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Intellectual honesty

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Thinking hard
or hardly thinking?

Philosophy
Icon philosophy.svg
Major trains of thought
The good, the bad
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

Intellectual honesty is honesty in the acquisition, analysis, and transmission of ideas. A person is being intellectually honest when he or she, knowing the truth, states that truth.

There are disincentives to intellectual honesty. Academics may find themselves pressured to argue for the stances of their benefactors, including governments and private entities that fund grants (in fact, this is trained into them in education, as the same pressures are exerted by teachers and professors upon their students). Judges may face political pressure to render a judicial opinion endorsing a legal argument that they know to be flawed. Auditors may issue a favorable opinion of a company's financial statements, despite having serious misgivings about their adherence to generally accepted accounting principles, in order to continue receiving business from that company. (In general, perverse incentives and conflicts of interest provide highly fertile ground for intellectual dishonesty.)

The more complicated the issue and the murkier the facts, the easier it may be for an intellectual to get away with presenting a plausible but flawed argument. In a world where people, including intellectuals, often pursue incentives more eagerly than they seek after high ideals, it is important that ways be found to make the interests of intellectuals coexist with the interests of those whose well-being depends on their intellectual honesty, if intellectual dishonesty is to be consistently avoided.

Intellectual dishonesty[edit]

Some intellectual dishonesty can be subtle. For example, relevant facts and information may be purposefully omitted when such things contradict one's hypothesis, or facts may be presented in a biased manner or twisted to give misleading impressions. Broadly speaking, any of the following behaviors would fall under intellectual dishonesty.

  • Arguing for a viewpoint you yourself disbelieve.
    • Exception: The role of devil's advocate, when consciously acted out, is not intellectually dishonest. A good devil's advocate will express the opposition's strongest arguments, and draw attention to the weaknesses of the arguments of co-thinkers. This is a valuable tool for intellectual rigour and honesty, and also helps to ward off the dangers of echo chambers and the resulting groupthink.
  • Deliberately ignoring facts and arguments that would undermine your position. (willful ignorance)
  • Knowingly using a logical fallacy.

Common forms of intellectual dishonesty include plagiarism, applying double standards, using false analogies, exaggeration and overgeneralization, presenting straw man arguments, and poisoning the well (not literally).[1] A form of intellectual dishonesty common on conservative sites like Conservapedia is the suppression of evidence that contradicts their orthodoxy by reverting without explanation any edit that links to or otherwise presents such evidence.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. For an example of a "professional philosopher" who uses pretty much all of these tricks, bar plagiarism (he only quote mines...), see William Lane Craig