attentive to and own one’s intellectual limitations (Whitcomb et al. 2017). But, there is another way to be arrogant, by being overly attentive to over owning one’s strengths, which is not a lack of the trait of intellectual humility, it is anexcess of the trait of pride. Pride is a disposition to be attentive to and own one’s intellectual strengths.Arrogance is pride gone overboard. Accordingly, we should be cautious in charging others with this kind of arrogance, since they might simply be manifesting pride. If DonnaStrickland, a 2018 Nobel laureate in Physics, acknowledges her understanding of lasers, she isn’t being arrogant. Following Tiberius and Walker (1998: 383), having true beliefs about one’s intellectual strengths isn’t enough to make one arrogant. But, over-estimating one’s intellectual strengths, in the form of having “a natural instinct for science” is enough for arrogance (performing an arrogant act).Even over-estimations for which one is not blameworthy are enough. As José Medina (2013) points out, privileged agents who are consistently treated as competent, may come to believe in their own
competence, whether or not those beliefs are true and whether or not they are blameworthy(accountable) for coming to have them.It is worth mentioning two additional sorts of excess. The first is an excess of the trait of open-mindedness. It is open-mindedness to the extreme—a willingness to engage with any and all relevantoptions. Roughly, it is a matter of being so open-minded that ‘one’s brains fall out.’The second, servility,is an excess of the trait of intellectual humility. Servility is a disposition to be overly attentive to, or overown, one’s intellectual limitations. Servile people obsess about their limitations, or over-emphasizethem, or take them too seriously. This can cause them to fail to trust themselves, and to defer to othersat every opportunity.
III.Closed-mindedness without Arrogance
The above analyses of closed-mindedness and arrogance allow them to come apart. I think that people can be arrogant without being closed-minded.6 I would put the fictional characters of Dr. Gregory House and Hercule Poirot in this category. A case can also be made that philosophers are often open-minded but arrogant: though we are trained to be open-minded, we tend to over-estimate our knowledge and abilities (and infer that we are the smartest people in the room). But, here, I focus on cases in which agents are closed-minded, but not arrogant.
If James Spiegel is correct, most of us have encountered such agents:
Most of us have known—and been exasperated by — people who readily acknowledge (at least verbally) their general fallibility as a thinker yet are foreclosed to new perspectives or alternative viewpoints on various issues…. In some cases when I have pursued this with people I have been able to get them to admit that they have an emotional, psychological, or some other ‘block’ that prevents them from being open to a particular view…. For such people their intellectual humility fails to translate into open-mindedness toward their views on particular issues (Spiegel 2012: 35).
The examples that come readily to mind are of family members who admit their limited knowledge about, e.g., climate change, or vaccines, or about what it is like to be a person of color, but who balk when it comes to revising their beliefs. In other words, we tend to think of agents who are dogmatic about beliefs that are false. We cast the person who disagrees with our knowledge in the dogmatic role.That is fair enough, at least as far as it goes, since such agents are dogmatic according to our analysis above. Moreover, their dogmatism will be intellectually vicious, in the sense that it produces a preponderance of bad epistemic effects — it sustains their false beliefs and obstructs their knowledge—though it would no doubt produce even worse epistemic effects if it were accompanied by arrogance.I want to turn this critique inward, by looking at cases in which we cast ourselves in the dogmatic role. Cases in which we are dogmatic with respect to things we know, but are not intellectually arrogant in the way we engage with our mistaken interlocutors. I will be drawing primarily on examples of activists who engage with white supremacists, and academics who engage with flat-earthers. I will likewise suggest that these cases of dogmatism are not intellectually vicious, and might even be intellectually virtuous.It should be relatively easy to detect dogmatism in the examples below. Since our activists and academics are, at a minimum, unwilling to revise their beliefs that people are people and the earth is
