convince me

plato_aristotle.jpgBlogging has introduced me in a new way to disagreement. You write something, you publish it, people argue, you fire back, ad infinitum (or so it seems, sometimes). It’s a great exercise. It’s refining. And, if conducted with some level of maturity, it is mutually beneficial.

But how often do people come to agree? How often is convincing someone even possible? It’s one thing if people share the same view beforehand, and need to iron out some semantical issues. But how often is person A able to convince person B, thus changing person B’s world view (I am of course talking about matters of philosophy, theology, ideology, etc)?

It seems that no matter how compelling an argument is or how salient the reasoning, there is seldom a winning over.

Consider the entire history of philosophy. Alfred North Whitehead said that philosophy is a “a series of footnotes to Plato” — I’d substitute Aristotle. It is between Plato and Aristotle that we see a symbol of the ongoing philosophical disagreement. Since then (and likely centuries prior) the dialectic has had full momentum, in some form or another. Between realism and idealism. Mysticism and naturalism. Republicans and democrats.

Think about it: every major work of philosophy has had an equally compelling counterpart claiming contrary points. In the 2000+ years of western philosophical tradition, we have not established a single solitary point that everyone can agree on. There is no commonly accepted epistemology. There is no real philosophy of mind or definition of human nature. There has never been more disagreement of the reality of God than in present day.

As other fields focus and approach some degree reliability and conclusion, it seems that in this one field, everything is spiraling outward in a tangle of threads that will never be woven together.

If convincing is so seldom possible, does that make the discussions ultimately moot?