Should you always practice intellectual charity?

Background

New data show that a growing majority of college students are too afraid of their peers’ opinions to discuss controversial issues in the classroom. So too, increasingly, are their professors. Stories abound of people getting “cancelled” or fired for making certain claims or even mentioning certain phrases. Some of these “cancellations” seem more legitimate than others. Regardless of what you think about each specific case, it seems clear that students don’t always practice intellectual charity.

Intellectual charity is the virtue or skill of treating other people’s arguments the way you want them to treat yours – especially when you disagree. This means listening carefully, asking curious questions, and trying to understand other people’s arguments in the best possible light. Ideally, you should be able to restate someone’s position in a way that they themselves would agree with before you criticize their claims.

Should you always try to interpret people’s arguments charitably, or is it better not to be charitable in certain cases?

Discussion Questions

1) If you think that we should not always be charitable to people we disagree with, give a specific example of a claim or argument that we do not need to be charitable toward, and explain why we do not need to be charitable toward it.

2) Does practicing charity make you more or less persuasive to people with whom you might disagree? Why?

3) It is sometimes claimed that practicing intellectual charity is a sort of virtue, meaning it is good to pursue for its own sake as part of one’s character development. Do you find it compelling to think that you should try to be virtuous? Why or why not?

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