Raising the bar above the shouting match

25 October 2017

How to break hard-wired habits of arrogance and polarisation in debate

Philosophers, linguists and social psychologists are to propose interventions to reduce the influence of arrogance and polarisation at an international conference this autumn.

The academics will discuss arrogance, dogmatism and aggression in debate at the University thanks to the new research project Changing Attitudes in Public Discourse.

Political opinions in many Western-style democracies show signs of increasing polarisation. This has coincided with a change of tone in debates. Seemingly arrogant behaviours like shouting, mocking, dismissing or rudely interrupting other people during discussions seem more frequent and widespread.

The Changing Attitudes in Public Discourse project is developing and testing practical interventions to reduce arrogance in debate, funded by the John Templeton Foundation and the Analysis Trust. Designed to combat behaviours rooted in defensive attitudes, the practical interventions aim to help people affirm their self-worth by thinking about the values that matter to them. The project brings together experts from the fields of philosophy, psychology and linguistics to formulate and trial techniques to help to reduce defensiveness, aiming to lead to a reduction in intellectual arrogance and to greater humility in debate.

Among the experts giving papers at the conference are philosophers Andrew Aberdein (Florida Institute of Technology), J. Adam Carter (Glasgow), Robin S. Dillon (Lehigh), Catarina Dutilh-Novaes (Groningen), Emma Gordon (Edinburgh), Ian James Kidd (Nottingham) and Alessandra Tanesini (Cardiff).

Psychologists Leaf van Bowen (Colorado), Igor Grossmann (Waterloo), Steven J Spencer (Ohio State), Ulrike Hahn (Birkbeck), Greg Maio (Bath) and Constantine Sedikides (Southampton) all lead sessions. Representing Linguistics is Chris Heffer (Cardiff).

Opening with Vicious Attitudes from the co-principal investigator Professor Alessandra Tanesini, the conference covers a wide range of related topics. Papers include Is Function a Fundamental Feature of Attitudes; Arrogance, Self-Respect, and Power: A Feminist Analysis; Arrogance and Deep Disagreement; The Socrates Effect: Teacher’s Mindset, Wisdom and Reasoning in a Polarized World; Dogmatism and Bullshit: A Discourse Analytic Perspective; Values and Openness to change and Is Searching the Internet Making Us Intellectually Arrogant?

Changing Attitudes in Public Discourse is one of 10 innovative research projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation through the Humility and Conviction in Public Life initiative, based at the University of Connecticut. This programme seeks to find ways to cultivate healthier public debate and dialogue, particularly by balancing two key features of democracy: intellectual humility and conviction of belief.

Arrogance and Polarization ran for two days (6/7 November) at the University.

For more information, follow the project on Twitter or Facebook or visit the Open for Debate blog.