round, they straightforwardly satisfy our conditions for dogmatism. But, we might find it harder to apply our analyses of arrogance and humility to the examples below. Accordingly, I want to focus ourattention on two ways in which we may be especially susceptible to arrogance when interacting withwhite supremacists and flat-earthers. First, we may be inclined to jump to unsupported conclusions about them, and crucially, we mayfail to own this inclination as a limitation of ours. Suppose we are inclined to infer that white supremacists are irredeemable monsters, and that flat-earthers are hopeless dolts. The tendency to jump to such conclusions would be an intellectual limitation, since those conclusions outstrip our evidence (Whitcomb et al. forthcoming). By comparison, the conclusions that white supremacists are racists, and that flat-earthers are misguided, are supported by our evidence. Moreover, being oblivious to such tendencies, failing to acknowledge them when they are pointed out, and not caring about them would be indicators of arrogance on our part. They would be failures to own an intellectual limitation.Do we have such tendencies? According to data from the Pew Research Center (2016), Republicans andDemocrats tend to see each other as ‘unintelligent’ and ‘immoral,’ and the majority in each party has ‘animosity,’ ‘antipathy,’ and ‘contempt’ for those in the other. In Michael Lynch’s words, each side sees the other as “dishonest, uninformed, and downright immoral” (2019: 2). Though this is merely inductive support and further empirical data is needed, it would be surprising if we made exceptions for white supremacists and flat-earthers, given that we already tend to jump to comparable conclusions about rank-and-file members of the other party. Indeed, we saw Hillary Clinton jump to a similar conclusion at a campaign fundraiser in 2016:
To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call ‘the basket of deplorables.’ Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up…. Now some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket…are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down… (Reilly 2016)
When called out on this inferential leap, Clinton did, to some extent, own it: “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong” (Mehta 2016). She admitted a mistake, though we might still wonder about the inference from being racist or sexist to being a deplorable. (Concluding that some Trump supporters are racists and sexists is supported by our evidence — some are white supremacists — but might concluding that some are deplorables still outstrip it?) I won’t be doing Clinton diagnosis either. But, arguably what we have here is at least perceived arrogance, if not actual arrogance.
There is a second way in which we may be especially susceptible to arrogance when interacting with white supremacists and flat-earthers. We may tend to over-estimate our skills in argument and persuasion. We may think that we will easily be able to convince the white supremacist and the flat-earther to change their minds (Whitcomb et al. forthcoming).With these clarifications in mind, let’s turn to some examples, beginning with Daryl Davis. Davis(1958- ) is a black musician who has gradually convinced approximately two dozen KKK members toleave the Klan. A documentary film, Accidental Courtesy (2016), follows Davis in his meetings with individual Klan members, in which they talk about their beliefs. We see Davis attending KKK rallies, and inviting Klan members to meals. It is clear that Davis considers some Klan members to be his friends. In
his words: “While I don’t agree with his separatist ideology, I consider [Klan leader] Frank Ancona to be afriend of mine, actually I consider him to be a good friend of mine” (2016, 47:28). Davis credits hissuccess in changing minds to the individual relationships he builds and to giving those individuals the chance to “air their views” (2016, 35:00). About Roger Kelly (whom Davis convinced to leave the Klan),he has this to say: “We are enemies — he’s the head of the Klan and I’m a black guy. But he respected me to sit down and listen to him, and in exchange he sat down and listened to me. I did not respect what he had to say, I respected his right to say it” (2016, 20:00).
There are three things to note about Davis’s interactions with Klan members. First, Davis ownshis inability to change the minds of ‘unreceptive’ Klan members. Some, he acknowledges, “will go to their graves being hateful and being violent” and “will never leave that ideology” (2016). He likewise owns his inability to change the mind of any ‘receptive’ Klan member on the spot. He compares his efforts to trying to lose weight: “Y’all see this fine figure right here? [indicating his ample mid-section]. I didn’t put this on overnight. I want to lose it. I’m not going to lose it by tomorrow. But, if I work on it over time, it will shrink down. When you are engrained in this stuff [white supremacy], you’re not going to shut it off overnight.” (2016, 13:58). Davis does not arrogantly over-estimate his powers of argument and persuasion.
Second, nor does he arrogantly jump to the conclusion that Klan members are irredeemable monsters. Of course, it is possible that he lacked any such inclination to begin with. But (given the Pew Center Research), he may instead have learned to own it and curtail it. Interestingly, he seems less successful at curtailing such inclinations when disagreeing with BLM activists (2016, 71:00). We see Davis jumping to the conclusion that one of the activists is ‘ignorant,’ and manifesting a limitation which we don’t see him own. Nevertheless, the real worry about Davis is not that he is arrogant, but that he goes too far in other direction, toward servility. For present purposes, the key point is that Davis avoids the pitfalls of arrogance in his interactions with white supremacists.
