Rationality, evidence & conspiracy theories

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Constructing robust and persuasive arguments is an essential speechwriting skill. Sending your speaker to the podium with incoherent and illogical arguments is like sending a warrior into battle with a cardboard sword and chocolate shield.

But when it comes to intellectual rigour, it’s also important for speechwriters to bear in mind that rationality, though indispensable, is an unreliable guide to truth. This is because rationality is fundamentally agnostic: it takes no responsibility whatsoever - either moral or epistemological - for the conclusions it leads us to.

Instead, it behaves like a blind, pertinacious mole, burrowing deep into the assertions it’s presented with, extracting everything nutritious from them, and using what it harvests as a foundation on which to build a coherent argumentative structure. As far as rationality is concerned, that’s where its responsibilities begin and end.

If someone claims the moon is made of blue cheese, it’s perfectly reasonable to explore arguments that look at ways of exporting its bounty to earth. And if someone contends that a particular vaccine implants a microchip into everyone it’s given to, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to take action to avoid being vaccinated.

Arguments fail when rationality is forced to build on problematic foundations; foundations based on assertions that lack a sound evidence base. This is why as well as being able to construct rational arguments it’s also imperative that speechwriters have the necessary skills to be able to distinguish between trustworthy sources of information and dubious ones. You can employ the finest architects and builders but if your house is built on a swamp, it won’t be too long before it starts to sink.

Wednesday January 19th, 2022

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