Beware surprising and suspicious convergence

Imagine this:

Oliver: … Thus we see that donating to the opera is the best way of promoting the arts.

Eleanor: Okay, but I’m principally interested in improving human welfare.

Oliver: Oh! Well I think it is also the case that donating to the opera is best for improving human welfare too.

Generally, what is best for one thing is usually not the best for something else, and thus Oliver’s claim that donations to opera are best for the arts and human welfare is surprising. We may suspect bias: that Oliver’s claim that the Opera is best for the human welfare is primarily motivated by his enthusiasm for opera and desire to find reasons in favour, rather than a cooler, more objective search for what is really best for human welfare.

The rest of this essay tries to better establish what is going on (and going wrong) in cases like this. It is in three parts: the first looks at the ‘statistics’ of convergence – in what circumstances is it surprising to find one object judged best by the lights of two different considerations? The second looks more carefully at the claim of bias: how it might be substantiated, and how it should be taken into consideration. The third returns to the example given above, and discusses the prevalence of this sort of error ‘within’ EA, and what can be done to avoid it. Continue reading “Beware surprising and suspicious convergence”

You’re just saying that because you’re a… : Demographics as defeater

Imagine these:

Conservative: You’re just saying that because that’s the liberal party line – the party line it just so happens your teachers and lectures agree to.

Atheist: You’re just saying that because these are the religious beliefs of your parents.

Science sceptic: You’re just saying that because that’s the scientific orthodoxy – an orthodoxy that just so happens to say whatever Big Pharma likes.

Crudely, we might consider these accusations of bias (they aren’t), and sentiments like these are common in argument. What do they mean, and are they a worthwhile argumentative strategy? Continue reading “You’re just saying that because you’re a… : Demographics as defeater”