Third, Davis is nevertheless dogmatic. Granted, he does seriously engage with the claims made by white supremacists — he listens to what they say and argues against their claims, offering counter-evidence and rebuttals. So, he does not satisfy the first disjunct in our analysis (DG*) — he is willing to engage (seriously) with relevant alternatives to a belief he already holds. But, he satisfies the second disjunct — he is unwilling to revise his belief that people are people. Indeed, if Davis were willing to put that belief up for revision, we would charge him with being so open-minded that his ‘brains had fallen out.’ In Davis, intellectual arrogance and dogmatism come apart.Similarly, David Abitbol was dogmatic, but not arrogant, in his interactions with Megan Phelps-Roper, who left the Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-Semitic and anti-gay hate group, in 2012. Phelps-Roper credits her departure to conversations with Abitbol, a Jewish activist, and others who engaged her in person and on Twitter (Llanera 2019). In a joint talk on YouTube, Phelps-Roper and Abitbol describe the relationship they gradually built through their interactions at protests and their conversations on-line:
Phelps-Roper: “Even though we were on opposite sides of this question, and we both firmly believed that we each were right, we were still able to havethat rapport.”
Abitbol: “Obviously that was the whole key to our ability to be able to discuss things, and I at no point in time used foul language, though I was sorely tempted to.”7
As Phelps-Roper describes it, that relationship enabled her to listen to Abitbol’s questions aboutcontradictions in her church’s doctrine, and to take those questions seriously, and ultimately change hermind. In her TED talk, Phelps-Roper says: “My friends on Twitter didn’t abandon their beliefs or theirprinciples, only their scorn. They channeled their infinitely justifiable offense and came to me withpointed questions tempered with kindness and humor…. They approached me as a human being andthat was more transformative than two full decades of outrage.” In the same vein: “People got to knowme and I got to know them….We got to know that neither side was this monstrous image we had in ourheads.”8 If Phelps-Roper and Abitbol have this right, then Abitbol was unwilling to revise his belief that people are people, but wasn’t arrogant in the way that he interacted with Phelps-Roper. Here, too, dogmatism and arrogance come apart.
Finally, let’s consider academics who engage with flat-earthers, or at least explore how to engage with flat-earthers. Astrophysicist Paul M. Sutter (2018)has the following advice: “Don’t bother arguing. Don’t lay down the evidence, because the evidence doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have an evidence-based mindset. Don’t try to convince, because you’re probably going to lose.”Lee MacIntrye, a philosopher of science who attended a conference organized by flat-earthers, has similar recommendations: don’t try to use evidence to convince flat-earthers that they are wrong (Radke andLeibovitz 2019). These academics own their inabilities to change the minds of flat-earthers through argument and evidence, recommending instead that we ask flat-earthers questions in an effort to understand why they believe what they do, and to establish trust. In that vein, Sutter (2018) asks us to “remember that the person you’re talking to, the person you are arguing with, is…a person. A human.” In short, they are advising us to avoid arrogance in our interactions with flat-earthers, but to bedogmatic in our belief that the earth is round.9
In all of these examples, we see people who are willing to engage, and most — if not all — are willing to engage seriously.10 They don’t satisfy the first disjunct in our analysis of dogmatism, but they do satisfy the second—they are unwilling to revise their beliefs. And, importantly, they satisfy it without being arrogant. Hence, dogmatism and arrogance can come apart.What about people who refuse to engage with white supremacists and flat-earthers? They are being closed-minded in dismissing sources. Must they be arrogant? Or, can closed-mindedness and arrogance come apart here, as well? I think that closed-mindedness and arrogance can also diverge in these cases, though the devil will be in the details. Imagine a scientist, Sally, at work on an important project who refuses to engage with flat-earthers because she believes that such engagement would amass epistemic opportunity costs for her and for the broader epistemic community. There will be some cases in which Sally is right and her worries are entirely justified. In other words, there will be some cases in which we would be epistemically better off if she spent her time on the important project instead of addressing views that have been resoundingly disproved. Relatedly, imagine the leader of an activist movement, Ali, who refuses to engage with white supremacists because she believes that such engagement would back-fire, helping to legitimize white supremacy as a respectable view. There will, likewise, be some cases in which Ali is right and her worries are entirely justified: there will be some cases in which engagement with white supremacists back-fires in exactly this way. Though we would need to fill in further details, neither of these cases seems to entail arrogance in the form of over-owning strengths or under-owning limitations. Sally’s and Ali’s reasons for refusing to engage are grounded, not in arrogance, but in other concerns. If this is correct, closed-mindedness and arrogance can come apart here, as well.
