Point of View, Bias, and Insight

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Arts and Humanities | Philosophy


“I think it fair to say that point of view can sometimes increase the depth of understanding, and can sometimes parochially restrict the thinker[…]Biases belong to that large class of errors that survive because they are functional (which is not to say in our interests) - not just psychologically comforting, and certainly not just the result of logical fallacies such as hasty generalization, but cognitively functional. They help us to think, even if they help us to think wrong. Bias is a difficult practical problem, of great interest for the teaching of critical thinking, because of the difficulties of distinguishing instances of prejudice from statements of authority or interest, and the lack of strong correlation of any of those with what is true and what is false. But, in case that does not make the problem difficult enough, the theoretical problems of prejudice come from fairly assessing the costs and benefits of points of view, and, worse, knowing what is to count as a cost and a benefit.[…]Then the interesting practical problem, with weighty implications for teaching critical thinking, is how to have the benefits of partial vision without its drawbacks, how to take advantage of the affirmative values of adherence to God and country without the chauvinisms and bigotries that such affiliations seem so often to engender. Clearly, those benefits cannot always be without cost - at some times, in some places, it may be impossible to be a patriot without being a chauvinist, to stand firm in one's faith without being a bigot. Sometimes, though, it is possible to see a maturity of mind, to which critical thinking could make a contribution, in which those affirmative values can exist without their usual costs. One of the sources of resistance to the destruction of prejudice is an unconscious recognition of the benefits of point of view. It is far from clear that such adherence is a force that is weakened on being made conscious.”