“disgreements….are vital to human reason”

In a July 2021 Aeon essay titled “A Good Scrap“, Ian Leslie makes a compelling case that “disgreements….are vital to human reason. Without them we remain in the dark.”

Ian narrates how Orville and Wilbur, the Wright brothers, debated and argued vigorously from childhood. They were encouraged by their father “to argue” with respect, “tossing ideas back and forth in a kind of verbal shorthand until a kernel of truth began to emerge.”

This skill became central to the “collaborative intellectual enquiry” that the brothers engaged in as they tackled and solved “one of the greatest engineering puzzles in history.”

Ian quotes Wilbur explaining “why arguing was so important” to him and his brother.

“No truth is without some mixture of error, and no error so false but that it possesses no element of truth. If a man is in too big a hurry to give up an error, he is liable to give up some truth with it, and in accepting the arguments of the other man he is sure to get some errors with it. Honest argument is merely a process of mutually picking the beams and motes out of each other’s eyes so both can see clearly…”

During his 2004 Nelson Mandela Lecture, Desmond Tutu tells us that “It should be possible to talk as adults about” the challenges confronting the world “without engaging in slanging matches.”

Desmond passes on, to each of us, a lesson from his father. “My father used to say, “Don’t raise your voice; improve your argument.”

He then asks that we “lower the temperature in our public discourse and hopefully thus increase the light.”

This is a teaching for not just our interactions in society, but for each relationship we cultivate — in our homes, our workplaces, and elsewhere.

“Lower the temperature”“Improve your argument.”

Ian ends his essay with a gem. “What matters, in the end, is not that I am right but that we are.”

Peace 😊

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