The ideal of intellectual integrity
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THE IDEAL OF INTELLECTUAL INTEGRITY. Susan Haack. focus here is on intellectual integrity -- vital to the life of the mind .

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Susan Haack

focus here is on intellectual integrity -- vital to the life of the mind

“We presume, on the part of those who follow any scientific [intellectual] vocation, a sort of tacit oath never to subordinate the motive of objective truth-seeking to any subjective preference or inclination or any expediency or opportunistic consideration” -- C. I. Lewis

… it is [the] business [of education] to cultivate deep-seated and effective habits of discriminating tested beliefs from mere assertions, guesses, and opinions; to develop a lively, sincere, and open-minded preference for conclusions that are properly grounded … -- John Dewey

meanings of “integrity”…

  • the word derives from from the Latin “in” and “tangere” = “untouched”

  • in Portuguese, still means “virginity,” as it still does in Spanish -- with respect to the Virgin Mary

  • … as it once did in English; but now it means:

  • “undivided, whole complete, uncorrupted, soundness of moral principle, esp. with respect to truth and fair dealing” – OED

  • “completeness, unity, firm adherence to values” – Webster’s

  • … I will look at integrity in the sense of “firm adherence to values”

  • and will focus primarily on epistemic values

  • the values at the heart of inquiry generally, and scientific inquiry specifically

from the perspective of an individual

where it has to do with respect for evidence

and avoiding self-deception

from a social perspective

where it has to do with what environments encourage, and what discourage, such respect

… there are two ways to approach it

1. The Individual Perspective

… intellectual integrity has been has been explored by novelists such as Samuel Butler

… who paints a fine picture of hypocrisy and self-deception in his semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman,The Way of All Flesh (1903)

and by thinkers like physicist Percy Bridgman

who in 1933 wrote of “the struggle for intellectual integrity,” and the role of scientists in that struggle … noting that “animals and morons” do not respond to this ideal

  • intellectual integrity is an ideal

  • to which humans are capable of responding emotionally, as to music

  • which some approach more closely than others, perhaps only after hard experience and failure

  • it should not be confused with simple consistency in belief

  • which can indeed be, as Emerson said, “the hobgoblin of little minds”

  • but has to do with one’s relation to evidence

  • it involves, first, being prepared to give up a belief, even a core belief, if the evidence turns out against it

  • but also not being too quick to drop a belief when the evidence is ambiguous

  • a bit like the modest version of Popper’s falsificationist methodology

  • (he has confused a requirement on every honest inquirer with a criterion of the scientific)

  • but intellectual integrity also requires:

  • preparedness to go and look for more evidence when you don’t have enough to form an opinion;

  • readiness to admit you were wrong, or just don’t know; and

  • not deceiving yourself about how good your evidence is, or where it leads

but self-deception is a puzzling phenomenon … how do we do it?

  • you can deceive others by lying, but also by misdirection

  • misdirection is also what we do when we deceive ourselves – selective attention

  • e.g., look only where you expect to find positive evidence

  • pay as little attention as possible to negative evidence – if possible, forget it!

Darwin kept a special notebook for things he couldn’t explain – because otherwise he was bound to forget them!

2. The Social Perspective

a good environment for intellectual integrity requires …

  • encouragement and incentives for honest work

  • good examples for “apprentices”

  • disincentives to cheating and corner-cutting

… but the preposterism now endemic in universities pulls against it

“Valuing knowledge, we say, ‘everyone must produce written research in order to live, and this shall be deemed a knowledge explosion’” --- Jacques Barzun

… a pre-posterous idea!

among the consequences …

  • pressure to publish too much and too fast (and to assume all publications are worthwhile)

  • pressure to get grants (and to report success when work is completed)

Oswald Avery, who published nothing for 10 years before he made his breakthrough on DNA, would never survive today!

  • pressure to reach these or those results

  • often the result of the competing interests – other than truth-seeking

  • from the governments or commercial enterprises that support research, especially scientific research, in universities

… for example, in the medical sciences

  • “salami publishing”

  • multiple authorship, leaving responsibility unclear

  • ghost writing

  • faculty stockholdings or other involvement with drug companies, etc.

  • journals dependent on drug company advertising revenues

  • selective publishing of favorable results

  • continued citation of retracted work

  • excessive strain on the peer review system

but the problem is ubiquitous in the academy…

  • getting a grant to do research becomes an end in itself

  • becoming more important than any actual work done

  • and skews what work is done, and how

  • journals are clogged with ephemeral articles by those who must publish to get a job/tenure/promotion

  • making it close to impossible to find the good stuff

  • work is judged by where it is published, not by its quality

  • there is a premium on speed, quantity and trendiness

  • so that we forget that the most important conditions for good work in fields like philosophy are, simply, time and peace of mind

  • creating an atmosphere of “lying and self-congratulatory hallucination” among those who succumb to the preposterous culture

  • and paralyzing others, who might otherwise do good work at their own pace

thank you for your attention

gracias por vuestra atención

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