Now, for some clarifications and caveats. First, one might worry that Davis, Abitbol, and theacademics above aren’t dogmatic because the views they are engaging with aren’t even relevant! White supremacist ideologies and flat-earthism are false and unsupported and so don’t even meet the threshold for relevance. In reply, I am quite sympathetic with this line of reasoning and have elsewhere argued that for such claims to count as relevant, we would need to assume that their pervasiveness in our epistemic environment is sufficient for making them relevant (Battaly 2018a). Here, I am making that assumption — I am assuming that they are pervasive enough in our environment to count as relevant. If you find that assumption problematic, consider on-line echo chambers—where white supremacy or flat-earthism are ubiquitous — and the impact that these echo chambers are having on our broader environment. I am not assuming that white supremacy and flat-earthism are true or justified. Quite the contrary — I am assuming that they are false and unjustified.
Second, the argument above does not issue a recommendation to engage with white supremacists and flat-earthers. It uses examples of real world engagements to argue that dogmatism and arrogance can come apart. But, it intends to remain neutral about whether such engagements are appropriate in the first place. We can now begin to explore that question. Arguably, it isn’t always appropriate to directly engage with white supremacists and flat-earthers, but nor is it always appropriate to ignore them. Whether direct engagement is appropriate will depend on a number off actors—epistemic, moral, and civic—and on the context. This applies to all such engagements, includingthose of Davis and Abitbol.
Accordingly, there will be cases in which Sally above is right—where it is, on balance, epistemically bad to directly engage with flat-earthers. But, there will also be cases in which moral and civic values outweigh epistemic values, favoring engagement after all. There will even be cases in which it is, on balance, epistemically good to engage with flat-earthers — when we can make progress inc hanging their minds and stemming the spread of their views, and do so by modeling good epistemic practices. Relatedly, in the documentary film “Behind the Curve” (2018), several scientists argue that failing to engage with flat-earthers can produce worse epistemic and civic effects than engaging with them. In their words, unchecked flat-earthism can lead to: skepticism about science in general, to “a growing section of the population that doesn’t know how to think critically and doesn’t know how to evaluate expert resources,” and even to government officials who make poorly informed decisions about climate policy (2018, 1:28:00).
There will, likewise, be cases in which Ali above is right — where it is, on balance, morally and epistemically bad to directly engage with white supremacists, where giving them a platform ultimately produces more harm than good. As Mark Potok (2018), of the Southern Poverty Law Center, remarks:“it’s hard not to wonder if [Daryl Davis] isn’t fundamentally aiding and abetting the cause he claims to oppose.” But even if many of Davis’s own engagements with white supremacists turn out to be inappropriate, we can still acknowledge that moral and epistemic values sometimes favor engagement.It isn’t always appropriate to ignore white supremacists.Of course, whether and when they favor engagement will depend on complex contextual factors, including one’s social and racial identity.
Third, we can now spell out an implication of the argument above. Suppose we are in a context in which it is appropriate to directly engage with white supremacists or flat-earthers, in the sense that our engagement is likely to do moral, civic, and epistemic good. Further, suppose that we engage seriously and avoid arrogance. Is it intellectually vicious for us to be dogmatic about our respective
beliefs — that people are people and the earth is round — in this context? Recall that dogmatism is usually
intellectually vicious — it usually produces more bad epistemic effects than good ones, and is oftendriven by bad motives (Section I). But, I submit that in this context, it isn’t intellectually vicious, and might even be intellectually virtuous. Being unwilling to revise your belief that people are people, when engaging with white supremacists in the manner above, isn’t likely to produce a preponderance of bad epistemic effects. It is likely to produce a preponderance of good epistemic effects — when combined with humility and serious engagement, it is likely to help change the minds of white supremacists andimprove our epistemic (and moral) environment. Indeed, holding fast to your belief that people arepeople might even be necessary for the production of good epistemic effects like these. Engaging mightbe inappropriate without it. Nor is such dogmatism grounded in bad motivations. On the contrary, ourunwillingness to revise our beliefs is grounded in a virtuous motivation to sustain and disseminate truebeliefs and knowledge — to help ourselves and others maintain and acquire epistemic goods. In short: dogmatism won’t always be intellectually vicious. When engaging with white supremacists and flat-earthers, dogmatic actions on our part might even be intellectually virtuous.
Closed-mindedness with Arrogance
The above argues that closed-mindedness consists in an unwillingness to revise one’s beliefs, or more
broadly, in an unwillingness or inability to engage seriously with intellectual options. Whereas, arrogance consists in a disposition to under own one’s intellectual limitations or to over own one’s intellectual strengths. Closed-mindedness and arrogance are thus different things, which sometimes come apart. But, the analyses above also allow us to explain why closed-mindedness and arrogance are so often found together.
We can expect arrogance to be accompanied by haughtiness, and haughtiness to be accompanied by closed-mindedness. It is easy to see how intrapersonal arrogance can lead to interpersonal haughtiness. People who are arrogant over-estimate their own strengths and under-estimate their own limitations. They think they know more than they in fact do; and so, in comparing themselves to other agents, they may develop a sense of intellectual superiority and a sense of entitlement to special privileges. It is also easy to see how haughtiness can lead to closed-mindedness. In Tanesini’s words:
One of the characteristic behaviors of those who are haughty is an unwillingness to treat thechallenges made by others with the consideration that they are due. Thus, the haughty tend notto listen to objections or not to take them as seriously as they deserve to be taken. The belief that others are intellectually inferior to them is one the causes of this behavior (2016: 81).
Lynch (2018; 2019) echoes this move from arrogance to closed-mindedness, arguing that agents who think they already know-it-all are likely to dismiss alternative points of view and relevant counter-evidence.
The causal chain can likewise go in the other direction: closed-mindedness can lead to arrogance. As Thi Nguyen (forthcoming) argues, failing to look for sources beyond one’s own echo chamber can lead to misplaced confidence in one’s beliefs and abilities. The closed-mindedness of the echo chamber can manufacture confidence
if all you see are people and evidence agreeing with yourpoint of view, you are likely to become more confident in your beliefs and abilities. This, in turn, can lead to arrogance — to over-estimating your knowledge and intellectual strengths. In short, whatever
direction the casual chain takes, we can expect closed-mindedness and arrogance to be correlated, evenif they are distinct things that sometimes come apart.
My hope is that the arguments above have shed light on closed-mindedness and arrogance, andprovided some real world examples of each. Many questions remain, including: (1) can people bearrogant without being closed-minded, and if so what does that look like? And, (2) when is it, and whenis it not, appropriate to directly engage with white supremacists, or flat-earthers?
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2 See Cassam 2019, Crerar 2018, Tanesini 2018a, and Kidd et al. forthcoming.
3 On closed-mindedness as a character vice, see Battaly forthcoming.
4 Though there is some overlap between this analysisof arrogance and Tanesini’s, they differ on several points.They agree that arrogance involves appraisals of one’s intellectual limits and strengths. One difference is that, for Tanesini(2018b: 26), the arrogant person’s appraisals will be motivated by the desire for self-enhancement, whereas my analysis is non-committal about what is motivating an arrogant person. Arrogance might be motivated by a range of desires, including (but not limited to) self-enhancement. Some of these desires might even be liberatory. This difference may be rooted in different methodological assumptions: Tanesini 2018b is assuming that arrogance is a vice and is identifying the motive that makes it vicious, whereas I am assuming that arrogance is a trait and that its status as a vice is a separate question.5 See also Roberts and Wood 2003: 265.
6 Contrast Lynch 2018: 288; 2019: 100.7 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6X53uKLypE. Accessed Oct. 4, 2019.
8 Interview with Sarah Silverman,I Love you, America (Hulu, S1 E1, Oct. 12 2017).
9 Lynch 2019: 151; 2018: 288.
10 Arguably, Sutter and MacIntyre’s advice (to ask flat-earthers questions rather than argue with them) still countsas serious engagement.
11 Thanks to Alessandra Tanesini, Michael Berhow, Allan Hazlett, Gregg Peterson, Lynn Sargeant, George Tsakiridis,Chase Wrenn, and audiences at the University of Tokyo, South Dakota State University, and the Law School at the University of Connecticut. Work on this paper was funded by The Self, Virtue, and Public Life Project at theUniversity of Oklahoma with generous support from the Templeton Religion Trust. The opinions expressed hereinare those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Templeton Religion Trust.